Acne isn't just a teenage girl's skin problem—and dermatologists are finding new treatments for it, no matter your age
As an adult, acne blemishes can be even more frustrating than they were when you were a teenager (weren't they supposed to go away at least by the time you got out of college?!). Unfortunately, 51 percent of American women in their 20s and 35 percent in their 30s suffer from acne, says research from the University of Alabama.
Usually, if acne is bad enough, you use oral antibiotics. The problem with that? After years of antibiotic treatment, your system develops a resistance to it, causing it to be less effective. In fact, The American Academy of Dermatology is expected to updated their guidelines for treating acne in May, addressing this very topic. But dermatologists on the forefront of the battle are already trying alternative methods to help patients who have developed resistance to antibiotics. Read on to see your options for banishing blemishes for good. (Need a quick fix? Learn how to Get Rid of Zits Fast.)
"In at least half of my patients, I will use a low-dose version of an antibiotic to treat acne," says Deirdre O'Boyle Hooper, M.D., a dermatologist based in New Orleans. "But I thought antibiotics were the problem!" you may be thinking. Know this: A low-dose of a drug like doxycycline will act as an anti-inflammatory to prevent acne flare ups without contributing to antibiotic resistance. If you're currently on an antibiotic and concerned about becoming resistant, ask your dermatologist about low-dose options.
Hormonal imbalances can be a major source of acne in women, especially those who didn't even suffer from skin conditions as a teenager. This type of acne, which usually appears on the jawline, can often be treated by going on the Pill to increase estrogen levels, says Hooper. Some patients can also benefit from decreasing testosterone. Spironolactone is a drug originally developed as a diuretic for people with high blood pressure that dermatologists often prescribe for women who need this type of treatment. The drug blunts testosterone's action without changing the levels of testosterone circulating in the blood. Ask your doctor about these options.
Since the root cause of acne is oil, eliminating foods that cause oil production can help reduce acne, explains Neal Schultz, M.D., a NYC-based dermatologist. If you have oily skin, the combination of oil and bacteria (or oil and dead cells) can lead to acne. Bacteria produce inflammatory acne, while dead cells produce black heads and white heads.
A rise in insulin—caused by refined carbohydrate intake—can cause oil production, so reducing things like white bread, processed cereals, and sugar will help. There is also some evidence that decreasing animal products like dairy can alleviate black heads and white heads, says Schultz. (Did you know where your acne is could be telling you something? See How to Get Rid of Acne with Face Mapping.)
In conjunction with other treatments, chemical peels can speed up acne recovery. “Every one of my patients gets a glycolic peel and a glycolic product to use during their visit,” says Schultz. Glycolic acid works by dissolving the “glue” that holds unwanted bacteria and dead skin cells in pores, so this treatment works for inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne, he explains. At-home glycolic peels can also help. Schultz recommends the the BeautyRx Progressive Peel ($70; beautyrx.com), but warns not to buy straight glycolic acid treatments without consulting your dermatologist—they could cause burning if not used correctly.