Acne has always been considered an adolescent issue — something that fades away post-college, along with final exams, poor dating judgment, and over-plucked eyebrows. But for many people who are (mercifully) well past their teens, breakouts are still a major problem. According to a 2012 study at Massachusetts General Hospital, clinical acne afflicts 45% of women ages 21 to 30, 26% of women ages 31 to 40, and 12% of women ages 41 to 50. And if you're over 30, pimples can get you more than a little down.
Both Sabrina Tan, founder of Skin Inc, and Kat Burki, founder of her own eponymous line, have found acne to be quite prevalent in the 30-plus set. And the causes are wide-ranging. "Hormones, in one way or another, are the main cause of acne in women 30 and older," says Burki. "In your early 30s, hormones start to slow down, so women who never experienced acne in their teens can experience it for the first time." (What a treat!) Tan points to triggers like stress, family history, medication side effects, and even certain hair- and skin-care products.
But before you go piling on the salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide of your youth, Tan suggests considering more grown-up solutions. "Treatments that work for teen acne can cause dryness or irritation in more mature skin," she explains. She advises sufferers to look for gentle exfoliation with products such as Skin Inc's Pure Revival Peel, which restores cell turnover — meaning it cleanses clogged pores — without leaving skin red or parched. Other star ingredients include niacinamide, which controls oil, and vitamin C, which regulates the oxidation of lipids that can be irritating to the skin.
Burki says to also avoid treatments with alcohol, which are extra drying on more mature skin. Many acne products — think toners and astringents — do contain alcohol, so check the label before purchasing. It might also be wise to adjust your diet a bit. "Sugars and carbohydrates can increase and prolong high insulin levels linked to acne," she says. Finally, products that soothe and calm the skin are never a bad idea. Burki likes the potent anti-inflammatory properties of antioxidants like raspberry seeds and camu camu berries.
Tan stresses that adult acne is not a problem that you can solve overnight. "Be vigilant in helping your skin," she says. "Most clinical studies [on skin-care products] run several weeks long to see the benefits. It takes time to get the skin back in balance."