Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dealing with adult acne

My friend Kirsten asked me about dealing with adult acne, so here we go.  Now, I'm not a doctor.  I'm not a nurse.  I'm not an esthetician.  I'm someone who has been dealing with breakouts as an adult, which are frustrating.  Especially so as I didn't really have any skin issues as a teenager.

First, what is a pimple? gives the following definition:

A pimple starts when a pore (an opening in 
the skin) gets plugged up.  The pore has a tiny 
hair in it and oil glands at its base (Picture 1).  
The cells which line the pores are so small that 
they can only be seen with a microscope.  
During adolescence these cells are shed 
quickly.  In some people the cells and oil stick 
together and form sebum which plugs the 
pore.  If the pore is open, the result is a 
blackhead.  If the pore is closed, a whitehead is 

The whitehead is the beginning of a pimple.  
It forms when the sebum escapes from the 
pore wall and gets under the skin.  The body 
tries to clean out the sebum and brings in the 
white blood cells to do the work.  The result is 
a pimple.  When the sebum gets deeper under 
the skin, a cyst can form.  A cyst is a deep and 
uncomfortable swelling of the skin. 

Unless they are squeezed, blackheads do not 
usually cause pimples.  Blackheads are not 
black from dirt, but from certain skin 
pigments (coloring) in the cells of the pores

In other words, there are skin cells inside your pores that shed.  They get stuck with the oil your skin creates and gunks up the pore.  If the pore doesn't have a lid, you get a whitehead.  Your bod tries to clear out the gunk with white blood cells that turn it white.  If the pore doesn't have a lid on it, you get a blackhead.  The dark stuff isn't dirt, it's the pigment from your skin.  I've also read that they turn dark due to oxidation, like an apple turning brown when you cut it open. 

Okay, now we know what it is, how to deal with the buggers?

My first bit of advice is to stop smoking if you do.  I recently gave them up (yes, again.  I know, I know. But it's something I'm going to struggle with my entire life I'm afraid) because they were making my skin gross.  

And, it's been said it's a myth, but drinking plenty of water really helps.  When I was consuming a gallon a day my skin looked outrageously good.  

You'll want to be careful with how much you wash your face.  Twice a day is good.  Make sure you get all your make-up off and change your pillowcase regularly.  A woman on Oprah once said you didn't need to wash your face in the morning because you hadn't done anything to make it dirty.  Uh, do you know how gross your pillow case gets?  Damn right my face is dirty!  Wash it!  

If you wash too much, you'll damage the inner wall of your pores, which is where the cells that plug things up come from.  That'll make the cells break off and muck things up more.  And, washing too often will dry things up and make your oil glands freak out and go into overtime production trying to get things back to where they think the oil level should be.  

One of the things that's hard for me is to not pick at my face.  I love to squeeze 'em.  There's very little in the world more satisfying that popping a zit.  There's even a website dedicated to videos of popping called "Pop That Zit".  I'll let you google it.  :)   However, it'll just make things worse, give you scabs that will scar and make your gorgeous self unattractive.  If you can't keep your hands off your face and you do get a scab, use an anti-bacterial cream on it at night and a drying treatment during the day.  This can be a horrid process because the cream blocks your pores and can cause a zit under there which means you have to top it off with the spot treatment stuff.  Meanwhile, you have this pimple you want to squeeze.  And the world goes 'round and 'round.

You're going to have to experiment with cleansers and such until you find one that works for you.  Go to the library and get a copy of Don't Go To the Cosmetics Counter Without Me by Paula Begoun.  She reviews a huge number of products and has a nice list in the back with the ones she finds to be the best for treating acne and stuff.  

Start with Cetaphil.  You can get it in the drugstore or the supermarket and it's cheap for how much you get.  Use the one for all skin types first as I've found the one for oily skin can be too drying.  Combine the Cetaphil with an exfoliating technique twice a week.  You can use a washcloth (I prefer a baby washcloth), baking soda or the Olay cleansing brush that runs on batteries that I'm in love with right now.  Make sure to be gentle and not scrub.  Be nice to your skin!  

If that's not working, move on to something inexpensive.  Clean and Clear products are quite good and not much money.  Stay away from Noxema and cold cream, they just clog up the pores and make things worse.  Not the goal.  

In regards to benzoyl peroxide, I like the stuff.  Only use it on the pimple itself, not on your whole face.  It will dry things out and that can make things go in reverse.  

You can also talk to your doctor if you've tried everything and it's not working.  My cousin has had great success by using a birth control pill to level out her hormones that were causing the breakouts.  There are topical treatments that can be prescribed as well.  I will warn you that these are not always covered by health insurance and they can be pricey, but, if you can afford them they can be very beneficial.  

To recap:  

Don't smoke
Drink water
Wash your face with a cleanser that works for you twice a day
Exfoliate gently twice a week
Don't pick at it!
Use drying treatments only on the spots and not all over
See your doc if you're not finding relief on your own.  

Since today was just one big beauty tip I'll give you a household hint:

To keep your drains flowing treat them with baking soda and vinegar down the drain followed by a kettle full of boiling water. Always try this on clogs before you break out the Liquid Plumber.  


Dawn said...

Oh, breakouts. I too am an expert on my own my own face. I'll give you my hard won routinue ( after years of fucking it up)

I use a fairly expensive cleanser (GM Collin organic) but at 30 bucks a bottle, 2 squeezes per washing lasts me months.

I throw some baking soda in that mix a couple times a week to use as an exfolliant. I have a more expensive exfolliant ( Collin again) but I really prefer the Baking soda. I exfolliate a lot...but my skin seems to need it.

THEN moisturise. Faithfully. With Collin again ( 60 bucks, but has lasted almost a year cause you need so little) in which I throw two drops of tea tree oil.

At night, I wash with Just the Collin, then Toner ( Burts Bees Rosewater and Gylcerin, but you can make the same stuff from the walmart first aid aisle)...followed with a wipe down of Tea Tree Oil.

TTO does a couple of things for me - fades the splotches where I may have picked at a pimple, and evens the colour of my skin. It also kills any new ones in their tracks. You rub a little TTO in the pimple as soon as you feel it (2 X per day). First day, nothing. Second Day it feels Hard underneath..and by the third day it is dissolving under your skin. No Blotch from where it comes to a head and no hard nodule underneath.

If I Do pick? TTO and Triple Antibiotic Cream. Cuts the scarring and healing time by 2/3rds.

I used to use ProActiv - which worked for awhile but is Super drying - so I was getting splotchy red from that.

Sigh. But Yeah. It sucks to be in your 40's and still thinking about your damn skin.

Unknown said...

I have problems with moderate to severe cystic acne. The kind that form deep in the skin, form a big hard red lump and take weeks to go away. Sometimes squeezing them is the only way to relieve some of the painful pressure. I have scarring--bad scarring. I rarely leave my house without wearing foundation. I have tried just about everything, even several rounds of prescription antibiotic treatments, over the years with only minimal effect. The only option left for me to try is Accutane. I've heard of some the awful side effects, but I have to try it. I will start next year when my better insurance plan kicks in. If the effects are bad I'll just have to stop, but I have to have tried before I give up and accept that I just have to live with it.
I recommend everyone see a dermatologist, even if you don't have acne problems. They will scan your skin for potential cancerous growths. If you do have acne, I guarantee that (assuming you have decent insurance) it is a much more cost effective way to get treatment than trial and error with many different products.

Of all the research I've done on skin care, if you do nothing else for your skin (not even cleanser is absolutely necessary if not removing makeup) USE SUNSCREEN on your face.

Alyssa... said...

A couple people have told me their skin cleared up when they started a gluten-free diet.