What causes sudden acne outbreaks in adults?
When it comes to acne, most people often associate it with those awkward teenage years and probably feel that by the time they’re in their 30s or 40s, they’re definitely out of the danger zone. That’s why it often comes as quite a shock when their face suddenly erupts in spots with no explanation at hand; however, despite their age, the underlying cause hasn’t changed. Acne, whether it occurs in adults or teenagers, usually arises when your pores become clogged with sebum oil, dead skin cells or bacteria. What can change in adulthood are the triggers, although even a few of these might seem familiar to you!
1 – Hormonal imbalances
You may or may not have fond memories of your teenage years but there’s no denying that the hormonal changes you experienced played a prominent role at this time. Unfortunately, adulthood doesn’t mark the end of your hormonal fluctuations, especially if you’re a woman! Periods, pregnancy and, later on, menopause can all influence your levels of certain hormones but, in the case of acne, it’s your levels of the male androgen hormones that really matter.
In excess, male androgen hormones like testosterone can influence not only the size of your sebaceous glands and production of sebum oil, but also the proliferation of the P.acnes strain of bacteria on the surface of your skin. One major issue that can raise women’s levels of male hormones is suffering from low levels of oestrogen in ratio to testosterone and other hormones like progesterone. This can happen at various stages of a woman’s menstrual cycle, leading to imbalances such as PCOS, but it is more likely to appear during menopause.
What can you do?
Hormonal imbalances can be quite common but often go unrecognised which is why I highly recommend reading our Women’s Health Advisor Emma’s blog ‘Understanding your hormonal imbalance’ if you suspect this could be a factor. Here Emma not only explains the different types of imbalances, but also offers helpful solutions and recommendations too!
When it comes to menopause, as I mentioned, the main problem is that when oestrogen starts to decline, testosterone remains elevated in comparison. It also doesn’t help that low oestrogen levels can affect your production of collagen, leading to thinner, more sensitive skin. You could try our gentle menopause remedy Menopause Support, which helps to balance falling oestrogen levels, plus our Menopause Expert Eileen offers plenty more information about menopause and skin over at A.Vogel Talks Menopause.
2 – The contraceptive pill
Unfortunately, as I’ve just explained, hormonal fluctuations tend to be more significant in women during adulthood so it’s hardly surprising that adult acne tends to be more common in women than men. Hormonal imbalances aside though, another major reason for this disparity could be the contraceptive pill.
One of the most popular forms of birth control here in the UK, the contraceptive pill, is widely used by many menstruating woman and there are thought to be two specific types; the combined pill and the progesterone-only pill (POP).
A combined pill (as the name may suggest) utilises a combination of synthetic progesterone and oestrogen and is generally taken for three weeks at a time with a one week break in between where users will experience a ‘period’ of sorts. The POP pill, on the other hand, contains only synthetic progesterone and has to be taken every day.
Interestingly, contraceptive pills are often recommended to teenage girls or adult women that suffer from hormonal acne; however, there is no ‘one fits all’ rule. What helps to ease acne in one woman could easily exacerbate the problem in another. In fact, almost all contraceptives come with a list of side effects, and skin problems usually feature on all lists!
What can you do?
Finding a pill that works for you can be a tricky business - many women often have to try several different types of contraceptive pills before they find the one that works for them. It also doesn’t help that, as you age and your hormones fluctuate, you may suddenly find that a pill that’s worked for you for years suddenly produces a reaction. That’s why it’s extremely important to liaise with your doctor when it comes to the type of birth control you’re taking and to discuss your options with them regarding changing your contraceptive pill and what is and isn’t working for you.
3 – Stress
Stress may not be a direct cause of acne but it can definitely inflame the problem. When you were a teenager, the chances are that social dilemmas and exams were the main source of stress in your life but, as an adult, you’re probably bombarded by different triggers, from paying bills to work deadlines to caring for loved ones…the list could be endless! The problem is that how your body responds to stress hasn’t changed which means that even non-life-threatening experiences of the emotion will trigger your fight or flight reflexes.
Once this happens, your endocrine system will flood your body with hormones such as cortisol and, yes, androgens too. In addition to slowing down your digestive functions and elevating your blood sugar levels, this means that your body is going to be producing more sebum oil and may be more vulnerable to inflammation – not a great combination for acne-prone skin! To make matters worse, acne in and of itself can act as a source of stress so it can feel as though you’re trapped in a vicious cycle.
What can you do?
Stress is pretty much an unavoidable factor in most people’s lives at the moment, often bleeding into our sleep habits, food cravings and behaviour towards others. At times stress can feel uncontrollable but what we can always change is our response to it. Our Stress Advisor Marianna speaks more about how to tackle stress over at A.Vogel Talks Stress and her blog, ‘Your top 10 stress busting tips’ is definitely worth a read.
Here though, I think it’s important to touch upon the benefits of mindfulness and practicing proper breathing techniques – even something as simple as taking the time to breathe properly and drink a glass of water can make an enormous difference! The most helpful thing I’ve found, though, is talking to other people, be it your colleagues, friends or family. While they may not be able to find a direct answer to your problems, the simple act of airing your thoughts aloud can be very comforting and is certainly more beneficial than bottling them up!
You may also wish to consider a gentle stress remedy like Stress Relief Daytime, which contains a combination of Valerian and Hops. This can help to gradually relax your nervous system enabling you to cope better when stressful emotions do emerge.
4 – Your skincare routine
When it comes to looking after your skin, the chances are you rely on products that can be easily found in your local supermarket and don’t really thoroughly investigate the ingredients. This can be problematic, though, as many of the ingredients contained in high street skincare creams and moisturisers can be loaded with artificial chemicals and ingredients such as parabens and SLS, which can easily irritate your skin.
Sometimes you may notice the effects straight away but often, many women don’t notice until their skin abruptly erupts into spots years later. When this happens, they don’t think that their skin creams could be to blame and usually apply plenty of make-up to cover up the blemishes. Your skin, like most other parts of your body, though, can change as you age which means that you often have to readjust your skincare routine. This is especially true with women in their 40s and 50s as their levels of oestrogen may start to decline making their skin more sensitive and irritable.
What can you do?
When it comes to looking after your skin, the fewer ingredients, the better; that’s why I always recommend opting for natural skincare products. These don’t usually contain the same harsh ingredients as conventional skincare products plus they’re usually more nourishing and can tackle specific problems like acne. Our Echinacea Cream is a great natural moisturiser for spot-prone skin but when it comes to specifically tackling acne, I often recommend Salcura as well. Our friends over at Jan de Vries have an amazing selection of make-up and skincare products which I definitely recommend checking out. If ageing skin is a concern for you, I’ve also written a blog, ‘The best skincare routine for ageing skin’ which may be of use too.
5 – You still are what you eat
Teenagers might be notorious for their poor diets but sometimes we adults aren’t much better. Sugary foods, processed meals, caffeine and alcohol are common features in most of our diets which can have a profound impact on our blood sugar levels and, since secreting large amounts of insulin can correspond to raised levels of sebum oil, this can have many unhappy repercussions for our skin. Here in the UK, we also have a knack for consuming just a little bit too much dairy which, as I discuss in my blog, ‘Do dairy products really cause acne?’ can sometimes exacerbate an outbreak.
What can you do?
When it comes to your diet, there are foods that can help to support acne-prone skin, so you’re really best focusing on these. Leafy green vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds are all rich in nourishing nutrients like zinc, vitamin A and vitamin E which can help acne-prone skin. It may also be worth investing in a good probiotic too as supporting your gut environment may help to improve your skin – Optibac are our brand of choice here as they have an amazing range to suit every individual, plus their products are backed up by research! If you want any further information about the types of foods you should be avoiding or focusing on, I highly recommend checking out my Diet & Acne pages here.