Whenever my skin would break out in high school or college, one sentiment always brought me back from the edge: It's a phase. I clung to the wildly popular belief that as an adult, I'd only fall victim to the occasional blemish, which I would cover up with a quick fleck of eyeliner and call it a beauty mark à la Carrie Bradshaw.
But that's not exactly what happened. To any of us. As twenty-somethings, my friends and colleagues and I have come to realize that acne isn't fading blissfully from view. In fact, it's more annoying than ever.
Apparently acne is a chronic condition characterized by periods of flares and remissions throughout our whole lives. As if that's not enough of a blow, the experts tell me that our lifestyles and surroundings are making us flare up more than ever. Stress, for example—a hallmark of every working woman's life, let's be honest—exacerbates all skin problems, including acne, thanks to increased levels of cortisol and oil production.
Also, this bummer: "Adult acne is more commonly seen in women than men, and more specifically it occurs at times of hormonal flux, such as with changes in birth control or surges in testosterone levels during the menstrual period," explains Dr. Carlos A. Charles, MD, founder and Medical Director at Derma di Colore.
Food factors in, too. "Hormones triggered by high fat and sugary foods can be major stimuli for acne in adults," he adds.
We've always known that stress and a poor diet (which go hand in hand) are no friend to our complexions. What's scarier is realizing that things like the air we breathe could pose a threat, too.
"All sorts of particles float around the air from sources as varied as car exhaust, pesticides from gardens and lawns, and chemicals given off from construction of building and roads," says Dr. Charles. "These minute particles can land on the skin, clogging pores as well as leading to inflammation, all resulting in increased acne."
It may take a lot more than billions of particles to scare an urban girl out of the city, but it certainly serves as motivation to cleanse and moisturize at the end of each day no. matter. what.
On top of everything else, there's one more thing you need to be aware of: the smartphone that's glued to your hands and face all day.
"Constant cell phone use may lead to the transfer of dirt, oil and other pollutants on the skin, exacerbating acne," says Dr. Charles. "Additionally, the mechanical pressure of having the smartphone against the skin could potentially cause occlusion of the pores and stimulation of the oil-producing glands leading to acne."
The final blow? Adult acne tends to more sensitive than what you had in your teens. Dr. Charles recommends gentle washes containing salicylic acid, which removes dirt and lightly exfoliates the skin. For spot treatments, you go with a benzoyl peroxide cream. Lastly, adding a gentle retinol or prescription-strength retinoid to your evening skincare routine can help increase the shedding of dead skin cells that block pores.
Despite all this, don't become too obsessed with achieving perfect skin because that leads to stress, which leads to...well, you know. It's a vicious, vicious cycle—one that will often be out of your control because life. But hey, at least you're not alone.
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