There are very few things that feel as unfair, at least in the beauty realm, as waking up with pimples when you’re a grown-ass woman. The one thing that softens the blow: Acne is no longer something to be ashamed of and to mask in heaps of concealer (see celebrity Instagram selfies of spot treatments and the viral world of YouTube phenomenon Dr. Pimple Popper). Still, having a face full of zits in your thirties is a drag, and with derms telling us that female adult acne is on the rise, we hunted down the latest fixes to cure and prevent it, without turning into a flaky mess.
First, Know Why You’re Breaking Out
Hormones—they continue to act up. You know your hormones were behind the acne of your adolescence. During puberty, “your hormones are suddenly acting on your oil glands,” explains R. Sonia Batra, M.D., a dermatologist in Santa Monica, California. “Skin tends to be very oily; pustules and inflamed spots crop up at the surface of the skin.” Most breakouts in adulthood are still hormone-related; it’s just that now they tend to fluctuate around your cycle or be triggered by other influences (see below). And adult acne looks different: “It’s more clogs, blackheads, and whiteheads all over, as well as inflamed cysts and pimples along the jawline and upper neck,” says New York City dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D.
Stress could trigger breakouts too.
Again, hormones play a role: “When you experience stress, the adrenal gland secretes hormones like cortisol, and with that androgens,” Dr. Schultz says. In some women, that’s enough to make oil glands secrete more oil and cause acne.
And so can lifestyle factors like diet and pollution.
Your grandmother’s warning that greasy foods will give you zits is probably untrue. But “there is some data suggesting that hormones in meat and dairy may affect your skin,” Dr. Batra says. “Check labels to make sure your food is hormone-free or organic.” Also keep refined sugar and starchy foods in check, as insulin could impact your hormones. And while a link between pollution and acne is still being researched, Dr. Schultz has personally noticed a spike of acne cases in his practice when women move to the city from rural areas. A precautionary practice: Wash your face after you’ve been outside all day.
Now Here’s Your Game Plan: Start at Home
When treating breakouts, skip the harsh products you used as a teenager, says Dr. Batra (“You’ll just get dried out and irritated”) and look…