Posted: Thursday, December 4, 2014 12:00 pm

By Connie Mitchell

We thought we left it behind in adolescence, but it’s back! Acne isn’t just a teenager’s problem.

“Though acne typically subsides by the early 20s, some patients may continue to have breakouts into the 30s and 40s,” says Dr. Erin Gardner of Dermatology Specialists of St. Louis. “Some patients, especially women, may have little acne during the teen years; but then develop sustained breakouts beginning in the late 20s to early 30s. And some adults may develop a condition called acne-rosacea, which is related to adult acne and may also show pimple-like lesions.”

SLUCare dermatologist Dr. Nicole Burkemper adds that women tend to develop acne more often along the chin and jawline. Fluctuating hormone levels, especially related to women’s menstrual periods, pregnancy and menopause, tend to be the most common cause. Other causes may include stress, a family history of acne, irritating hair or skin products, and medication side-effects.

Dealing with acne tends to involve a similar routine, regardless of age. Yet while over-the-counter acne treatments are effective, some adults may find them too drying, Burkemper says. In these cases, a prescription medication may be best. “I would recommend seeing a dermatologist sooner rather than later. If you try an over-the-counter regimen for a couple of months without seeing improvement or with too much irritation, make an appointment,” she says.

Though diet often is mentioned as a possible culprit, most patients will not experience a significant improvement by modifying sugar or dairy intake, the most commonly implicated foods, Gardner adds. “Natural products like tea-tree oil have shown some efficacy for milder acne.” Yet she agrees that prescription treatments may be best for adults who have more enduring or significant cases of acne.

“The best acne-fighting regimens work through prevention,” she says. “Once pimples develop, they may be challenging to completely mask, so daily adherence to a well-planned regimen often pays significant adult-acne dividends. Because even the best anti-acne regimens may result in an occasional pimple, over-the-counter and home remedies employing alum, topical (acetyl) salicylic acid, and even baking soda pastes may be considered, though associated skin irritation may limit use.”

Burkemper suggests that adults wash their face with a mild cleanser twice daily and after exercising. “Avoid squeezing pimples, wear mineral-based makeup to avoid clogging pores, and wear sunscreen, since many acne medications make your skin more sensitive to the sun,” she says.

Although adult acne can be annoying, it’s not an intractable problem. “I have so many women come to my office thinking they are the only adult with acne,” Burkemper notes. “It’s important for them to realize that they’re not alone. Many adults suffer from acne, and there are many effective treatments available to improve this condition, as well as the impact it may be having on their quality of life.”