Treating adult acne
By Sandy Cohen
It figures. The morning of your big presentation, you
awaken to the world’s largest pimple on your nose.
What’s worse, you’re 36, not 16. You should have been done
with zits 20 years ago, right?
Unfortunately, no. Adult acne is on the rise, and women are
affected four times more frequently than men. But the
condition is treatable, say dermatologists, with creams,
antibiotics or hormonal remedies. Skin care companies also are
active on the front lines, developing cleansers, lotions,
masks — even vitamins — to fight acne.
“As prevalent as acne is, there’s a perception that it’s
not treatable,” said Dr. Ronald Blond, chief of dermatology at
Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Harbor City. “But it’s
incredibly treatable and lately there are better and better
Adult acne is different from the adolescent variety only in
its persistence beyond the teenage years. Both are caused by
an overabundance of oil and clogged pores, “which create a
nice environment for the proliferation of bacteria,” Blond
said. Bacteria causes inflammation in the pore, which can lead
to blackheads and whiteheads.
“Treatment is geared toward trying to stop the process
along that path, as early in the process as possible,” Blond
Not every acne sufferer needs a trip to the dermatologist.
Over-the-counter remedies can be effective, Blond said. Look
for products containing benzoyl peroxide, salycilic acid or
glycolic acid. Salycilic and glycolic acids work to break up
the oil and dead skin cells that clog pores, Blond said, while
benzoyl peroxide acts as an antibacterial agent. Many
treatments call for a combination of products, and drugstore
varieties often use the same ingredients as pricier potions.
“If it’s fairly mild acne, it’s reasonable to try to treat
it on your own with one of the benzoyl peroxide products,”
Blond said. “You can use it with or without a glycolic or
“To give it a good college try, though, you’re looking at
at least two months” of consistent use,” Blond said. Apply the
products to the entire face, he suggests, not just the
“Don’t go for individual lesions,” he said. “Put it all
over, because you don’t know where the next one will pop up.”
Choose products designed especially for adults whenever
“Adult skin is generally not as oily,” Blond said. “It’s a
little more dry and a little more sensitive. Products a
teenager can handle can be too much for adults.”
Adult women are susceptible to hormonally-influenced acne,
marked by premenstrual flareups and distribution of blemishes
in the lower part of the face. Traditional treatments can
help, but persistent problems may be remedied by certain
For anyone with acne, a daily skin care regimen is
paramount, said Dr. Fredric Brandt, a celebrity dermatologist
with practices in Miami and Manhattan.
“It’s like brushing your teeth,” he said. “Find a product
suitable for your skin and use it — and sunscreen — every
For his acne patients, Brandt created Poreless, a line of
cleansers and creams that contain salycilic acid.
Those seeking an alternative approach might like the new
Boscia skincare line, which relies on botanical ingredients
such as willow bark and hydrangea leaf to treat acne-prone
“We look at ways to gently regulate the system from the
inside out,” said Caren Conrad, Boscia’s general manager.
“Botanicals won’t cause the same irritation other ingredients
Boscia’s Willow Bark Break-Out Treatment, for example, uses
willow bark extract to dissolve hardened oil that clogs pores,
and willowherb to calm and soothe the skin. The Smoothing
Facial Polish sweeps pores clean with mannan, derived from a
fibrous Japanese root, Conrad said.
“It allows treatments to penetrate more readily,” she said.
At Murad Spa in El Segundo, dermatologist Howard Murad
developed special facials to help patients with acne-prone
skin. The procedure deep cleans the skin, priming it for acne
treatments, said Lisa Polley, Murad’s director of education
“The treatments are generally stronger than some of the
treatments you can get at home,” she said. “You can boost your
daily, at-home regimen with a professional facial.” Polley
recommends monthly treatments.
Facials for acne sufferers typically include a
steam-assisted deep-cleaning, an enzyme treatment to unclog
pores, extractions of surface blemishes and a calming mask to
bring skin back into balance. Murad Spa also offers acne
“facials” for the skin of the back, chest and shoulders.
Go gently, said Blond, who warns against “aggressive”
“Any major manipulation of the skin has the potential to
worsen acne,” he said.
Murad and Boscia offer vitamin supplements designed to
promote blemish-free skin from the inside out. Murad’s Pure
Skin and Boscia’s Clear Complexion Therapy each blend B
vitamins with herbs, which the companies claim can improve
skin texture and condition.
No major medical studies have shown that vitamin or mineral
supplements impact acne, Blond said. But Conrad said the
supplements help restore the body’s internal balance so it can
better protect itself against infection.
“This gives you what you need internally to help the body
fight bacteria and inflammation naturally,” she said.
One thing that won’t impact acne is chocolate, Blond said.
“There’s yet to be a study linking chocolate, soda, fried
foods or any of those things to acne,” he said. “Heredity is
the main culprit when it comes to acne. The second is hormonal
Stress can exacerbate acne. Some hair products and
toothpastes can also irritate acne-prone skin. But
dermatologists say the worst thing acne sufferers can do is
pick at pimples.
“Keep your hands off your face except to put on your
treatment,” Brandt said.
Unfortunately, once a pimple pops up, only time — or a
costly injection from a dermatologist — can cure it.
Instead, it’s all about prevention, Blond said. He
recommends daily use of a soap-free cleanser, along with
over-the-counter acne products. If the condition doesn’t
improve after a few months, see a dermatologist. There are
prescription creams, such as Retin-A, and pills, such as
Accutane or birth control, that can help get pimples under
“Remedies aren’t one size fits all,” said Polley, of Murad.
“But acne is definitely manageable.”
Date:December 9, 2002