How to deal with adult acne

The hormonal imbalance of coming off the pill left Fiona Ward plagued with angry breakouts – here’s how she worked through it 

I’ve always suffered with the odd spot. Like many, my adolescent self was often spackled with a few pubescent pimples – gone within days and forgotten about among a sea of matters needing far more attention, namely nightclubs, A-Levels and driving lessons.

Now, I look back on my near-perfect teenage skin wistfully – because, today, my skin is far more like a sixth-former’s than a grown woman’s. And I’m not the only one. A recent study of UK dermatology clinics found a 200 per cent rise in adults seeking specialist acne treatment.

The contraceptive pill has been the trigger of all my skin problems; since going pill-free for over two years now, the hormonal imbalance has left my skin plagued with angry breakouts so deep beneath the surface that they never come to a head (not for lack of trying, of course; I’m of the kind who loves a good spot-popping session). Maddeningly, this is a very common side effect of coming off the pill.

So, how can we tackle this monster? As I’ve learnt, it’s not just a case of cracking out the Clearasil and waiting for things to clear up

The stubborn zits generally form around my mouth, chin and jawline – which is typical for most adult acne-sufferers, as I’m told by renowned dermatologist Dr Murad. However, my forehead and hairline can be particularly explosive, too.

The angry, painful and unsightly spots are one thing, but I could never have imagined the impact acne has had on my self-esteem. While I’m a true make-up lover, I’ve never been someone who feels I *have* to wear it. But, now, I find myself rushing to apply foundation if I have an unexpected guest and even feeling ashamed if the postman catches me barefaced. Having always been an advocate for enjoying make-up, rather than needing it, it’s a hard pill to swallow (if you’ll excuse the pun).

The British Skin Foundation recently found that nearly 20 per cent of acne-sufferers have thought about, or attempted, suicide. The long list of statistics makes for a sad read. “Ninety-five per cent of acne sufferers said it had an impact on their daily lives.” “Just over a third of people have self-harmed or considered it.”

So, how can we tackle this monster? As I’ve learnt, it’s not just a case of cracking out the Clearasil and waiting for things to clear up. Here’s my action plan:

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about acne, it’s that it’s individual to the sufferer – you can find yourself in an endless cycle of arguments for and against every treatment option, so it’s a case of trial and error. Your acne is personal to you.

Many believe that removing dairy products from their diet is the cure for acne – something I’ve tried and continue to cut down on, and, though it hasn’t proved an easy fix for me, there are many who’ve seen a dramatic difference. Another popular course of action is supplements. Have a look at the research around upping your zinc, magnesium and omega-3s among others – some studies show they have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and hormone-balancing qualities.

A good dermatologist should be your next port of call if you’re getting nowhere – they may suggest a hormonal treatment, laser therapy or a very specialised skincare regime. Ask your GP for a referral on the NHS; alternatively, allows you to search for private dermatologists in your area. Lloyds pharmacy also offers an online Acne Treatment Assessment – a private, discreet and free service whereby a doctor will assess your condition and offer treatment recommendations.

If you’re not already sticking to a good cleanse morning and night, it might be time to reassess your product stash. So with that in mind, here are my acne-friendly favourites.

Anyone of any authority on skin will tell you that cleansing is the single best thing you can do for it – morning and night, using a warm flannel or muslin cloth to remove. I’m a big fan of natural brand Odylique – in particular their Silk Touch Cleanser, which, although aimed at drier skins, has never once congested mine. If you’re extra oily, try their Lemon & Tea Tree Purifying Wash, which will leave skin super clean without stripping it.

Odylique Silk Touch Cleanser, £18

Odylique Lemon & Tea Tree Purifying Wash, £18

The trouble with many skincare products aimed at acne-prone skin is that they tend to leave it feeling parched and tight – moisture and hydration is just as important for us oily-skinned folks (as drying skin out can actually lead to an overproduction of oil to compensate, which will exacerbate the problem). Sk:n Clinics makes some brilliant products, including their Anti Blemish Hydrator, designed to go on straight after your cleanser to stop it feeling thirsty. As a day-to-day moisturiser, I love Soap & Glory’s The Fab Pore, which is nourishing without clogging.

Sk:n Clinic Anti Blemish Hydrator, £28.25

Soap & Glory The Fab Pore Moisture Lotion, £12

Stock up on a few hard-hitting treatments that you can slot into your regime when necessary – a good targeted spot treatment will come in handy, plus an exfoliant. I personally like a physical scrub to use once or twice a week – Lancer’s The Method: Polish, £60, provides just the right amount of grit without being abrasive. If your skin doesn’t agree with a rough polish, a liquid, chemical exfoliant with a BHA ingredient (short for beta hydroxy acid) can be great for oily, congested skins – try the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid, £25.00. For those zits you just know are about to erupt, Murad’s Blemish Spot Treatment will bring them to the surface and reduce the duration of the breakout.

Lancer The Method: Polish, £60

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid, £25

Murad Blemish Spot Treatment, £15

Applying a great mask once a week doesn’t hurt and it’s a nice treat at that. 7th Heaven masks are a great budget option, from £1 each, while the Malin + Goetz Detox Face Mask, £32, is one of the best I’ve tried and so pleasing to use – the unique oxygenating agents bubble away on your skin, lifting dirt and oil away.

7th Heaven Cucumber Peel-Off Mask, £1

Malin + Goetz Detox Face Mask, £32

If you can’t resist concealing your spots, like me, mineral make-up is probably the better option. I’m a long-time advocate of BareMinerals – buff their Original Foundation over skin for a smooth and even coverage that won’t irritate or block pores. If you can’t bear to part with liquid formulas, ReCover Cosmetics’ Correct & Conceal Red is a high-coverage concealer with yellow-toned pigments to completely counteract redness and blemishes.

bareMinerals Original Foundation, £26.50

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