Obstetrics & Gynecology in Augusta, GA

Adult onset acne

“Hey doc, my face looks like a war zone.  I wouldn’t mind having the complexion of a sixteen year old if I could have the body of one also, but this is ridiculous for a grown woman!”  Gladys was a victim of adult onset acne, and she was not pleased.  She is not alone.  Some experts estimate that up to 50 % of women over 30 suffer from some type of acne or acne like complexion disorders.

     It is not known what triggers adult onset acne. The development of hormonal irregularities in the menstrual cycle may be a factor, or ovarian cysts may cause hormonal abnormalities that increase androgen productivity, resulting in acne breakouts.  The classic situation is one in which a woman experiences irregular cycles, setting up an over production of estrogens and testosterone.  These hormones stimulate oil production in the skin glands which in turn become inflamed and irritated. Sometimes these sebaceous glands continue producing a higher amount of sebum well into adulthood and thus acne infection continues even at that age. Androgens have also been associated with acne flare-up in women before menstrual cycles or sometimes during pregnancy.   Whatever the cause, it is not wanted or welcomed.

     Most acne treatments require prolonged care, from months to years. These treatments include topical creams and gels and/or oral medicines.  Once improvement is achieved, a maintenance dose is usually necessary. Women who develop adult acne typically have the problem for years, frequently through menopause.  The suspected hormonal disruptions that trigger adult onset acne are often treated by attempting to regulate the hormonal imbalance. The modalities used most in hormonal acne treatment are oral contraceptives and antiandrogens. (medicines that counteract the effect of too much testosterone in a woman’s system).

     There are several simple things to do to minimize adult onset acne.  Washing with soap and water once or twice daily is a good way to keep debris and oils from the day accumulating on the skin surface. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are both common over-the-counter treatments for acne. Benzoyl peroxide exfoliates the skin and the anti-bacterial agents in it clear the excess debris from the skin to help prevent infections.      

     Retinoids are a class of molecules in the vitamin A family. The retinoids are potent against acne because they stabilize abnormal growth and death of cells in the sebaceous follicle. These abnormal growth cycles are believed to play a key role in the formation of blackheads, whiteheads, and other acne. The danger in retinoids is that they cannot be used by pregnant women or women who might be getting pregnant because of the high rate of serious birth defects in unborn children.

     Topical and oral antibiotics are used together with other agents. Topically, antibiotics neutralize the skin-based bacteria and, when used with other agents, help deplete the excess sebum or oil secreted by the sebaceous glands, allowing acne spots to heal without infection.

     Oral contraceptives prescribed for women are based on their ability to regulate hormones.  A birth control pill stimulates the production of a protein that binds testosterone, thus reducing the androgen’s ability to affect oil glands.

     Occasionally, adult onset acne can be confused with a condition known as rosacea.  Although it is not exactly acne, its red-faced, acne like appearance can cause many physical, psychological and social problems if left untreated. In a recent survey by the National Rosacea Society, nearly 70% of rosacea patients said that this skin disorder lowered their self esteem, and 41% of patients said that they avoided social contact or functions because of their skin disease.

     The cause of rosacea in unknown and there is no cure, but with available medical help this skin disorder can be controlled and minimized. Its typical symptoms are redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead, small visible blood vessels on the face, bumps or pimples on the face, and watery or irritated eyes.

    Whatever the cause, whatever the result, if adult onset acne is cramping your style, see your doctor because there is help.