Clearing Up the Mystery of Adult Acne

Thought acne was gone forever when you hit 20?

Forget what you've heard -- acne isn't a teen-specific phenomenon.

Acne is a disease that can affect anyone beyond puberty, and it's the most prevalent skin condition in the United States, according to The American Academy of Dermatology, with almost 50 percent of adults suffering from some form of acne.

On "The Early Show" Thursday, Dr. Jeannette Graf, a dermatologist and author of "Stop Aging, Start Living," cleared up the mystery surrounding adult acne, including its common triggers, who generally suffers from it, and the latest treatments.

Acne, she explained, is a term for plugged pores (blackheads and whiteheads), pimples, and deeper lumps (cysts or nodules). They can occur on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders, and even the upper arms.

But how?

Acne, she explained, is formed when sebum, an oily substance produced by fat glands, gets trapped in the hair follicle. This oil then mixes with dead skin cells as they are sloughed off, clogging the follicle, and forming a pimple. The follicle can become inflamed when the increased oil causes bacteria to multiply, infecting the surrounding area and leading to a more dramatic, and sometimes tender, blemish.

Teenage acne, Graf said, tends to be on oily skin and consist of blackheads and whiteheads. The difference with adult acne, Graf said, is that adult acne is more often seen on the face, along the jaw line and neck, and is usually accompanied by dryer or combination skin. She said adult acne tends to be characterized by red bumps or cysts. That means the redness tends to last longer, she said, because the skin doesn't heal as rapidly.

Why do adults get acne?

Graf said it's difficult for doctors to pinpoint exactly what triggers adult acne.

However, she said, if you had acne as a teen, you are likely to see it resurface as an adult, due to your genetic makeup.

Hormones also play a role in adult acne, she said. If your hormones fluctuate, you may get adult acne -- especially during menstruation and at menopause. Experts aren't sure why, Graf said, but oil glands seem to be more sensitive to hormonal shifts during your 20s and 30s.

Stress may also be a contributing factor, she said. Even if you are stressing about having adult acne -- that stress can further aggravate and trigger more outbreaks, Graf said.

She added adult acne is often difficult for adults emotionally because they didn't expect to be battling zits way past their teen years, and society doesn't seems as open to adults having skin problems, so it's harder to cope.

IN addition, the products you use on your face may contribute to adult acne. The average American adult uses about seven skincare products on their face, Graf said, which can aggravate your skin. She said a common mistake is to use heavier lotions than necessary, and use of some anti-wrinkle creams that may be too harsh for some skin types.

Graf said you also may want to limit processed sugars in your diet because some studies have found they do have an effect on your skin.

Who's most likely to get adult acne?

Women, Graf said, are more likely to suffer from adult acne because it is often related to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, PMS, and menopause.

For how to treat adult acne, go to Page 2.