How To Prevent And Treat Adult Acne

Skin Condition 101

How To Prevent And Treat Adult Acne

By Hanna Yowell

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If you’ve made it here, chances are you’re trying to figure out why you’re breaking out, how to get rid of a pesky pimple, and even how to prevent acne altogether. Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place. It’s important to distinguish that these are not the awkward, low-rise jean-wearing pimples of our teens. No, these babies have evolved into finicky, landline-owning adult acne. Just as our zits change, so should how we treat them.
Acne—a skin type or skin condition?

To decipher between acne and breakouts, we take a step back and look at the broader picture of your skin across time.

“Acneic” is one of our six skin types, and arises due to a genetic predisposition. Do breakouts run in your family? Did your parents have it? Did your breakout activity start at the onset of puberty? Do you tend to experience breakouts on your back or chest? If you answered yes to ⅔ of these questions, your skin might be genetically determined to be acneic. Your acne-clearing routine will be focused on long-term maintenance, as it’s rare that skin types change.

When we speak of simply “breakouts,” we are speaking of the skin having a temporary response to improper product usage, bacteria presence, food intolerances, or hormonal fluctuations which lead to the appearance of what we commonly call a pimple. Your breakout-fighting routine will center around determining what’s causing your flare-ups, and then rebalancing your skin with lifestyle and skincare swaps so that the condition is temporary.

What are the different types of breakouts?

When we talk about treating traditional acne, we’re talking about inflamed bumps on the skin. For more information on treating congestion (i.e. blackheads and whiteheads), see our Guide To Blackheads and Extractions 101 blog post. Inflamed acne includes papules, pustules, and cysts. Papules are small, inflamed bumps. They don’t have a pus center yet, although most eventually become a pustule. Pustules are (you guessed it), filled with pus or fluid and look like a white bump surrounded by inflamed skin. Cystic acne tends to be larger and deeper due to the cysts’s attempt to contain the infection within the dermis.

How do pimples form?

Our pores connect the surface of our skin to our sebaceous glands, which produce oil aka sebum. Sebum production is natural and healthy, as it keeps our skin moisturized and aids in water retention. However, excess sebum can mix with dead skin cells and/or bacteria, which is when skin starts to panic. The burgeoning pimple will send an SOS signal to white blood cells, which causes inflammation and infection. 

Our sebaceous (oil-producing) glands are distributed throughout the body (except the palms of our hands and soles of our feet) and are most concentrated on our face and scalp, which is why we experience breakouts most often on the face, chest, and back.

Why am I breaking out?

So as we’ve identified, acne is directly caused by excess oil production, dead, sticky skin cells that clog pores, bacteria, and inflammation. These are natural skin happenings that vary person-to-person depending on your skin type. For example, acneic and oily skin types are more prone to breakouts simply because their sebaceous glands are more active. However, oil production is still a good thing overall, as sebum keeps skin supple and actually delays signs of aging.

However, indirect causes can trigger these direct causes. So, to get to the root of the breakout and find your ideal treatment plan, you have to play detective. Hormones, stress, menstrual cycle, lack of sleep, and dehydration can influence oil production. Comedogenic hair products, improper skin care products, dirty pillowcases, cell phone germs, and makeup can clog pores. Diet, food intolerances, free radicals, pollution, and friction can increase inflammation.

Different specialists like physicians and nutritionists can specifically address a few of these causes, so while hormones and diet might not be in our expertise wheelhouse, we’d be remiss to not mention them. Face mapping, an ancient technique practiced in Ayurveda teaching and Traditional Chinese Medicine can also be helpful in tracing underlying causes.

However, your current skincare routine or lack thereof can also be to blame. Oftentimes we narrow it down to clients’ cleansing and exfoliating regimens, as folks are either over or under-doing both steps. We recommend consulting with a Heyday expert to help audit your routine to find potential triggers and holes in your current routine.

How can I get rid of my breakouts—and keep them gone?

Most people who come to us are actually “over-treating” their acne, which may have a lot to do with how we were taught to get rid of our acne in our teens. Those abrasive scrubs and overly-drying spot treatments may have provided a quick solution to zapping a zit before prom night, but in reality, they do little to heal breakouts. And, they often leave skin sensitized and damaged.

We suggest a low and slow approach to clear up skin for good. A gradual, multi-targeted routine will serve as a way to both prevent future acne and clear up current breakouts. Preventative methods will include a holistic approach (i.e. addressing the indirect causes we mentioned above like dietary and lifestyle triggers) plus establishing a solid routine. Generally, this will consist of: (1) Weekly exfoliation with a product appropriate for your skin type. (2) Maintaining a strong moisture barrier with hydrating products. (3) Incorporating gentle antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients to banish bad bacteria and heal damage.

If you’re dealing with an active breakout, right now: (1) Do not pop! This can spread bacteria and increase risk of scarring. (2) Keep the area clean, making sure to cleanse skin twice daily with a targeted cleanser. (3) Wrap an ice cube in a clean cotton cloth and gently press on the affected area for 1 minute on-off intervals until ice melts. This is especially helpful for soothing painful, under-the-surface pimples. (4) Apply a spot treatment or hydrocolloid patch to kick start the healing process.

Instead of picking, popping, or “punishing” our pimples with overly-stripping ingredients, we want to treat our skin kindly with great ingredients that will nourish and heal the breakout from the inside out.

Products To Tackle Breakouts

Heyday Skincare Educator Alex S. typically recommends swapping your cleanser as a great first step. “Your current face wash simply just may not be doing enough to remove bacteria, pollution, debris, and excess oil,” she says. Next, stick to a progressive approach, adding one product at a time with the guidance of a Skin Therapist to round out your acne-fighting routine. Overall, you’ll want products loaded with anti-inflammatory, soothing ingredients like green tea, niacinamide, and calendula balanced with antibacterials like tea tree oil and salicylic acid. Plus, your skin can’t fight inflammation if it's dehydrated, so make sure to maintain hydration with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and aloe.

A Routine For Combination/Oily/Acneic Skin Types
Step 1: Cleanser

Step 2: Serum

Step 3: Moisturizer

Step 4: Exfoliant + Mask 2-in-1

Step 5: Spot Treatment

A Routine For Sensitive/Normal/Dry Skin Types
Step 1: Cleanser

Step 2: Serum

Step 3: Moisturizer

Step 4: Exfoliant + Mask 2-in-1

Step 5: Spot Treatment

Prevent Post-Pimple Scarring

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully this has brought some clarity to the topic of acne and soon some clarity to your skin ;)

On a final note, let’s do a little myth-busting. Many acne-prone individuals may be reluctant to wear SPF on a daily basis on the notion that it “clogs pores” and will inevitably make the problem even worse. However, sunlight can actually worsen acne scars and hyperpigmentation. So pro tip—stave off scarring and get the full benefit of your acne-clearing products with a non-comedogenic, daily sunscreen. We love Supergoop!’s Unseen SPF 40 and Image Daily Prevention Sheer Matte Moisturizer SPF 30  for breakout-prone skin.

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