Like most teenagers, your pimple problems probably started in middle school when hormones were all the rage. Thanks to health classes, you probably figured, once that awkward pubescent stage of life was done and over with, breakouts would be a thing of the past. But, surprise, acne is somehow more relevant than ever in the beginning chapters of your adult life. So, what’s the deal? Why do you still have acne in your 20s, when you’re all grown up and obsessively stocking up on the latest skin care products your favorite glossy swears by? I hate to break it to you, friends, but your body isn't done with you just yet.
You've probably been taught your whole life that acne is most commonly seen in teenagers because of all the hormonal changes festering inside your body during that time: Your boobs come in, menstruation starts, and any spot on your body that produces oil is subjected to the occasional pimple cluster. However, the standards have changed in recent years and, according to Dr. Whitney Bowe, author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin, adult acne, especially in your 20s, is more common than ever. In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, Dr. Bowe let us down as gently as she could with the unfortunate truth: Acne is no longer exclusively a teenage phenomenon.
“We used to think you grew out of [acne] when you entered your adult years,” she explains. “Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case.”
The reality is, adults are struggling with acne, too. In fact, the International Dermal Institute reports that roughly 40 to 55 percent of adults from ages 20 to 40 "are diagnosed with low grade, persistent acne and oily skin." And, as far as Dr. Bowe is concerned, breakouts are bound to happen, even when you’re old enough to pay your own bills.
It’s become the new norm to see acne popping up in your 20s, so the question is, where’s it coming from?
At 20-something years old, it’s safe to say puberty is long behind you. Your voice isn’t as squeaky, and your hormones are relatively under control, so where does adult acne stem from? A large part of it, dermatologist Dr. Hadley King tells Elite Daily, can be attributed to a combination of genetics and, you guessed it, hormones. You just can’t get away from those pesky little boogers, can you?
And, just our luck, ladies, the onset of acne is most common in our 20s because — wait for it — your menstrual cycle can cause your hormones to run amuck all day, every day. It’s the fluctuation of said hormones, dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner tells Elite Daily, that “stimulates oil glands,” leading to breakouts, specifically around that time of the month. But before you go placing all the blame on your period, it’s not the only culprit.
Between political scandals, societal issues, social stressors, and the many demands of your personal life pulling you in a million different directions, millennials are stressed AF. Oh, and scrolling through social media every time you have a free second isn’t helping either, thanks to the onset of FOMO, and the tendency to compare yourself to others. If you aren’t scheduling chill time for yourself, it’s likely your cortisol levels, aka stress hormones, are through the roof which, Dr. Bowe adds, can also trigger acne.
Of course — and you can’t honestly tell me you didn’t see this one coming — diet plays a role in your skin, as well. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase "you are what you eat," and while you’re not going to literally morph into a sleeve of Oreos, processed foods with a lot of sugar, and even too much dairy can trigger a breakout, according to the online health guide One Green Planet. In that case, you just need to be mindful of what you’re putting into your body, and how your skin reacts to it.
Once you identify what’s causing your acne, then you can figure out the best way to treat it.
As a 26-year-old woman myself, I like to think I’ve come a long way from my adolescent strategy of putting dots of toothpaste on my pimples at night in the hope that, come morning, they would dry up enough and no longer look noticeable. Trust me, there are so many solutions to handle acne in your 20s that are equally as clever as the toothpaste trick, but just a wee bit more sophisticated. Big girl pimples call for big girl answers, after all.
One of the easiest things you can do to soften the blow of adult acne is to forgo wearing makeup altogether. It’s a lot to ask, I know, but according to board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Mark, most, if not all makeup, can clog the heck out of your pores. However, if you want to wear a little something on your face, Dr. Mark tells Elite Daily, try to use makeup “that contains salicylic acid,” as that's a “key ingredient for treating acne.”
As far as your skin care regimen goes, board-certified dermatologist Ted Lain, M.D. shares a foolproof method that’s both easy to follow and gentle on your skin: First things first, wash your face twice daily, with products that contain ingredients like salicylic and glycolic acids, or benzoyl peroxide. From there, Dr. Lain tells Elite Daily, it’s a good idea to apply a daily sunscreen of “SPF 30 or higher,” as well as an over-the-counter product, like Differin Gel, which is a retinoid acne treatment, as an overnight remedy.
If you’ve given these at-home remedies a fair shot, and acne is still a pressing issue, it’s probably a good idea to call up a dermatologist and make an appointment. This way, you’re able to get a professional’s diagnosis of what’s actually the root cause of your breakouts, and together, you can come up with the best solution for your skin.
“[A dermatologist] can prescribe topical products, such as Aczone or stronger retinoids,” Dr. King tells Elite Daily, “and can also discuss options for systemic treatment,” such as antibiotics or contraception to balance hormones. If your acne is severe enough, injection treatments are an option, too, but that's more of a worst-case-scenario type of solution.
Even though you were banking on acne being gone by your 20s, it's at least semi-comforting to know you're not the only one struggling with it. On the bright side, there are a ton of ways to deal with it; you just have to find what works for you.