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Blemish Breakout

With adult acne on the rise, we take a look at why your pimples are back and so out of proportion with your age…
By Adriana Ermter
Did you see the teaser video from Kendall Jenner on the momager’s Instagram earlier this year? You probably did: the message – “I can help you, and it’s okay, and I experience it. I’m very normal and like, I understand you. Like, I can connect with you” – went viral. Whether you participated in the hype or the shade that followed, there’s one thing we can all agree on. The top model’s imagination-spinning statement and later reveal (at the Golden Globe Awards, no less) about her new advertising campaign with Proactive put adult acne back in the spotlight. No pun intended.
Granted, at 22 years, Jenner is barely beyond the teen zone, when pimples and their bearers’ traumatic declarations about never being able to leave the house again are considered a rite of passage. Who didn’t reach for the zit cream and generously swab it onto unwanted spots the night before a high school dance? A whopping 85 per cent of Gen Z and Y’ers ages 12 to 25 years are still following this practice, but adults? Not so much…well, that is until now.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is quickly becoming the number one skincare conundrum for adults, impacting 22 per cent of women ages 26 to 44 years and about a third of that number for men. “Adult acne is on the rise due to a combination of stress, dietary factors and changing hormones,” explains Dr. Paul Cohen, the founding dermatologist at Rosedale Dermatology in Toronto.“Stress is more prevalent than ever and it can increase certain hormones, such as cortisol. This can lead to more inflammation, which can trigger and worsen adult acne.”
While the age range has expanded, the initial causes of adult acne are pretty much the same as they were when you were a teenager. First, there are your family genes and your body’s natural age-specific hormones to factor into the equation, and second, your skin’s sebum production – the natural oil your skin makes daily to keep it from drying out. So when your dead skin cells (which range from approximately 30,000 to 40,000 each day) plug up said sebum-filled pores, and bacteria from the environment, plus dirt and grime get stuck and are added into the sebum mix, pimples pop up. Adding a “rich cream or lotion that is too heavy for your skin type never helps, and can create more oily and acne-prone skin,” adds Dr. Cohen.
Unlike your spotted past, however, adult acne tends to show up mostly on your lower face, along the jawline and neck in the form of big angry bumps. Thanks to menstruation, childbirth, perimenopause and menopause, women are the predominant recipients, swapping places with men, who in their teens endured pimples, blackheads and cystic acne twice as much and as frequently as women.
Regardless of gender, seeing spots can make every day feel like #TBT, complete with the unwanted teenage emotions. “Our self-esteem can be impacted by acne,” affirms Lauren Akbar, a community mentor for youth and children in Toronto. “Acne is influenced by societal constructs or misconceptions that it’s not beautiful or handsome and that we should hide our acne and even our acne scars.”
Because you are no longer 13, wriggling under the covers is no longer a solution. Still, who wants to go to work and feel self-conscious about the way they look?
The answer is: no one, particularly in our current Instagram perfection-obsessed society. “We live in a world that continues to value men, specifically white men, over women and other marginalized people, who are then placed on a lesser scale,” says Akbar, who believes this can cause women and gay men and women deeper anxiety about their aesthetic appearance. “Ingrained beliefs that they are not smart enough, good-looking enough and more, can cause these groups of people to work harder to see their value and build confidence in themselves.”
Create a new vision of beauty
Fortunately, fashion and skincare companies are recognizing some of the aesthetic issues said groups are dealing with, and are stepping up to acknowledge them and create new beauty ideals. Diesel’s “Go With the Flaw” ad campaign demonstrates how to embrace your flaws and insecurities by featuring people with everything from unibrows to braces, while Dove’s #MyBeautyMyWay encourages women to stand up for what they believe is beautiful by showcasing real-life female boxers, plus-sized fashion bloggers and androgynous pronoun-free humans. Rihanna’s makeup line Fenty Beauty has also taken a stand by recently launching 40 different shades of foundation, supported by an ad campaign showing a unique and diverse palette of faces.
Non-gender-specific, adult anti-acne lines through bigwig name brands are also sprouting up. Neutrogena’s Ultra Gentle and Oil-Free,’s Countercontrol, Dermalogica’s Clear + Brighten, Olay’s ProX Microdermabrasion Plus Advanced Cleansing System and Proactiv’s Solutions (a.k.a. the Kendall Jenner product line) have taken the formerly teen-owned category and mix-mastered its way into product formulations suitable for adult skin.
“As we age, our skin thins out and becomes more sensitive to products,” explains Dr. Cohen, who says our favoured options from the past are no longer appropriate for our grown-up skin. “Adults with acne have skin that is often dry and sensitive and unable to tolerate the same treatments or the same levels of ingredients as teenage oily skin, which is more resilient.”
Water-, gel- and foaming-based cleansers, toners and lotions are best for the 26-plus set, as they protect sensitive skin. Dr. Cohen also advises consulting product labels to ensure the product contains a maximum of 3% benzoyl peroxide and 0.5% salicylic acid, so as to eliminate bumps and lumps without irritating your skin. “Salicylic acid exfoliates and unclogs pores, while benzoyl peroxide’s antibacterial properties will help eradicate inflammation,” says Dr. Cohen. To speed up the healing process, apply light lotions or serums containing soothing ingredients like lavender and rose essential oils at night before bed; this can help reduce redness and irritation while calming and hydrating your face.
But arguably the best and healthiest solution is adapting your own what-is-beautiful/handsome perceptions. Sure, having pimples as an adult can make you feel like you’re reliving your youth – and not in a good way. But with wisdom and maturity on your side, you can tackle it from a whole new, and more positive, direction. “Own your skin and be kind to yourself,” advises Akbar. “After all, your self-esteem is fluid, just as is your acne.”

ADRIANA ERMTER is a Toronto-based, lifestyle-magazine pro who has travelled the globe writing about must-spritz fragrances, child poverty, beauty and grooming.

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