Anyone can get an occasional breakout, especially around menstruation time in women. But for an increasing number of people, one pimple turns into 10, then 20 — and soon there's a full outbreak, which may also be appearing on the back and chest.
"Adult acne seems to be on the increase," says Yardley, Pa.-based dermatologist/clinical psychologist Richard Fried, M.D., Ph.D. "It's not quite clear what is causing it, but certainly stress and hormones are playing a large part.Although we used to point to people's diets, with admonitions about not eating greasy french fries and chocolate, we now know that diet really doesn't impact acne.
Acne is caused by bacteria called P. acnes. If conditions in the pores are right, these bacteria can cause infection and inflammation, resulting in acne.
For those who do have acne, Dr. Fried cautions that adult skin may be less forgiving than it was during the teen years.
"If you're seeing scarring and pitting as a result of your bouts with acne, don't wait. See a dermatologist to help you get it under control before it can cause lasting damage to your skin," he says.
Those experiencing mild outbreaks may want to try some over-the-counter preparations. Dr. Fried recommends washing twice daily with a skin cleanser that contains benzoyl peroxide or glycolic acid.
Spot treatment of mild acne breakouts with acne-fighting gels from companies such as Neutrogena and Clearasil can be beneficial.
Pay attention to the areas where breakouts typically occur, Dr. Fried cautions. Headbands worn while exercising will trap sweat and bacteria and may lead to acne on the forehead. He also recommends examining the back for evidence of acne triggered by lying on a workout bench at the gym.
TIME TO SEEK HELP If acne is moderate to severe, it's time to see a dermatologist.
Much can be done to treat outbreaks and diminish their severity. Dermatologists routinely use an arsenal of topical prescription creams such as Differin, Retin-A, Tazorac, Duac and Benzyclin, often in conjunction with oral antibiotics such as doxycycline and clindamycin, to help calm acne flares.
Hormone therapies are also available, but are not as exciting as a relative newcomer to the acne treatment scene — photodynamic therapy.
Photodynamic therapy involves activating a topical photosensitizing agent, called Levulan, with a "BLU-U Light" or an intense pulsed light that helps the topical penetrate into pores, eradicating the bacteria responsible for the acne.