You’ve finally found your saviour wrinkle cream and are valiantly fighting smile lines morning and night. A week later, your skin erupts in a road map of pimples. What gives? You’ve got two kids and a sizable mortgage — aren’t you too old for breakouts? In a word: Nope.
Physiologically speaking, a zit is a zit is a zit, whether you’re 18 or 38. Pores anchor hairs and when the follicle gets clogged with dead skin cells, bacteria or sebum (oil), infection can set in. In Canada, up to 50 percent of women over 35 are dealing with breakouts, which means you’re not alone.
What’s your cause? Factors such as diet, genetics, medications and pollution all take a toll on your skin. The biggest culprit? Hormones, whether kick-started by PMS, premenopause, pregnancy or breastfeeding. Then there’s stress. Good old anxiety spikes cortisol hormone levels. Over time, those extra hormones weaken our immune system and boost oil production in our skin (hello shine and pimples).
A grown-up problem Living with acne as a working adult can be debilitating. “In many cases, adults are more psychologically affected by their acne than teenagers,” says Jaggi Rao, dermatology residency program director at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “We have been conditioned to think that if acne happens in adults, there must be something dramatically wrong with us.”
Rhoda Rizkalla, a gregarious Vancouver publicist, had severe acne that started when she was in her 20s. “My cheeks and forehead were blistered with pimples,” says the 43-year-old. “It was so awful. I couldn’t look someone in the eye to have a conversation. I would avoid social activities. And the more I stressed about it, the worse it seemed to get.”
Treating it Treatment for your blemishes depends on their severity and cause, says Rao, but everyone benefits from good skin care, choosing products that won’t clog your pores (non-comedogenic), consistent face washing and sunscreen. Rao recommends products that are not overly abrasive or fragrant, such as Cetaphil or Complex 15.
Topical creams, gels and cleansers containing salicylic acid, which keeps pores from clogging or antibacterial benzoyl peroxide, are the usual go-to therapies for mild and moderate acne sufferers. For more severe cases, there are prescription creams with Retinoid which helps increase cell turnover, or antibiotic ointments.
Treatments such as birth control pills and light and heat therapy have also been proven to reduce the severity and number of bad breakouts. And remember what your mother told you: Hands off! Oils and dirt from your fingers, along with the pressure of popping, can clog pores and promote acne.
Finally, don’t neglect your diet. Swap the white bread for a grainy flax loaf and the fries for sweet-potato mash. As for juice and soda, try reacquainting yourself with good old water.
Veteran Toronto makeup artist David Goveia shares his secrets for hiding pimples, pronto.
• Dab pimple with an ice cube to reduce swelling and follow with antiseptic witch hazel.
• Cover it with primer and liquid foundation.
• Dot on yellow-based concealer with a small pointed brush.
• Lightly press loose powder over the area using a soft, clean eye-shadow brush.
• Cover the red area with as little product as possible, advises Goveia. “Less is more.”
• Focus on the positive; go with a thicker eyebrow to guide attention from a chin blemish; brighter lips if you’ve got a doozy on your forehead.
A clean start
1. Wash morning and night — and especially after a workout. “When you sweat, your body emits toxins, and if you just wipe your face, you’re just moving around the dirt and bacteria,” says Holly Sherrard, education manager for The International Dermal Institute in Toronto.
2. Use a clean facecloth for each washing.
3. Go gently. For exfoliators, choose one that has fine or spherical granules. “Avoid anything that feels like you’re scratching your skin,” says Sherrard.
4. Use tepid or lukewarm water. If it’s too hot, your skin will produce more oil, in turn causing more acne.
The Clear Skin Diet: How to Defeat Acne and Enjoy Healthy Skin, by Alan Logan and Valori Treloar, touts the importance of a whole-body approach to a clear complexion. You might even drop a few pounds. Are you glowing yet?
Whatever stage your offending blemish is at, over-the-counter products with salicylic acid can help exfoliate the top layer of skin and open up clogged pores, says Toronto dermatologist Kucy Pon. That amounts to TLC for existing zits and prevention of new ones. Try: Burt’s Bees Targeted Spot Treatment, $15. Its 100 percent natural formula includes salicylic acid, as well as soothing tea tree and parsley to calm redness.