My name is Lara, and I have adult acne.
If you’re female and reading this, there’s an approximate 50% chance that you, too, are cursed with spots well past your teenage years. It’s an ugly phrase, adult acne. It’s like a secret deviant club where we pretend that we don’t know each other, because adult acne is almost the last great taboo when it comes to skincare.
There are few brands who produce simple, effective acne products that acknowledge the very different needs of adult skin rather than teenage skin. The vast majority of acne information is directed at teenagers. The vast majority of acne products are designed to work on teenage skin bursting with an excess of sebum, not adult skin that constantly flexes and adjusts though a whirlwind of pregnancy hormones, stress, commuting to work directly into the sun, smog and pollution and second-hand smoke and, and, and…
When everything tells you that acne is for teenagers, that from your twentieth birthday onwards it’s going to be smooth sailing until it’s time to shop around for anti-aging creams… well, it’s not hard to see why no one talks about adult acne and why every lump and bump can feel like your own little badge of shame.
I had almost perfect skin when I was a teenager. Not too oily, not too dry, with maybe one tiny hormonal spot each month that disappeared in a day or two. My skincare routine consisted of… well, not much. There wasn’t really anything I needed to do to it beyond half-heartedly wash with whatever Garnier had on sale at Coles, slap on a little oil-free Tea-Tree Gel from The Body Shop and every now and then scrub away with some kind of gravelly nightmare from St Ives. If I tried to pull that kind of gimmick on my skin now, I think it’d fall off entirely.
This pleasant state lasted well into my twenties. Then… and then I changed, dramatic lights and ominous chords and all. My skin changed, my hair changed, my body changed. Around the age of 26 I started morphing into a spotty mess every 28 days; cursed each month with a collection of painful papule spots that taunted me with their unpoppable-ness. These spots left me with a red mark for the next fortnight as some kind of rude reminder of my failure to attain what I considered a fundamental part of being an adult: nice, unblemished skin.
It could be worse, I know. I could have vicious pustule cysts, the kind that I jokingly refer to as ‘fifteen year-old boy’ acne. I could have a face of acne nodules, my cheeks bumpy and deformed with the kind of severe lumps that require a harsh regime of cortisone injections to control. I could be gritting my teeth through that rare bane of women my age, a fast-onset condition called pyoderma faciale.
In that context I consider myself lucky to only have a delicate spray of red lumps scattered across the right side of my chin – never the left, so no wonder I always turn the same way in photographs – or the occasional lone rebel making a break for freedom high on my cheek. The only scars I get are delicate red ghosts that stay with me for a fortnight before vanishing, not pock-marks or keloids.
It could be worse.
On the other hand, it could be better.
Join me in the adult acne confessional club. It might not be pretty and it might not be glamorous, but at least we’re talking about it.