On adult acne: a confession

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.

There are 16 comments

  1. Alice

    I have the same chin spots on the right hand side! They tend to be big under the skin boily things… I sometimes get them at the edge of my eyebrow too. Hate my skin! Which there was a magical cure!

    I have been using Liz Earle’s Daily Essentials range for almost 4 weeks now and my skin has definitely calmed down, although I still have crap skin it’s not as bad as it was! The review is on my blog if you fancy a read. I will look forward to seeing how you get on with Dermalogica’s Barrier Repair and I totally think you should do a video about concealing – purrrrleeease!?

    Cat, gonna speak to my doctor about Roaccutane too – thanks!

  2. Ces Hotbake

    Yeah I had a few zits as a teenager then all hell broke loose when I was 19. It got progressively worse, I tried a few prescriptions for it but none worked. Not severe cystic acne but always just a cluster or two of gross inflamed little assholes on my cheeks. Eventually when I was 22 I decided I was over it, went to a dermo, was prescribed roaccutane, now 23 and have completely blemish-free skin. I’d advise annnnyone with adult acne to see my dermatologist (or any dermatologist), if anyone wants her name hit me up.

  3. Vanessa Collins

    “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.”

    Oh my God you are so on the money with this paragraph!

  4. Tara

    I am much the same girls. I am constantle getting pimples, mostly on my forehead. I think they are stress related. Since i found a good concealer i am not feeling as stressed about my breakouts anymore.
    I am also loving my regime of dermalogica products, i feel they are helping.
    we are all in it together!

    1. swatchgirl

      Oh yes, I’m all about the art of concealing. I keep thinking I should do a quick youtube video showing the black art of concealing the MUA way, but the thought of being on camera freaks me out. heh.

  5. Megan

    Your story is soooo similar to mine. I had perfect skin in my teens, never had a care in the world as far as my skin was concerned but ever since my mid 20’s I’m forever breaking out on my forehead. Acne products just make my skin very flaky and dry and it doesn’t help that I fly for a living. Thanks so much for posting about this topic!!!!

    1. swatchgirl

      Ohhh you poor thing; recycled cabin air can be a real nightmare. A few hostie friends of mine all swear by Origins overnight moisture mask when they fall into bed at the end of long hauls.

      I’m about to start trialling Dermalogica’s Barrier Repair to deal with my own skin issues related to brutal hot and dry A/C. I’m really hoping for a good result because barrier creams are hellaciously hard to get right.

      1. Megan

        Can’t wait to hear how you go with it, I currently use a Neutrogena Cleanser and Dermologica Intensive Moisture Balance as my moisturiser. Since using this combo I’ve been only getting the odd stubborn spot but I can never get my skin perfectly clear. I’m going to check out that Origins mask though that sounds very promising.

  6. Jade

    Yeh this was me too perfect skin til about 26 theN BAM!!! Mine is mainly around my chin funnily enough though being pregnant has bought it back to a state of almost perfect.

  7. emmabovary

    I am suffering, and like you had a pretty ‘perfect’ complexion through high school, just the occasional monthly spot. Now it’s constant, and drags me down every day. I agree that most products are aimed at teenage skin, which frustrates me to no end. I do not have an oil slick, these products just dry out my face so I have patches to match my pimples!

    Thank you for posting this, has made my day a better one.
    Btw you looked great in Cleo this month, good on you!

    xx emmabovary

    1. swatchgirl

      Unfortunately it’s one of those things where products suitable for adult skin also seem to carry a very adult price tag. I honestly can’t think of anything in the supermarket suitable for adults.

      And arrrgh, thank you. That picture was two months ago so there’s been a LOT of change appearance-wise since then!

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