While teenage acne is often caused by puberty and fluctuating hormones, the causes of adult acne remain much more varied which makes it harder to treat. Understanding what causes adult acne can help to guide your adult acne treatment, allowing you to tackle underlying issues while soothing your skin at the same time. We will go over the most common causes of adult acne.
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While inflammation is a natural part of your body’s immune response, it plays a key role in the formation of acne. Inflammation attracts neutrophils, a cell that plays a role in the immune system. Neutrophils blindly attack inflamed areas to stop invading microbes but damage your tissues in the process. Neutrophils create pus and inflammation causes the redness, swelling, and irritation characteristic of zits.1
Thankfully, several foods can help keep inflammation under control. Changing your diet to include more foods with anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce acne-worsening inflammation. These include:
- Fish oil
- Green tea
Studies suggest that probiotics may actually reduce acne. In an early trial from 1961, a physician from Union Memorial Hospital named Robert H. Siver studied 300 patients given a commercially available probiotic supplement comprising a combination of two strains, L. bulgaricus and L. acidophilus. The supplement was administered for eight days, followed by a two-week wash-out period, and eight more days of administration. By the end of the study, about 80 percent of the patients with acne showed marked clinical improvement, particularly in cases involving inflammatory acne.2 The study lacked a control, but the study still suggested an interaction between gastrointestinal health and acne.
In another study, a group of 36 subjects was given either fermented milk product with probiotics and 200 mg of lactoferrin or fermented milk with probiotics alone over a 12-week period. After 12 weeks, the group receiving the lactoferrin-enriched fermented milk had a greater decrease in total lesion count compared to the group that received fermented milk alone (56% versus 32.2%).3 Both groups benefitted from the probiotics within the fermented milk product.
2. Low Zinc Levels
Studies have linked low zinc levels with acne breakouts. In one study, patients with acne were researched for their serum zinc levels. In both men and women with advanced grades of acne, zinc levels were significantly lower than in corresponding control groups.4 This suggests that low zinc levels may contribute to acne formation.
Could zinc supplementation help with acne? One study suggests so. In a double-blind trial, 56 patients with acne vulgaris were given either 138 mg of zinc every day or a placebo. While the placebo group showed no improvements, 58 percent of the group treated with zinc sulfate showed significant improvement, including a reduction in cysts, papules, and infiltrates. The group treated with zinc also showed a statistically significant increase in serum vitamin A levels.5
3. Hormonal Imbalance
Hormones play an important role in all bodily functions and processes, and hormonal imbalances can contribute to acne, particularly insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and androgens.
In a study, researchers measured the serum levels of androgens and IGF-1 in 34 subjects with and without clinical acne. Results found that IGF-1 and androgens, specifically DHT and DHEAS, correlated positively with more acne lesion counts in women, while high levels of DHEAS and androstenedione correlated with more acne lesion counts in men. This suggests that increased IGF-1 and androgen levels may contribute to acne in both men and women. While IGF-1 may appear to have a more significant impact on women, IGF-1 and androgens are interrelated in both men and women.6
Changing your diet to a low carb, high fiber, low glycemic index diet reduces insulin and IGF-1 spikes. Clinical studies suggest that these diets are helpful in reducing acne.
4. Poor Hygiene
Although acne is not a disease of hygiene, poor hygiene can exacerbate existing acne and skin prone to acne lesions. Dirt, debris, and excess oil, in conjunction with the bacteria P. acnes, can contribute to clogged pores and inflammation, both of which can result in acne breakouts.
To remove dirt and bacteria and regulate oil production, wash your face at least once a day, preferably before bed. The best acne face wash for adults is one that is gentle and irritant-free. Avoid using exfoliating scrubs too often. Clean pillowcases and face towels regularly.
After regular face washing, consider using over-the-counter topical treatments like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinol. These topical treatments work in different ways to eliminate bacteria and encourage the sloughing of dead skin cells to prevent irritation and clogged pores.
Finally, after washing your face make sure you use a facial moisturizer, even if your skin is naturally oily. Avoiding the use of moisturizer after washing can result in dry, irritated skin, which can exacerbate acne, damage your pores, and contribute to signs of aging. Often, an overly oily complexion is your skin trying to overcompensate for dry skin. Moisturizing will keep your oil production in check while also nourishing your skin.
Acne is mainly caused by inflammation, low zinc levels, hormonal imbalances, and poor hygiene. If diet and hygiene changes haven’t been able to address your adult acne DrFormulas® Dermatrope™ Clear Skin Support Supplement may help. It has been formulated to address the root causes of acne. The supplement contains turmeric, fish oil, and probiotics for inflammation, along with zinc for low zinc and DIM for hormonal balance.
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- Siver, R. H. "Lactobacillus for the control of acne." J Med Soc New Jersey59 (1961): 52-53.