4 Myths about Adult Acne: Why Natural Acne Treatment is a Lifesaver for Grown-up Skin
By Jennifer Boeder
Acne treatment ads were everywhere when I was a kid in the 1980s: from TV commercials to bus stops to Seventeen magazine. If you had acne during the Reagan years, the implication was usually that it was your fault for not keeping your skin clean. I distinctly remember bringing Sea Breeze to school for a midday purge of my greasy face, silently horrified by the dirt and oil that came off on the cotton ball. Why was my face so dirty? I was washing it constantly but clearly I needed to wash it more!
I washed more. The acne didn’t go away.
I used toothpaste on my face (supposedly supermodels were doing it!). The acne didn’t go away.
Now that I'm older and wiser, I know I wasn't doing it all wrong (though the mousse from my bangs probably didn’t help matters)—I was just getting bad advice. Eighty percent of teenagers suffer from acne, primarily due to an increase in hormone production as a result of puberty. These hormones cause oil glands to produce more oil (a.k.a. sebum). When combined with dead skin cells, excess sebum can block hair follicles, which can then become infected with bacteria and lead to acne.
The 1980s and 1990s approach to acne treatment was to go nuclear on all oil. Natural acne treatment was about as popular as natural bug repellant or natural deodorant: We wanted chemicals, the harsher the better! But the anti-oil approach to acne treatment was a lot like that era's low-fat craze: Not only did it not work, it often backfired big time.
It turns out that drying up all the oil on your face is an extremely poor plan for how to get rid of acne. Excessive washing and over-exfoliation just ends up kicking your sebum production into overdrive to make up for the stripping of oil. So all that Sea Breeze and Clearasil and Oxy-10 was likely making my teen breakouts worse, causing me to wash my face more, use more astringent products, irritate my skin further, and continuing the vicious circle of breakouts.
Mercifully, for most people, acne fades with adulthood—but it can continue into your 20s, 30s, and 40s. Even people who had clear skin in high school can end up with adult acne. And though we're past the days of the “war on zits,” even in 2020 so many myths about acne treatment persist—particularly adult acne. Allow me to dispel four myths in particular:
Adult acne means you're doing it wrong. Too often, people are made to feel acne is a personal failing. Adult acne can have such a wide variety of causes, from genetics and hormonal changes to pollution and stress (for a deeper dive on the stress-breakout connection, check out our post What Stress Does to Your Skin and Hair). Can you make changes to your skin care routine and daily habits that will address adult acne? Yes, of course. Should you beat yourself up over your breakouts? No. It's not your fault. So many of the contributing factors of adult acne are simply beyond your control (who, for example, is perfectly managing their stress in 2020? Not me or anyone I know!).
Blaming yourself for your skin issues just causes more stress, which is hard on your dermis and on your psyche. Being good to your skin starts with being good to yourself, so don't beat yourself up. You’re learning! At least we’re not putting toothpaste on our faces anymore?
2. Adult acne sufferers need to dry out their skin's natural oils. No. No. We can't emphasize this enough: Especially when it comes to adult acne, dermatologist Tony Nakhla, M.D. says that “sucking all the oil and moisture out of your face is a sure-fire way to irritate your skin.” Over-drying your face will actually cause it to produce more oil. Acne is massively frustrating (especially when we were assured it would be OVER AT AGE 18) and it's tempting to go gonzo with the astringents and benzoyl peroxide—but please don’t. Learn from all the mistakes we made in the 80s during the war on zits.
3. Adult acne means all your skincare products must be oil-free. Each person’s skin is different, and while an oil-free approach may work for some, the majority of adult acne sufferers also cope with sensitivity, irritation, inflammation, and even dryness. As our skin ages, we need moisture to prevent irritation, flaking, premature aging, and fine lines. Natural acne treatment doesn’t sacrifice those needs to address acne—and (depending on your skin) the right oils can help calm acne as they provide hydration.
Non-comedogenic (i.e., non-pore-clogging) moisturizer may actually address acne by signaling the skin to halt sebum production. Meadowfoam seed oil is a great example of therapeutic, non-comedogenic moisture for acne-prone skin: Because it’s similar in structure to the sebum naturally produced by our skin, it absorbs easily without clogging pores (which is one of the many reasons it's a key ingredient in our Skin Attuning Potion.) Speaking of plant-based, natural acne treatment….
4. Natural acne treatment is like natural deodorant: it's for hippies and it doesn't work. There’s a reason skin specialists have begun recommending patients try tea tree oil for dandruff, coconut oil for eczema, or CBD for acne: Studies show plant compounds can be effective remedies for many skin types, often with less irritation, lower cost, and fewer side effects then their pharmaceutical counterparts. A 2014 study concluded that “due to the combined lipostatic, antiproliferative, and antiinflammatory effects, CBD has potential as a promising therapeutic agent for the treatment of acne vulgaris.”
Rubbing plants on your face to address adult acne may sound like hippie nonsense, but it's actually based in science. If you approach acne treatment with the idea of bringing skin back into balance, reducing inflammation, and maintaining a healthy skin barrier, research shows that botanically derived ingredients can be amazingly effective. At Frigg, we are huge fans of plant-based skin care—not because we’re hippies, but because studies show it works.
Whether the tool that solves your adult acne comes from a plant or from your pharmacist, we fully support it! Every person's skin is different, and our skin needs change and evolve as we age. Not only does each individual require a different solution, but the solutions that worked for us in the past may need fine-tuning as we grow older. The more options and tools you have at your disposal, the better your chances are of success in finding an acne treatment that works for you. So keep plant-based, natural acne treatment in mind (just don't put toothpaste on your face, no matter how many supermodels tell you to.)
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Wanna learn more about stress, skin + hair health and plant-based beauty solutions? We got you!
What Are Cannabinoids?
What Stress Does to Your Skin and Hair
The Recently Discovered Bodily System That Supports Healthy Skin and Hair
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