Adult acne: The causes, treatments, and prevention methods to try according to top Singaporean dermatologists

Adult acne: The causes, treatments, and prevention methods to try according to top Singaporean dermatologists

Skin crater

Text: Emily Heng

Image: Instagram | @jamienelson6
Image: Instagram | @fredbastin

If memory serves, the mantra that all things come to pass proved reassuring in our teenage years. It was a promise, a dose of comfort in the face of an uncertain future. Much like how we outgrew bad sweaters and bowl hair cuts during our formative days, we believed the same would happen with braces, body woes, and acne. Until, of course, you're in your mid-20s, and you're still battling with clusters of angry, inflamed zits on your chin and cheeks.

"I see both women and men in their 30s and 40s with acne," Dr Stephanie Ho, accredited dermatologist and founder of Stephanie Ho Dermatology, points out. "Adult acne is more prevalent in women and is particularly distressing for older patients as they feel that it shouldn't happen to them." Indeed, adult acne is more debilitating than one might think. A 2018 study in the British Journal of Dermatology revealed that patients with acne have a 63% higher chance of developing depression compared with those who don't.

The fact that it is not a condition inflicted upon most adults makes it worse because it further increases feelings of isolation and helplessness. Bearing this in mind, we reached out to several top Singaporean dermatologists to uncover the causes, treatments, and prevention methods to consider. Might it finally be time to ditch those zits for good? Let us pray.

How prevalent is adult acne?

"Adult acne can be defined as the presence of acne lesions after the age of 25 years," explains Dr Hui Min Liew, dermatologist and founder of HM Liew Skin & Laser Clinic. "It's also more commonplace than you'd think. More than 50% of individuals in the third decade of life will experienced acne, and it is found that they are more typical in females than males."

What are the main causes of adult acne?

According to Dr Ho, key factors include:

  • Changes in hormones, such as with pregnancy, coming off birth control pills, or having a new progesterone-releasing contraceptive device implanted.
  • Using products that are too oily for one's skin type.
  • Underlying conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome that is associated with acne, irregular periods, and weight gain.
  • Going on medication such as oral steroids, anti-depressants, anti-epilepsy medicines, anti-TB medicines, and other immunity suppressants.
  • Stress. It can trigger acne by increasing the release of stress hormones, which causes oil glands to become more active and contribute to acne formation.
  • Diets that are high in sugars, carbohydrates, and dairy have also been shown in scientific studies to contribute to acne flares.

Are there any preventive measures for adult acne?

"Avoid a diet high in refined sugars," Dr Tan Hiok Hee, Senior Consultant at Thomson Specialist Skin Centre, advises. "Be sure to get enough sleep and manage stress, as that can aggravate acne. Use a gentle face wash and light moisturiser if needed, as well as an oil-free sunblock."

How can you treat adult acne?

The general consensus is that it depends on the severity of the condition as well as individual preference. For milder cases, Dr Liew recommends topical benzyl peroxide paired alongside a topical retinoid or antibiotics. When it comes to moderate cases, try oral antibiotics and anti-androgen (male hormone) pills. For severe cases, oral isotretinoin. They can all be obtained from a dermatologist or medical professional.