In a society largely dominated by social media and the pressure to achieve a certain airbrushed look, there is to be an expectation that people should have clear skin. Additionally, the unwelcome appearance of acne may serve as a reminder to adult women of their time in puberty. I was always told that acne was a part of puberty because of the excess oily secretions being produced. But I occasionally see my skin and the skin of adult women around me suffering the same lesions and breakouts that come with acne. I can’t help but wonder why that pubescent trend has not seemed to calm down.
Fifty percent of women in their 20s and 25 percent of women in their 40s develop adult acne. And as many as 22 percent of all adult women suffer from the condition, compared to 3 percent of adult men.
I have noticed that my adult acne is more painful — a symptom correlated with what is commonly called hormonal acne. Whether that increase in pain is based in biology or psychology, it turns out that acne is linked to the persisting hormone fluctuations women experience in their adult lives. However, hormones play a significant role in all types of acne (from adolescence to middle age), so specifically calling adult female acne “hormonal acne” is a misnomer.
For women, studies suggest that the ebb and flow of hormones throughout the menstrual cycle can cause an acne flare and significantly increase the inflammatory lesions characteristic of acne. Stress or diet may exacerbate acne, particularly dairy and sugar-rich foods. In addition, acne is made worse by pollutants and intense humidity.
Acne is not just about superficial appearances. A person’s health is determined not only by the physical factors that affect their body’s functioning, and even something as simple as acne may take a toll on a person’s health, sense of well-being, and self-esteem. Poorer emotional or mental health can in turn affect the body so that health and wellness may suffer all around.
For people with adult acne, depression is two to three times more common than in the general population. Studies have also shown that women with acne are more likely than men to develop depression. This may be because women are more likely to develop and be diagnosed with depression in general, as women seek out medical assistance more than men and also may experience more social pressure than men to have a perfect appearance.
Social criticism and expectations to conceal acne may charge the production of these anxieties and spur on even greater stress about one’s appearance. Thankfully, adult acne is largely a treatable condition. Women should consult their general care providers or a dermatologist for the options that best match their needs. They may be able to offer treatment regiments or medications to clear up the skin and recommend cosmetic products that won’t clog the skin and worsen breakouts. Additionally, women should be aware of the high correlation between acne and depression and seek mental health counseling or treatment if necessary.
These frustrating bumps may be an embarrassing part of a woman’s adult life, but there is no need for them to be. Our society needs to normalize the taboo aspects of health and the body (like acne or cellulite) as a part of daily life. Perhaps more pushback against photo and video editing and unrealistic beauty standards established and perpetuated through TV, film, magazine, and social media culture will eventually reform the way we view our skin blemishes. Then acne — and its perception — won’t provide yet another piece of ammunition to tear down health and wellness. Then acne, as we discuss it and treat it, will become a health concern that is truly only skin-deep.