My Struggle With Hormonal Adult Acne

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Today I want to open up about the challenges I’ve faced as an adult with acne.

Adult acne is more common than you might think. For many, it’s occasional breakouts – even into their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. For others, it’s moderate-to-severe and includes painful cystic acne, terrible scarring, and extreme redness. Some people’s acne has simply stayed with them since their teenage years, and some develop it as adults.

Regardless of it’s severity or cause, having acne as an adult just plain sucks. You feel like you must be doing something wrong to still have this “teenage” problem. Take comfort in knowing you aren’t alone and this isn’t unusual.

I developed acne around 13. It was your standard teenage acne: small pimples, blackheads, whiteheads. By the time I was 16 it was worse. Oftentimes the small clusters of pimples all over my face looked like a rash. I have very fair skin and scars can stay red/pink for months. It got to the point that I refused to go outside without makeup. I used to wear 2 foundations at the same time, not to mention concealer! I was so embarrassed.

I remember once, when I was 18 or so, I went to a sleepover with some girlfriends. They all wanted to do face masks and I couldn’t face the possibility of letting them see me without makeup. So I didn’t join in. I even slept in my makeup, woke up early before anyone was up, and washed it off so that I could reapply it.

In my early 20s my acne changed. First of all, I had tons of red scars. I love my freckles but when scars are mixed in, it feels like my skin is a hot mess. The location and type also changed. It was mostly on my lower cheeks, jaw, and sometimes my neck. The pimples were harder, larger, and more “under the skin”. These were some clues that it was hormonal. I’m thankful that I came to that conclusion, as it’s helped so much in my treatment.

I have tried SO many things. Some worked, some didn’t. I’m going to list everything I’ve tried, how it worked for me, and the pros and cons. In my next post I’ll share what my entire routine is now. (It’s working!)

What I’ve Tried

In no particular order, here’s my treatment journey! This includes oils, acids, pills, and more!

Tamanu Oil: This is a mild antibacterial that helps heal wounds, an anti-inflammatory, and an antioxidant. I absolutely adore this stuff. It never cured my acne but it helped immensely with it’s overall tone and condition. It’s got a very particular scent that bothers a lot of people, like a plant. Personally I love the smell! Even if you don’t, the benefits totally outweigh it. You could even add a couple drops to a moisturizer so it’s not so strong.

I haven’t used it in a while and I’m planning to repurchase and incorporate it into my current routine again. I bought mine from Aura Cacia. ($15.99) You can also pick this up at Whole Foods or Amazon.

Jojoba Oil – This isn’t an oil that stays on my face effectively as a moisturizer. It’s too oily, though it’s fantastic to add a couple drops to your regular moisturizer. It has antioxidants, acts as a fungicide, and soothes inflammation. It’s an excellent choice for the oil-cleansing method, and as a first-step in gentle makeup removal. I didn’t notice a huge difference in terms of acne, but it’s great for my skin overall. I recommend it. I get mine from Desert Essence. ($9.79)

Tea Tree Oil – Tons of people use this oil. It’s great as a spot treatment. When I was younger, it worked pretty well for me. With my hormonal acne, however, I didn’t notice a difference. It’s an antimicrobial, destroying bacteria. It dries out acne while remaining a gentle option. It’s a great product to have in your acne-fighting arsenal. (The Body Shop, $10)

Acne.org Regimen: This regimen includes a gentle face wash, benzoyl peroxide gel, and a soothing moisturizer. Based on the enthusiastic description from the website, I really thought this stuff would cure me. It didn’t, but there were parts I liked, and there are tons of people who’ve had great results. It super annoys me that the website touts itself as the only truly effective treatment available with long-term results. That sort of claim is simply unfounded. Everyone’s acne is different. I understand that it’s a selling point but that’s what irks me. I like honesty from companies and part of being honest is being realistic.

Perhaps I had limited results because mine is hormonal and this is an external treatment. I will say, however, that the lotion ($17.42) is amazing. It’s a huge bottle and it’s one of my favorite moisturizers of all time. It makes me glow. (Check it out here. Full kit is $44.87)

Ortho Tri-Cyclen: This is a birth control pill that is commonly used to treat acne. BCPs are an option that needs careful consideration. It’s a prescription medication with all the cautions that would come with any other. This is something to discuss with your doctor. For me, this cleared up my acne completely within a couple months. I took this while using tamanu oil and my skin was looking fantastic.

However, I started a new medication for my bipolar disorder that cannot be combined with it. In the end, my mental health was more important than my acne. What was great about the experience was getting proof that it really was my hormones! That was so helpful. Get more info about it here.

Salicylic Acid – This popular treatment has never cured my acne but it’s always been helpful in keeping it slightly better. It clears the pores, breaking down blackheads, and helping the skin shed it’s dead cells. I prefer mandelic acid (below) because it’s also an antibacterial. I like Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment. ($8.79)

Mandelic Acid – A year ago, I purchased a sample of Makeup Artist’s Choice 25% Mandelic Acid Peel. Mandelic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid. The molecular structure is larger than glycolic acid, meaning it’s less irritating. That makes it a great starter peel and an option for sensitive skin. It exfoliates, works an antibacterial, brightens skin, and reduces fine lines.

This peel is the only product that has cleared the small whiteheads on my chin. I’ve had them for years and nothing has ever budged them. I need to repurchase this, because they’ve returned. This stuff gave my face a lovely glow! I definitely recommend it. ($4.95 for sample, $17.95 for full size. Buy here.)

Sulfur-Based Products – Sulfur is a very smelly, very effective treatment. It’s a natural mineral that works as an antiseptic, dries out pimples, but remains gentle on the skin. I use it for random breakouts, especially those hard ones that like to stubbornly hang out under the skin. I’m crazy for Mario Badescu’s Drying Cream ($17). It’s one of my favorite products of all time.

Next time, I’m going to share what I’m currently using to manage my acne! What about you guys? What’s helped you with your acne?

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