40 years old and I’ve still got acne – I can’t take it anymore !
We were promised that spots and blackheads would be a thing of the past once we’d finished puberty. Yet, here we are years later, still suffering from awful flare ups on our faces, backs and chests. In France, acne affects 40% of women over the age of 25 so here is an overview of the most common causes of acne and natural remedies to keep your skin healthy. Obviously, this advice is also applicable to those dealing with the joys of juvenile acne !
Causes of adult acne
Hereditary : sometimes, for genetic reasons, sebaceous glands in the skin can develop to become over sensitive to changes in hormones. This is what causes the majority of adult acne. Thanks mum and dad !
Menstrual cycle : even if you don’t keep track of your cycle, the appearance of a nice big spot will probably let you know that your period’s due ! Just before your period starts, your ovaries produce progesterone which stimulates the sebaceous glands, creating a perfect breeding ground for acne.
The pill : the contraceptive pill has been linked to two possible effects on acne. Pills that contain nortestosterone can cause acne, whereas pills that contain the male anti hormone progestogen can reduce acne. When you come off of the pill, problems with acne can come back even worse than they were to begin with. If this is the case for you, don’t panic. It takes 6-12 months for your skin to return to normal, but in the meantime you can follow the advice in this article.
Stress : sebaceous glands are surrounded by nerve cells, which means sebum production increases when you’re stressed. Of course acne itself can be a source of stress, so it can easily trigger an irritating repetitive. Try your best not to stress about your spots and instead chill out by doing something sporty or relaxing.
Acne can be the result of many different things, so in some instances, it’s not caused by hormones. It can also be caused by skin coming into contact with an irritating substance or even using the wrong sort of skincare products. We call this contact acne and the most common forms are :
Cosmetic acne : oh here we go ! Our cosmetics are giving us spots ? Today we’ll talk about avoiding common misconceptions and adopting a better skincare routine.
Chloracne : this is skin poisoning from chlorinated agents that are contaminated by dioxins. Severe chloracne is uncommon and mostly affects those who work in certain environments. However, we will see a little bit later why it can come from our bathrooms.
What causes cosmetic acne
It’s important to remember that acne prone skin is not necessarily oily skin and that oily skin is not always acne prone skin. The first step is to determine what type of skin you have so you can avoid unsuitable skincare products.
If your skin is oily, combination to oily or combination to oily with a dry tendency, our article on taking care of oily skin will be very useful.
As we keep on repeating, you should be using a gentle cleanser, regardless of your skin type. Even acne prone skin still needs sebum so stop trying to get rid of it entirely: harsh exfoliators will only aggravate the problem !
Aggressive cleansers and harsh exfoliators : stop with the hygienist obsession !
Your skin is not impure. It’s true it needs to be cleansed for good hygiene, but harsh scrubbing really won’t help ! We’ve had a look at the composition of several cleansers for acne prone skin that are sold in shops and drugstores. The sneakiest manufacturers have stopped using the most widely-known sulfate detergents and replaced them with other surfactants that are just as questionable (PEG 40, polysorbate, etc.). However we did find lots of different names for sodium lauryl / laureth sulfate… Just as a reminder, these sulfate detergents are great for cleaning the garage floor, but not so good for your skin. They destroy the skin’s hydrolipidic film – the one that is supposed to protect and regulate your skin… Of course your skin will try to defend itself by producing even more sebum when you try to get rid of all of it. Your skin needs sebum !
Here you can read our article on sulfate detergents and their dangers in cosmetics.
Choose organic and natural cosmetics : the vast majority of products that are labelled organic are free of sulfate detergents and aggressive and dangerous surfactants. Take a bit of time to learn about the specifications of different organic labels.
Something else to forget : the idea that harsh exfoliators are beneficial. One form of cosmetic acne is the so called mechanic acne that can develop following a mechanic irritation of the skin. Enzymatic exfoliators (chemical exfoliators), are much more gentle however, we still advise that you wait until your skin is calm and healthy before you exfoliate.
Choose a more gentle solution : the good old sauna facial and its sidekick the green clay mask have proven themselves to be very effective. For the sauna facial, place your head covered by a towel over a bowl of hot water with a few drops of tea tree, lavender, sage or lemon essential oil. For the clay mask, choose the powder version that you mix yourself as the ready made versions can be full of preservatives that you should try to avoid.
Occlusive and comedogenic ingredients in our cosmetics
To give the illusion of hydration in conventional cosmetics, manufacturers mostly use silicones, along with mineral oils and waxes (paraffin). I say the illusion of hydration as ingredients that are synthetic or derived from cheap petrochemicals don’t actually benefit the skin at all. The inert and impermeable film that these ingredients form on the skin allows the skin to retain water (hydration), but doesn’t actually hydrate it properly. This is why we call them occlusive and comedogenic – they block pores and eventually suffocate the skin. Even if they don’t cause any real health problems, they are damaging to the environment when they are disposed as they are not biodegradable. These are just a few of the many reasons to permanently get rid of them.
I’d like to take a moment to make something clear : these ingredients are used by everyone, ordinary shop bought products, luxury perfumes and even products in drugstores. Drugstores are big suppliers of products containing emollient agents derived from mineral oils and silicones, so don’t trust a label saying “oil-free” as it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is mineral oil free.
See our article on mineral oils in cosmetics.
You must also beware of conventional makeup ! Be particularly cautious of products meant for the complexion (foundation, compact powder) which are full of oils and waxes that are derived from petrol. Try mineral makeup which doesn’t include any petrochemicals and is from natural origin. To cover a zit, use a concealer after disinfecting the area (with essential tea tree oil mixed with plant-based oils). To mattify the skin during the day, apply a bit of loose powder with a makeup brush that you wash every week with water and soap.
Treating cosmetic acne
There are several ways to treat acne but sometimes, it will need medical help. This is why we recommend that you make an appointment with a good dermatologist to identify the causes of your acne and discuss the most suitable solution (be wary if they recommend their company’s products after a 5 minute consultation !). Regardless of the cause of your acne, our natural remedies will compliment your skin treatment without causing any further irritation.
Start with a gentle and natural cleanser
The oO team’s tried and approved method for skin cleansing is hydrolats. For example, soothing camomile floral water will cleanse impurities caused by pollution or air and will cleanse the skin of any makeup residue. You can also choose 100% natural cold process soap which (thanks to the cold process) still contains glycerine and won’t dry your skin out. You could also choose a gentle gel cleanser to purify your skin without causing irritation. If you wear makeup every day, a plant-based sweet almond or jojoba oil will completely remove your waterproof makeup. Finish off your cleansing with a spray of lavender, rose or witch hazel hydrolat : their astringent properties keep your skin healthy all day long. Yes, it really is that simple. Two solutions that are natural, cheap and gentle for the skin and the environment !
Looking out for your skin and the planet : people whose work exposes them to tar or chlorine can develop contact acne fairly easily. Chlorine is a toxic agent for the skin yet it is currently used to bleach the cotton pads that are in all of our bathrooms. They have a huge impact on the environment : their production uses a lot of water and a large quantity of pesticides for pieces of cotton that will be thrown away after only one use. Switch to washable and reusable makeup removal pads, your skin and the planet will thank you.
How to choose the active ingredients in your moisturizer
If you have acne prone skin (and you probably do if you’re reading this article) it needs to be cleansed and soothed. Why do we get spots ? To begin with, a simple blackhead is formed : a pore is blocked by an excess of sebum and takes on its dark colour when it becomes oxidized. It’s the perfect environment for bacteria, which causes inflammation and so the blackhead turns into a red and painful spot or a white headed pustule.
When it comes to active ingredients, you should research :
Antibacterial active ingredients : bacteria can cause a simple blocked pore to spread across the face (this is why we recommend that you don’t touch your face too much)
Anti-inflammatory active ingredients : big and painful spots that leave marks are just black or white heads that have become inflamed.
Active ingredients rich in vitamin E : soothe the skin, help to defend it thanks to its anti oxidizing properties and speed up the healing of residual marks. Choose a moisturizer that contains ingredients that are rich in vitamin E such as Mimosa Tenuiflora or Centella Asiatica extracts.
All these properties can be found in essential fatty acids, rich in omega 3-6 and 9 which sebum is made of. Choose skincare products made from plant-based oils that are rich in these fatty acids as the body is able to absorb them effectively. You will find them in products such as our Check Matte mattifying cream, which is specially formulated to get rid of imperfections.
You can also make your own homemade anti-acne serum : a mix of plant-based oils and a few drops of essential oils will do the job. Be careful with the essential oils, start slowly and try to follow a recipe recommended by a specialist !
Several examples of oils to consider for your homemade cosmetics :
Hemp, Brazil nut, flax and nigella oil etc.
Lavender, tea tree and carrot essential oil etc.
3 pieces of advice for optimal results
Choose organic ingredients : we obviously recommend that you choose organic oils, better still, cold pressed : this will guarantee you oils that still have all of their beneficial properties. Avoid hydrogenated and esterified oils as their production processes cause the oils to lose their useful qualities.
Think about combining a variety of active ingredients : the skin is a complex organ that needs lots of different things to get it to work best. This is why we recommend that you try several different active ingredients, but don’t feel you need to make up blends that are too complicated at home (this would be too expensive and some of the oils could expire before they’re even used), since every oil contains a wide range of active ingredients.
What can you do about a spot that’s already there
As we saw earlier, blackheads are an ideal environment for bacterial growth. It’s best to get rid of them with a sterilized spot remover (at the dermatologists office or at home). But sometimes pustules can appear without first being a black head – this is typically the sign of irritated or fragile skin.
What should you do then ? Not fiddling with your zit is a good start ! Don’t try to dry it out or drain it, instead try to keep it clean. You can use tea tree essential oil, which has antibacterial properties, to keep the spot from contaminating the rest of the skin. Then all you can do is just be patient and keep up your skincare routine (like the one suggested in this article)
Beauty’s on your plate
As we often say, a good diet is important for clear skin. As beneficial to the stomach as they are to the skin, essential fatty acids are just as essential on your plate. You can find them in oleaginous fruit (walnuts, hazelnuts) and plant oils. Some trace elements are also useful for fighting acne. Selenium stimulates the immune defense and combined with vitamin E (that you can also find in oleaginous fruit and plant oils) is known to be effective against acne. Just one Brazil nut a day gives you all the selenium you need – it’s simple ! Zinc encourages healing and can be found in lentils, dry beans, non GMO soya and in mushrooms.
Are there any foods that cause acne ? Specialists often have different opinions, but recent studies have shown that refined products (e.g. white bread, sweets) can cause acne, as they stimulate the production of sebum.
Got questions about this article ? Want to ask for some advice ? Don’t hesitate to get in contact with us in the comments. We’re always happy to help !
This post is also available in french.