Acne is bad enough during your teen years, but aging along with acne? No walk in the park. Here, top derms and estheticians tell you how to fight both issues at once.
Step 1: Learn what to avoid and why
Steer clear of products based in thick humectants like shea butter. "Fatty emulsifiers that are thick, heavy, oily or creamy can be comedogenic [clog pores], making breakouts more likely," says Annette King, Director of Training and Development for the International Dermal Institute. Noncomedogenic gel- or silicone-based products are best for your skin type. Also avoid products that list ingredients like SD alcohol and fragrance among their first ingredients. These are drying and can trigger oil production, says King.
Step 2: Check your skincare regimen
You've tried the gamut of over-the-counter "solutions" and had no luck? Skip ahead to step five to find out why and what you can do from there. If not, keep reading to find out what types of products you should and shouldn't be using.
Step 3: Treat acne at any age
Start with a daily cleanser that contains acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid. (Try AyurMedic Salicylic Wash, $25.) Follow with an oil-free moisturizer (like Kiehl's Sodium PCA Oil-Free Moisturizer, $17.50). If you're near 40, stick with a mostly age-fighting regimen and use a salicylic acid spot treatment night.
Step 4: Use acne-friendly aging tactics
If you see signs of aging all over, apply a firming serum or fluid that doesn't feel greasy or oily and lists anti-aging ingredients early in the ingredient list. (Look for retinol, which doubles as an acne treatment; peptides, which encourage cell turnover; and antioxidants like green tea and vitamins, which protect skin from environmental damage.)
Step 5: Spot treat partial signs of acne and aging
If you only see signs of aging around eyes or lips, use a gel or silicone product just in those areas. (Try Olay Age Defying Revitalizing Eye Gel, $9.99.)
If you only see acne on certain areas, apply a clay-based mask once a week on those areas and wear an anti-aging mask on the rest of your face. (Try Dermalogica mediBac Clearing Sebum Clearing Masque with Dermalogica Age Smart Multivitamin Power Recovery Masque, each $40.)
Step 6: Consider a radical approach
If you've exhausted your skincare choices and still experience breakouts, consider more radical treatments (if they're in your price range). Chemical peels, light therapy, laser treatments and microdermabrasion series are alternatives to reducing non-cystic acne, signs of aging and acne scars. "I recommend Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and the [Candela] Smoothbeam laser ... a diode-based laser [for acne]," says dermatologist Dr. Kenneth Beer.
Step 7: Destress your skin
If radical treatments aren't for you but over-the-counter products still aren't helping, it's time to evaluate your stress level. Stress-related breakouts can appear either all over or, particularly later in life, concentrated in the chin or neck area. Spot treatment products (like Patricia Wexler M.D. Acnescription Overnight Acne Repair Lotion with Acnostat, $20) may help but you need to reduce your stress level to keep blemishes away completely. Try decreasing daily activities, taking yoga, setting aside quiet time, eating a nutritional diet and quitting smoking, drugs or alcohol. Your skin with thank you.
Step 8: Still having problems?
OK, you're relaxed and your skin is not responding to all the treatments you've tried. "If you have really red, pustular breakouts that linger or are very bothersome, your acne could be hormone-based," says King. "Hormones influence every reaction in our body." Now's when you see a doctor.
A dermatologist may recommend prescription topical like tretinoin or Retin-A, which treat acne and reduce discoloration and wrinkles, as well as oral antibiotics, which help minimize bacteria that grow into follicles and cause inflammation, says Beer. An endocrinologist can evaluate hormone levels and pinpoint imbalances that might be responsible for your breakouts. If you'd rather not take meds, consider seeing an acupuncturist who can recommend homeopathic treatments like teas, herbs and acupressure.
Step 9: If all else fails ...
Embrace your skin. If you've tried many of the aforementioned levels of treatment and no one solution works long-term, fighting acne will likely be a constant battle for you. If that's the case, many women find that perfecting the application of mineral makeup and concealer (watch our concealer video) can really help get them through the day.