Dealing with acne in your 30s? Two experts break down the reasons (and what you can do about it)

Confession time: in my teenage years, I rarely got pimples… and I loved to brag about it. Sure the occasional puff would roll around if I spent a weekend making pizza and milkshakes, but it would quickly disappear and leave no trace. For years, my unblemished skin was a source of great pride and when people asked me my secret I would smugly shrug my shoulders and say, “I guess it’s just good genes!” But don’t worry, the chickens came home to roost many years later when I suffered a terrible bout acne when I least expected it. But as I’ve since learned, getting acne in your 30s is a common (though incredibly annoying) occurrence.

It turns out that there are many reasons why you could develop acne in your 30s. This frustrating phenomenon can be the result of hormonal and dietary changes, environmental factors, the natural aging process and more.

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Fortunately, products with powerful ingredients at various price points can be used to combat frustrating skin care problems. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to deal with this on my own, and after years of suffering in silence, it occurred to me that I could see a dermatologist about the problem. Within weeks it cleared up and hasn’t bothered me since. It was a great lesson in remembering to ask for help, even if the problem seems trivial.

To get to the bottom of why this happens and what we can do about it, I reached out to a few experts to give us the scoop on acne in your 30s. I asked Daisy Suarezesthetician and founder of Desuar Spa, and dermatologist Dr. Rafaeloff of Le Jolie Medi Spa for their guidance. Get ready to be blown away by their insightful answers, tips, tricks and recommendations.

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What Causes Acne in Your 30s?

“As we age, our bodies also go through many changes,” says Suarez, “and hormonal shifts are the main cause of adult acne.” As a result, the skin is more vulnerable to hormonal changes as an adult. Hormonal changes increase oil production, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. She goes on to state that this is the time in your life when skin cell turnover slows down. Skin cell turnover is the process of creating new skin cells to replace existing ones. During cell turnover, the body rids itself of dead skin cells to allow the body to grow new healthy skin cells.

Because our body’s cell turnover slows down as we age, we no longer have such a healthy shedding cycle. As a result, the dead skin cells sit on top of our epidermis longer than before and trigger acne, clogging and blocking our pores with dead skin. This results in an increase in bacteria and acne flare-ups.

Dr. Rafaeloff pointed out that stress can cause hormonal imbalances and change the entire body’s functions and secretions. Another reason to prioritize self-care and mental health! If you are concerned about a hormonal imbalance, you will definitely want to see your primary care physician and get some tests done.

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The link between having acne in your 30s and diet

Suarez confirms that consuming a high level of sugar or refined carbohydrates can lead to adult acne. This is due to the effect refined carbohydrates have on our body’s insulin levels and blood sugar. Refined carbohydrates are quickly absorbed into our bloodstream, which can quickly raise our blood pressure blood sugar levels.

She explains that when blood sugar rises, insulin levels also rise to help remove the sugar from the bloodstream and into your cells. Insulin makes androgen hormones more active. This contributes to acne growth by causing skin cells to grow faster and by encouraging the production of sebum that can eventually clog pores and result in acne. A huge bummer.

As if that wasn’t enough, Suarez tells us that a diet high in dairy can also contribute to acne flare-ups. You can help prevent acne in your 30s with a well-balanced diet that limits dairy and refined sugar. Eating low-glycemic foods made from complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) can also reduce the risk of developing acne.

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What are the best ways to prevent and treat acne in your 30s?

Fortunately, Suarez mentioned that there are several things you can do in your 30s to prevent acne. Exfoliation helps get rid of dead skin that would otherwise sit on the top layer of the epidermis. By exfoliation twice a week, you will help your skin to remove old dead skin cells and grow new skin – this in turn will prevent breakouts. Wash your face daily and apply a non-comedogenic facial moisturizer. Then use a tones to help with excess oil production. Finally, eat a healthy and acne-friendly diet low in refined sugar, fat and dairy.

But Suarez gently and kindly reminds us that treating acne in your 30s requires patience and consistency.

Teenage skin heals faster and regenerates at a higher rate, but as an adult, the process is slower. Our collagen levels are also decreasing, which can leave us with more acne scars. Committing to a skin care plan and sticking to it is the key to success.

According to Suarez, current products such as retinol help with cell turnover and help dry out the excess oil on the skin. Using a BHA-salicylic acid cleanser will help eliminate the presence of acne. As it is oil soluble, this will penetrate the skin and help remove dirt, dead skin and oil. Tea tree oil is an antibacterial, drying agent and witch hazel can help with inflammation, these two combined in a 50:50 ratio and used as a spot treatment can give amazing results on the skin.

Dr. Rafaeloff adds that hygiene also plays a role, and regularly getting new pillows and removing allergens is essential to keeping skin clear and healthy, as is sleep itself! She recommends sleeping from 10pm to 6am as this is when our rejuvenating hormones are released.

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The best acne fighting skin care ingredients

  • Salicylic acid removes dead skin cells before they can become infected with bacteria.
  • Tea tree oil is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.
  • Glycolic acid removes dirt and oil from the skin.
  • Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria.
  • Retinols can help prevent new pimples and aids the cell renewal process.
  • Azelaic acid is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and a gentle peel that reduces inflammation, cleans pores and prevents acne.

Acne-fighting treatments to consider

There are many treatments that can help treat acne in your 30s. Suarez has three favorites that she highly recommends for people experiencing acne.

  1. Get a acne facial treatment by a licensed esthetician.
  2. Invest in one LED light with blue and red light. It helps with acne as blue light has been shown to kill bacteria and red light will help with inflammation. LED light therapy targets acne-causing bacteria and the production of excess sebum that causes clogged pores. These treatments can help clear current acne breakouts and prevent future ones.
  3. Laser treatments are an effective method of treating acne, as they destroy bacteria on contact. Lasers also shrink your oil glands to prevent pore clogging and future acne breakouts. They are able to reach deep players of the skin without damaging it.

Alongside regular facials and peels, Dr. Rafaeloff is a fan of Morpheus8 Resurfacing treatment for both active acne and scarring. The Morpheus8 is a micro-needling device that uses radio frequency energy to help create smoother, healthier looking skin.

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10 Expert-Endorsed Skin Care Products If You Have Acne in Your 30s

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This post was originally published on July 20, 2021 and has since been updated.

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