It is one of life’s rather more unfair happenings (with a caveat that in the hierarchy of suffering it doesn’t really rank!) that you are likely at some point to experience both acne and fine lines, dark spots and other signs of ageing simultaneously. Acne is not, unfortunately, something we leave behind in our spotty, hormonal teenage years. Anyway, practically nothing from our teenage years is left behind given the return of everything from low-rise jeans to Bennifer.
If you’re currently in this position take comfort that you are most certainly not alone. Clare McColl and Nicole Manning from Sydney’s Paddington-based skincare and wellness destination Fenn Store say it’s a very common experience. Often a breakout, particularly the deep, painful hormonal kind, comes down to hormonal imbalances, stress, gut and liver health. And this can strike at many different life stages.
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“This is something we see a lot at Fenn. Hormones can trigger skin issues for women of all ages, not just teenagers! Our hormones go through many fluctuations throughout life; triggered by a variety of factors including genetics, environment, stress, diet and of course the natural life stages such as peri-menopause and menopause which is when sex hormone production decreases. During this stage women can experience acne and also have concerns for skin ageing—not a fun combination but not insurmountable,”says Manning.
“Everybody is different and so symptoms of hormonal fluctuations vary. Those experiencing skin sensitivities and breakouts as well as managing ageing skin can be supported with the help of a health professional such as a naturopath as well as with appropriate facial treatments and products.”
Both recommend being considered, and consistent, when treating a double whammy of signs of ageing (including fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and sun damage from too much exposure to UV rays) and acne. You want to be turning over skin cells, which will also help with healing and fading scarring post breakout, as well as calming the skin, boosting collagen production and keeping it hydrated. No mean feat!
The best actives to treat adult acne and ageing skin
“Consistent treatments involving professional exfoliation and Omnilux LED light therapy is the perfect way to combat both acne and ageing, LED is perfect as it is antibacterial and antimicrobial thereby killing and calming any inflammation in the skin all while encoring cell turnover. For best results a course of eight rounds is recommended, with a light at least every two weeks,” says McColl.
Both McColl and Manning recommend adding in a retinol three to four times per week. “[It’s] incredible for speeding up cell turnover and helping your skin retain its youthful bounce. Retinol is perfect for breakouts as well as it will encourage the cells to heal faster and fade lingering pigmentation and acne scarring.”
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Other recommendations? Hyaluronic acid.
“Hyaluronic acid is a humectant which holds 1000x its weight in water and draws products deep into the dermis, this works perfectly on clean dry skin. Retinol paired with hyaluronic Acid will help prevent the skin from drying out [or] impacting your skin barrier function.”
Being too overzealous in any skincare regime can be problematic—you might end up impacting the skin’s PH level and overdoing it on exfoliation can, as McColl points out, disrupt the skin’s acid mantle and cause a reaction. Going forward bravely, but gently, with your double pronged approach is important.
Sydney-based dermatologist Dr Shreya Andric agrees that retinol is necessary for treating acne and the signs of acne. She points out that while acne is most commonly seen in adolescence it can definitely occur later and also for the first time in your late twenties, while fine lines and signs of ageing appear from your mid-twenties. Meaning an overlap can be common.
“The best topical way of treating both simultaneously is with a retinol (can be purchased over the counter) or retinoid (available only by prescription). In acne, these unclog blocked pores and also have anti-inflammatory effects. From an anti-ageing perspective, they increase the cell turnover and have the ability to penetrate deep within the top layer of the skin to stimulate collagen and elastin formation. Another ingredient to keep an eye out for is bakuchiol—a plant-based retinol alternative, which has been found to be as effective as retinol, but without the irritation and increased sun sensitivity.”
Cosmetic physician Dr Naomi McCullum, founder of The Manse clinics and a new skincare range, Dr Naomi Skin, says there are a few commonly made mistakes when it comes to treating acne and signs of ageing at the same time.
“Everyone loves topical vitamin C for all of its amazing properties. In a lot of ranges, the vitamin C serums can trigger acne, so I’d recommend to find a vitamin C that works for you. One of the other big mistakes I see is people calling the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from acne, acne, when it is past that stage. It is the pigmentation there that needs to be addressed,” she says.
In-clinic treatments for acne
Dr McCullum, who recommends in-salon treatments such as IPL, RF microneedling, regular peels and LED, is a big believer in effective at-home treatments too—think beauty devices and powerhouse ingredients such as niacinamide and, you guessed it, retinol.
“For skincare, retinol would have to be our number one ingredient that is well researched and known to be effective in improving acne and fine lines and wrinkles. We have a powerful retinol called Vitamin Amen. We would also recommend niacinamide for both, for its regulation of oil, improving redness and blotchiness, but also for fine lines and pigmentation. We have niacinamide in many of the products in our range as it’s in our brightening cocktail,” she says.
As for how long until you start seeing results? Nicole Manning says you can expect improvement in three to six weeks. So long as you’re diligent. “Consistency is key! We also highly recommend visiting our naturopath to help balance the skin from the inside out,” she says.
6 products that promise to help manage acne
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Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum
This powerhouse serum has 6.5 per cent solution of stablised retinoid blends and retinol alternatives.
Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, $128, available at Sephora
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Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Multi-Recovery Complex Serum
There’s a reason why this overnight treatment is an OG for signs of ageing, and skin cell turnover.
Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Multi-Recovery Complex Serum, $175 for 50ml, available at Tangs
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Dermalogica Age Bright Clearing Serum
The Dermalogica Age Bright range was developed specifically for adult acne and its accompanying side-effects (i.e. to fade scarring).
Dermalogica Age Bright Clearing Serum, $125, available at Dermalogica
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Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defence Serum
Another powerhouse targeting acne and signs of ageing. Skinceutical has a cult following for its serums.
Skinceuticals Blemish + Age Defence Serum, $178, available at Tangs
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Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10
This power-packed formula of vitamin A, hyaluronic acid, glycerin and vitamin E work to smooth fine lines and wrinkles while clarifying skin’s tone and texture. It also inhibits bacteria growth, preventing future breakouts.
Medik8 Crystal Retinal 10, $132, available at LookFantastic
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Rationale #1 The HydraGel
Provides relief and barrier repair for sensitive skin types experiencing adult acne with hyaluronic acid, allantoin and glycyrrhetinic acid for improved skin texture.
Rationale #1 The HydraGel, $204, available at Rationale
This article first appeared in Vogue Australia.