How to Save Face

Causes-and cures-for six of the toughest grown-up skin problems

Thought blemished skin was something you left behind in your teen years? Think again. Thanks to our ever-fluctuating hormones, women are more likely than men to suffer breakouts and blotches in adulthood. Add that to the genes that predispose you to oily or dry skin and a clear complexion might seem impossible to achieve. But it’s not. With a little expert help, we’ve come up with some simple ways to clear up six of the most troublesome facial skin problems.

Adult Acne

What Causes it?

Hormone surges are a leading cause of acne in women, says dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, but they’re not the only factor. Genes play a role, too. Oily skin with cells that have a tendency to stick together, which clogs pores,is more prone to breakouts. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, which causes excess androgen hormone production, can also cause breakouts. If acne is a problem you should mention it to both your dermatologist and your gynecologist, says dermatologist Paul M. Friedman, M.D., co-author of Beautiful Skin Revealed: The Ultimate Guide to Better Skin.

Is it Preventable?

If the problem is hormonal, birth control pills can help regulate your hormones and control and prevent breakouts. To clean your skin, try over-the-counter acne treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide to kill pimple-causing bacteria, and salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells before they can clog pores. Applying an oil-free moisturizer and using non-comedogenic makeup can limit breakouts as well.

How can I treat it?

Never pop a zit, says Dr. Friedman. If a pimple definitely has to go, a cortisone injection from your dermatologist will help make it go away faster. Once the pimple erupts, benzoyl peroxide creams can help it heal. But, stay away from extra-strength formulas, Dr. King says. “We are not as oily at 35 as we were at 16,” she says. “So you can get irritation from products like Clearasil.” Because pregnant women should avoid benzoyl peroxide, Dr. King prescribes topical azelaic acid, which has some antibacterial properties, to soon-to-be moms.

 

Melasma

What Causes it?

Ever hear of the “mask of pregnancy?” That’s melasma. Surging hormones signal the skin’s pigment-producing cells to add some more color to your face, but it doesn’t show up in a uniform way as a tan would. Instead, melasma often appears as a series of blotches on the face. Because hormones are involved, certain birth control pills can also trigger it. Women of Asian, Latin, Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent, who naturally produce more pigment, are more likely to develop melasma.

Is it Preventable?

Wearing sunscreen daily, even if it’s cold and rainy out, is the best way to prevent melasma.

How can I treat it?

Sometimes giving birth or stopping birth control pills causes melasma to fade, but not everyone is that lucky. Skin bleaching creams can help, as can cosmetic peels and laser treatment. “There are innovative treatment options for patients with melasma thanks to new laser technology,” Dr. Friedman says. Fractional laser technology allows dermatologists to “retouch” your skin, like you would a photograph, to remove unwanted pigment. But it can be painful.

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