Are Modern Lifestyles Creating Our Acne?

adult acne diet dairy and skincare

Many of us had acne in our teenage years - it was almost to be expected. But if you’re over 25 and still suffering, you are in the increasingly large contingent of women who still have acne into adult age. So why is adult acne getting more common, particularly for women? 

A Modern Curse for Women

In studies conducted in the United States adult acne patients (over the age of 18) comprised over 60% of acne cases consulted on by doctors, and 2/3 of those cases were female. Dermatology clinics in the UK are reporting annual rises of 200% in acne cases, with over 1/3 of cases being women over the age of 35. At the same time, numerous studies have found that non-industrialised populations of the world (for example Bantu people in South Africa, Inuits in Greenland or the Okinawans in Japan) have no acne in their communities prior to adopting western diets and lifestyles, but incidence increases as “modernisation” begins.

For example, in South Africa, dermatologists found lower rates of acne among the Bantu than among whites residing in cities. Among the Zulu it was suggested that acne became a problem only when these people moved from rural villages to cities. These results suggest that the prevalence of acne is lower among rural, nonwesternized people than in fully modernized Western societies, and that the difference cannot be due to merely genetic factors.

Similarly, research shows that females make up 10-15% more of sufferers in all adult age groups, due to higher fluctuations in hormones in adult age than for males.

acne more common in women than men
So what is it about our modern lifestyles that is causing women so much acne in adulthood and what can we do about it? Here are three of the main reasons that we believe are contributing to this epidemic, as a skincare brand specialising in problem skin.

One: hormonal changes in women

Hormones impact female bodies in different ways than those of men. Our bodies are by nature very sensitive to hormone fluctuations so that our bodies can perform tasks that are unique to a female body (menstruating, ovulating, childbearing, breastfeeding etc). This sensitivity is important for us if we want to start families, but unfortunately, there are many things in our lifestyles that impact these same hormones in a negative way, primarily stress and diet.
Too much long-term stress and a poor diet create inflammation in our bodies by elevating our insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) hormones, and since adult acne is primarily an inflammatory issue, this hormonal elevation will cascade down to our skin. The more sensitive our bodies are to those hormones, the stronger our acne response will be.
Unfortunately research shows that the foods that create the highest levels of inflammation in our bodies are precisely those that are so prevalent in modern cuisines: refined sugars, dairy, processed meats, refined carbohydrates and trans fats. Too much of any of these foods allows our insulin and IGF-1 to surge, inflammation to rise, and the hormones responsible for sebum production in our skin to be overstimulated resulting in acne.

Two: skincare. 


As women use makeup more than men, they are typically compelled to start using skincare from a younger age. And unfortunately many younger women (myself included at the time) have not been properly educated on skincare and use products that contribute to the weakening of the skin. This sets the stage for more serious issues that continue past puberty. 

The products popular with young women that line the shelves of supermarkets are typically formulated with alcohols, fragrance, essential oils to make them smell and look appealing, but it is precisely those ingredients and the lack of antioxidant-rich ingredients that would counterbalance them that is creating the problems we now see. If you remember using some of these products, you know what I am talking about:

  • Commonly used harsh peels and manual exfoliating products
  • Harsh foaming and gel cleansers that are alkaline and strip the skins natural oils
  • Skin peels that quite literally take off the top layer of our skin to “reveal younger looking skin below”
  • Other strong resurfacing agents that are used on a consistent basis such as retinoids, microdermabrasion and polishes

This leaves many women with sensitised and weakened skin starting from a young age, a ripe bed for acne later in life. And as using these products becomes a habit and we get used to the seeming “ immediate results" we often continue these practices for years, compounding the damage that we have done to our skin in search of that quick hit of “glass skin”. The skincare I create takes the opposite approach to this, relying on products that can be used consistently over the years, with ingredients that strengthen and rebuild the skin year by year rather than tearing it down. This way our skin can maintain its natural glow and shine while also having the energy to fight any bacteria without it developing into full-blown acne.

Three: Women treat acne with harsher methods than men

Just as women are more likely to visit the doctor for a given medical complaint, they are also more likely to visit for acne. And once a woman sees a doctor or dermatologist about her skin, the likelihood that she is using harsh treatment products on her skin becomes highly likely. Unfortunately these products are often helpful in the short-term, but can destroy both your skin and body in the longer term (such as antibiotics and Roaccutane). Indeed, the NHS has noted in its own research that acne patients are being exposed to oral antibiotics for periods far longer than necessary, and similar trends can be seen with the prescription of other acne medications. Many patients are prescribed a mix of oral and topical antibiotics as well as Roaccutane for cases that could be treated with milder methods. These products can work rapidly, and as such fit with the goals of doctors under both time and results pressure. 

As men are statistically less likely to see a doctor for any given reason, they are also less likely to sensitize their skin early on in life through treatment protocols that should be reserved for only severe cases.

adult acne caused by skincare

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