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Mirror, mirror, on the wall, aren't I too old for acne?

Ask an expert: Dr. Shannon Humphrey explains why the right treatment information, tailored to each person’s skin type, is the best weapon for battling blemishes.

Q: I’m not a teenager any more – why am I still getting pimples? Are diet and stress culprits?

A: Adult acne for women is much more common than most of us think. Half of women in their 20s, a quarter of women in their 30s, and still 10 per cent of women in their 40s struggle with acne. It tends to have a cyclical pattern that follows the hormonal cycle. What we don’t know is why this seems to be on the rise. Both diet and stress can certainly flare underlying acne but are not believed to be the root cause, so changing diet or reducing stress may lead to skin improvement but not resolution of acne.

Q: Is it still a bad idea to pop pimples? 

A: Yes. Patients have a tendency to be really aggressive when they’re manipulating their own skin and anything beyond gentle manipulation of skin increases the risk of scarring and infection – so we don’t recommend popping pimples. Your best defence is to contact your family doctor or dermatologist because virtually every case of acne can be treated.

Q: Is there one basic skin care ritual or regimen that all skin types could benefit from? 

A: Patient’s skin care needs are so diverse that to make a basic skin care ritual or regimen for all really would be difficult to apply. However, in general, cleansing should be gentler than you think and sun protection is critical. Very few patients need a harsh soap, astringent or abrasive exfoliant. Finally, moisturization helps restore the skin barrier and help the skin look and feel smoother and be better able to tolerate the fluctuations in Canadian weather.

Q: When is it time to see a doctor for treatment?

A: Mild acne can often be treated with an over-the-counter preparation with low-concentration benzoyl peroxide. If there’s not significant improvement within the first few months, or if there are side effects, those are signals that it’s time to talk to your doctor. Also, if the acne is moderate-to-severe, there’s scarring, or if there is a psychological impact, those are also signals to consult your family doctor or potentially to have things escalated to a dermatologist depending on the assessment.

Q: How long does acne last and how long does it take to treat? 

A: The average case of acne lasts for at least two years whereas the average prescription acne treatment regimen starts to work within two-to-three months. 

Q: Where can I find more information about treating acne? 

A: The Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada website has some great principles that can be referred to in terms of treating acne. 
Have a question for dermatologist Dr. Shannon Humphrey? Find her at, @HumphreyDerm on Instagram and Twitter, or on Facebook.
Dr. Shannon Humphrey is a clinical assistant professor and Director of Continuing Medical Education at the Department of Dermatology and Skin Science at UBC. She is a practicing dermatologist with a sub-specialty in acne and rosacea at the Vancouver General Hospital Skin Care Centre and Carruthers & Humphrey Cosmetic Medicine. Dr. Humphrey is also on the medical advisory board for the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada.

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