By Carla Oates
Although acne is a condition most commonly associated with puberty and the hormone fluctuations of our youth—unfortunately adult acne is incredibly common and can manifest well into our 30s, 40s and even our 50s…
The good news is that whether you suffer from mild acne, moderate acne or more severe acne—there are ways to manage and treat it effectively. The key is determining the type of acne you’re experiencing (either inflammatory or non-inflammatory breakouts), as well as its underlying cause which can be hormonal, digestive or both.
So, before splurging on expensive over-the-counter topical acne treatments promising a cure-all for your adult acne, it’s important to first establish what may be triggering your skin inflammation and focus on the power of the gut-skin axis—which will help you to regain control over your skin and reveal the smooth, strong, resilient and clear complexion you’ve been longing for.
Read on to find out what adult acne actually is—as well as how your gut could be influencing your spotty skin...
What Is Adult Acne?
Typically triggered when sebum or excess oil clogs hair follicles with dead skin cells, acne vulgaris is an inflammatory skin condition which can manifest in a myriad of ways—pimples, cysts, blackheads, whiteheads, clogged pores, cystic acne, zits, nodules, papules, pustules… the list goes on.
The key difference between the acne breakouts of our youth and adult acne however, is that adult acne is more likely to affect women and can also be longer-lasting and more chronic than adolescent acne—which typically improves with age. Although this can feel like disconcerting (and frustrating!) news, there are similarities in terms of its underlying causes. Hormonal changes, for instance, can be a key trigger for adult acne—and is another reason why women are more commonly affected—as during menstruation, as well as during pregnancy, postpartum, peri-menopause, menopause or after stopping birth control pills, our hormones can go up and down, seemingly at will. Therefore, if your acne seems to flare due to hormones, the first step to effective management is to chat to your doctor or integrative healthcare practitioner about undergoing some hormonal blood tests to ensure everything is in balance. Sensitivity or raised levels of testosterone and/or androgens is one of the key triggers for hormonal acne—which is why polycystic ovary syndrome sufferers can sometimes be more at risk of developing adult acne symptoms. Similarly, if you tend to experience PMS-related acne, it could be due to hormonal fluctuations of oestrogen and progesterone—so finding ways to support your hormone levels throughout your cycle may be beneficial. But it’s not just our sex hormones that can contribute to adult acne—cortisol (our stress hormone) can also directly influence and impact the state of our skin by affecting our immune system, gut health and inflammatory response.
Above all, however, the state of our gut can be indicative of our predisposition to adult acne—and also hold the key to revealing healthy, clear skin.
The Link Between Gut Health & Adult Acne
The way our gut can influence our skin all comes down to the intimate link between the two—known as the gut-skin axis. This bidirectional pathway allows our gut and skin to communicate via our microbiome and as each are closely interconnected, if our gut is imbalanced, inflamed or irritated, it’s likely our skin is, too.
This close dialogue can also play out in a number of ways. Firstly, our gut plays a huge role in how our hormones are metabolised and regulated, with oestrogen and progesterone directly impacting our pace of digestion, and therefore the effectiveness of our elimination pathways. So for some, constipation or impaired digestion can trigger hormonal imbalances and subsequently, blemishes when our skin (as our largest organ) is required to ‘pick up the slack’ and assist with the excretion and elimination of toxins and waste. This can be one of the main causes of adult acne as this hormone shift can send our oil glands into overdrive and clog pores.
For others, however, it can be a gut health disorder which correlates with poor skin. SIBO, for example, is proven to be ten times as prevalent in those with acne, while leaky gut can also be an underlying cause of adult acne flare-ups. Also known as intestinal permeability, leaky gut literally means that the delicate gut lining has been compromised and the ordinarily tight junctions in the gut wall have loosened—or, become ‘leaky’. This means that harmful or inflammatory compounds which would ordinarily be effectively processed and eliminated by the body, are now able to be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. The cascading effect of this is inflammation as the body responds to these foreign compounds as invaders. The tricky thing with leaky gut is that there are countless causes and triggers—so if your adult acne stems from leaky gut, the first step is to heal your gut, bring balance to your microbiome and promote microbial diversity.
The benefits of nurturing and healing your gut—especially if you suffer from leaky gut—are therefore extensive. Not only will you help to mitigate systemic inflammation, but your digestion and elimination abilities will also be improved—as well as your body’s ability to absorb and utilise the nutrients that are essential for healthy, clear skin.
4 Quick Ways To Improve Your Gut Health (And Ditch Adult Acne-Prone Skin For Good)
Avoid inflammatory foods: A poor diet is as detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing as it is to our skin—by causing damage and irritation to our gut. Gluten, dairy, refined sugars and carbohydrates as well as excess red meat, alcohol, caffeine, additives, preservatives and artificial sweeteners can all wreak havoc on our digestive health—triggering dysbiosis (or a balance of bacteria in our gut), inflammation and gut health issues. Not surprisingly, these foods are also commonly linked to skin conditions such as acne, too.
Consume probiotics: One of the simplest ways to boost your gut health, diversify your microbiome and improve your skin is to include probiotics and probiotic fermented foods in your diet regularly. There is an ever-growing mountain of research to support the benefits of probiotics and their ability to not only support overall immune function (and therefore our wellbeing), reduce inflammation and combat pathogens—but evidence also shows that particular species and strains of probiotics can also positively influence the state of our skin. Several strains of Lactobacillus, for example, have been shown to reduce skin inflammation—improving both our skin’s delicate barrier function, as well as strengthening and supporting our gut lining, too.
Improve your elimination pathways: Your liver is your body’s primary elimination organ, but if it’s a little sluggish and lacking the ‘oomph’ it needs to effectively process and eliminate toxins from the body, your gut health and skin can also suffer the consequences. Therefore, a quick detox can be of great benefit and give your liver, as well as your gut, a quick ‘spring clean’ and ensure everything is ticking over nicely. Adding a nutrient-dense greens powder—like CLEANSE Inner Beauty Support—to your daily routine is one way to boost your gut health and support your liver and elimination pathways, but eating a diversity of prebiotic and fibre-rich leafy greens will also do the trick. In fact, including an abundance of fibre in your daily diet is one of the quickest ways to support your overall gut health as these foods feed the good bacteria in your belly and encourage their proliferation. This results in a more robust, diverse microbiome—which triggers a myriad of benefits for our health, immunity, wellbeing and skin. Other simple ways to improve your elimination pathways as well as your gut health include exercise—which is proven to increase the production of protective anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids—drinking lots of clean filtered water and dry body brushing.
Manage stress: We all know how detrimental stress can be to our wellbeing, but it can also negatively impact our gut health (and subsequently our immune and skin health) by disrupting the balance and diversity of our microbiome. Like the gut-skin axis, the gut-brain axis is bidirectional—meaning that stress can impact our gut but our gut can also impact our brain, too. As we already know, stress has been directly linked to acne breakouts (as well as other skin conditions), so learning to manage it is key! Meditation, mindfulness practices, sleep and exercise are all tried and trusted methods of stress management—and are proven to help regulate our body’s stress, immune and inflammatory response.