There are two things we know for sure about acne: it’s tricky dealing with pimples and that it’s definitely not a teen thing. While having breakouts in your 20s and 30s feels unfair, it’s surely not as embarrassing anymore (remember Mindy Kaling’s selfie with zit cream?). One of the strongest voices leading the acne acceptance campaign is UK-based dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible, Dr Anjali Mahto. Besides being an expert at treating the condition, she’s also been brave to share pictures of her cystic acne on Instagram. “The first time was a frightening but liberating experience. As a dermatologist, people expect you to have perfect skin and I have often felt that I was being judged when I was having a ‘bad skin day’,” says Dr Mahto who regularly shuts down acne-shaming trolls on social media. “We need to see representation of all skin types, colours, and problems before stigma around these conditions can be broken down.” Here, she tells us what causes flare-ups and how to tackle the emotional side of it.
Why it happens: “While adult acne in women has been on the rise, we do not know the exact causes for it. We do know that it is largely down to the complex interplay between hormones, genetics, oil production, as well as the interaction of bacteria that live on the skin. People often think that acne occurs due to poor hygiene, but that is not the case. If anything, those with acne often tend to over wash their skin in an attempt to remove oil. Another common misconception is that it’s caused by fatty or fried foods, but there’s no clear link there either.”
Line of defence: “Try using key ingredients such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, retinol, tea tree oil and niacinamide in your skincare routine. If the acne fails to settle, becomes worse or leaves marks and scars, seek the advice of a professional.Dermatologists can prescribe topical or cream-based treatments (retinoids, antibiotics) as well as oral medications depending on the severity of the condition.”
Journey to healing: “Scars and pigmentation are different. Dark post-inflammatory stains are usually flat and fade over time. Lactic acid, vitamin C, azelaic acid, kojic acid, tranexamic acid can all help to lighten these marks. True scarring, when acne heals but leaves ‘indents’ in the skin, requires medical intervention, like micro-needling or laser treatments.”
Dealing with psychological scars: “Acne can lead to anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, low body image, and difficulty in relationships and employment. For many, it’s also a chronic problem that can never be permanently cured, and this is something we need to come to terms with. We need to be in a position where we are in control of our skin regardless of it being a good or bad day.”
Photographs: Getty Images