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“Out damned spot! Out I say!”

Posted in Aging, Health, and Women's issues

I felt like Lady Macbeth when I woke last Thursday. My chin was red and swollen and grew steadily more so through the day.

Friday morning saw me aghast in the mirror – with what can only be described as a carbuncle on my face. It was spongy, red, streaked with ominous yellow and so nasty looking my mother was prompted to wonder (out loud) if it was a boil.

It’s been a week and it is still there. The kids have dubbed it “Spot” and Hannah wanted to paint eyes and a mouth on it. Said I might as well make a feature of it so people will “laugh with you”.

All my attempts to cure/heal/burst have only served to make this monstrosity worse and eventually my local pharmacist spoke the truth I had been dreading: “you have adult acne, it’s common amongst women in their fifties”.

I had a short run-in with acne in my twenties, sorted out by an encounter with Accutane. A drug so powerful they make you have a pregnancy test before you take it. Potential thalidomide-like side effects have made the manufacturer wary of lawsuits – and you have to sign an agreement not to fall pregnant before embarking on the course.

Now – although I have no intention, nor probably the ability, to fall pregnant – I also would prefer not to go through Accutane again unless I really need to. My reason: it dried me up everywhere – and I mean everywhere. No fun. Much chafing. So I did a little research on alternatives – and here’s where we stand.

1. One in five women between 50 and 60 will suffer from adult acne. It drops off after that (How fabulous .. a clear skinned seventies awaits). Adult acne tends to re-appear in women who have experienced acne in their teens or twenties (a little late life bonus for the woman who has everything).
2. Midlife increases in androgen hormones like DHEA and testosterone, spike the production of sebum. Causing the sebaceous glands to over-react and create excess oil in the skin. Birth control pills with androgen in them can do the same thing. (Worth noting: androgen levels affect woman very differently. While one woman will have no menopausal acne, another (with exactly the same levels) will experience acne on her face, back and chest.)
3. Stress is a complicator: causing oil glands to overproduce – leading to a build up of oil and dead cells.
4. Cosmetics also play their part. Inferior quality or old products block pores and mix with bacteria. Turning black when exposed to air. Pimples develop when these blackheads become inflamed.

I had been through a stressful couple of weeks in which I had travelled, worked long, long hours, hadn’t slept much, and let’s face it – I am 52. I had also tried a new foundation that had felt both claggy and oily – despite the dryness in Johannesburg. So I was four for four on the indicators. No surprise, then, that Spot had reared his ugly head.

How to deal with this abomination?
The key, apparently, is not to treat your adult acne like the teenage kind. The same products just won’t work on skins ‘of a certain age’.  For the odd spot – a simple four-step program is recommended:

Step 1: Pick the right cleanser. Look for medicated cleansers with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.  Follow the instructions properly.
Step 2: Exfoliate gently to clean out pores. Not too often and not to hard. Two to three times a week is enough. Mature skins should avoid grainy scrubs chosing instead an exfoliant with alpha-hydroxy acids or a salicylic acid treatment. These chemical products clean out pores better than scrubs.
Step 3: Disinfect the spot. Dab tea-tree oil onto the area as soon as you feel the swelling. Then leave it alone. If it continues to grow – try a spot cream or gel – containing (you guessed it): Salycylic acid (From personal experience Clinique Anti-blemish Solution is great)
Step 4: Leave it alone.

If only it was this easy

No-one should have to walk around with pustules on their faces. If this regimen doesn’t work, and your acne is really insistent there are other options.

Have a good facial: Acne is not a disease, rather it is a condition of the skin and a good facialist knows exactly what your skin needs: Sulfur, zinc and camphor masks, exfoliation, blackhead extractions and at-home follow-up.

Try a treatment system: Proactiv Solution 3-step System is a classic kit that has worked wonders for friends of mine. And my pharmacist personally recommended MD Skincare All-Over Blemish Solution.

Get thee to a dermatologist: Don’t wait until your acne is controlling your life. A dermatologist has an arsenal of products to clear up your skin: retinoids, antibiotics, azelaic acid and birth control pills are all options. Alternately he/she might recommend laser treatments.

Then there’s Accutane: this controversial drug is considered the most effective treatment available – especially in severe cases. It worked for me in my twenties and I have seen it work on women in their late forties/early fifties. It is a commitment: requiring a 5-month “strictly adhered to” regimen.  And it might have side-effects.  But it could be a life saver – giving you your face back clear and glowing.

The Miracle Worker.
The one “go-to” treatment that came up again and is Salycylic Acid. This naturally sourced wonder drug (widely known as Asprin): not only breaks fevers, thins blood, alleviates pain and decrease inflammation – it can also treat acne. Not taken as a tablet – but rather used topically (on the skin) in washes, shampoos, creams and spot treatments. It’s readily available, inexpensive and effective.

And Asprin also makes great, acne-busting face pack!

  • Crush four uncoated aspirin tablets with a fork
  • Add the crushed aspirin tablets to a small glass bowl
  • Mix in a teaspoon of gentle foaming facial cleanser – the paste should be smooth and a little bit granular
  • Add some pre-boiled/cooled water if it is too thick.
  • Apply to face, avoid sensitive area around the eyes
  • Leave the mask on for 15 minutes and rinse off with cool water
  • Repeat every two weeks

My searching turned up some good news too.

It’s now official Chocolate does not cause acne.  And Dark Chocolate is good for you: especially if it contains more than 71% cocoa. In fact, really dark chocolate is a good source of magnesium and antioxidants that help your heart stay healthy.The British medical journal found that 100 grams (around 3-4 oz) of dark chocolate every day: reduced blood pressure and heart related problems by 21%.

So – I’m off to find a quiet place, apply my facemask, open a magazine and pop a block of chocolate.  Who knows, I may even add a little Campari cocktail to the mix – no-one said it would cause spots –and besides, I know it’s good for stress.

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  1. Mine never fully went away, so you have my attention!
    I’m wondering if the Aspirin mask would work for my teen son. His older brother needed the “big gun” but I hate to resort to it again.

    October 15, 2012
    • He should probably do the wash and topical cream routine as well. And then the asprin mask as a chaser. I’m not a doc – but we all needed the accutane in my family … I hear the new regimen is a lot less harsh than it used to be. A friend has just taken a two week course. Let me know how it goes – would be great to do a follow-up.

      October 15, 2012
  2. Ah, yes. Well into my fifties, I used to say that my skin looked as though I were still fourteen. Because I still had acne flareups.

    October 14, 2012
  3. silvia

    I know it’s a bit wired but you might want to give it a try to put some urine – yours of course – on the area. Urine is not used in our culture, first of all because it is only considered as our body production waste, but it coud also be employed as a skin cleanse if done regularly.
    Excellent research sofagirl

    October 12, 2012
    • Well – urine works on athletes foot. So worth a try I guess. xx

      October 15, 2012

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