When considering various plagues and epidemics in recorded history, adult acne does not exactly spring to mind. The Black Death was widespread and devastating; measles is airborne and highly contagious. (Conveniently, it is also easily avoided with vaccine.) Acne, by comparison, seems like a walk in the pus-filled park. And, fine, labeling it an epidemic or a plague borders on the hyperbolic (though it wouldn’t be the first time it was said). Yet a whopping 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience some form of acne. That’s easy enough to write off as par for the course of adolescence, but the same can’t be said for adult patients — particularly women, who are reporting breakouts in record numbers.
The American Academy of Dermatology states that the rates of acne in adults are increasing; information presented at AAD’s annual meeting in 2012 found that acne affects more than 50% of women between the ages of 20 and 29, and more than 25% of women between the ages of 40 and 49. Women in all age groups were disproportionately impacted compared to their male peers.
While there is a lack of consensus on just how much those numbers have risen since 2012, both anecdotal accounts from dermatologists and a 2018 review show an overall increase in adult female acne patients in recent years. So, have we finally done it? Is our uniquely horrifying modern brand of stress, pollution, beauty-product abuse, hormonal shifts, and inserting our faces directly into our palms every time a Republican politician speaks bringing about the demise of clear skin?
People feel a massive lack of control, and then they internalize that and beat themselves up over it.
It’s hard to say. Fluctuating hormones are, and always have been, a major factor for women, and environmental variables are very real, says dermatologist Ainah U. Tan, MD, who estimates that over two thirds of her acne patients are women over the age of 18 and has published a review on the subject. “One reason for increased prevalence is due to living in a developed area,” she says. “Studies have shown that industrialized nations have higher rates of acne.” At the same time, adult acne cases — like all skin conditions — have historically gone underreported, says licensed psychotherapist Matt Traube, MFT, who specializes in psychodermatology, or the emotional aspects of skin conditions.
Couple that with the fact that we’re more hyper-aware of our appearance than ever, and you’ve got a generation of women not only grappling with bumps and breakouts but severe psychological scarring that can linger even after it clears. “Social media and reality TV stars all contribute to the impossible standard for people to look ‘perfect,'” says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. According to Dr. Tan, these factors cause people to “agonize over every blemish,” and therefore plant the seed for the symptoms of acne to transcend far beyond mere blemishes. Women are also increasingly reporting clinical depression, anxiety, and even …read more