The adult acne epidemic: Forget teenagers – modern lifestyles mean middle-aged women increasingly suffer the misery of bad skin

The adult acne epidemic
Forget teenagers – modern lifestyles mean middle-aged women increasingly suffer the misery of bad skin

Over many troubled years, my spotty skin has caused me to cancel countless dates, numerous nights out and even much-anticipated job interviews.

Acne dogged my thoughts before I even opened my eyes in the morning. If my worst fears about my skin were confirmed when I looked in the mirror, my day was ruined.

As I entered my 40s, I thought the bad skin which had blighted my life since my teenage years would be long gone.

The global anti-acne industry was worth nearly 2 billion in 2009 alone

The global anti-acne industry was worth nearly 2 billion in 2009 alone

Sadly, it wasn’t. Far from it. Indeed, the misery of adult acne cast such a shadow over my life that I felt a particular sadness when I read this week about the 18-year-old schoolgirl who hanged herself after spiralling into depression because of severe acne.

Her death was such a waste of a young life, but I can fully understand the despair Melissa Martin-Hughes felt after developing acne when she was 14.

Until six months ago, when I finally found the answer to my own problem, the spots were worst on my face. But I also had acne on my chest and back, which meant the state of my skin always dictated what I could wear.

When my acne was particularly bad, I
was restricted to wearing high-necked tops to cover it, regardless of
the weather. Likewise, low-backed dresses didn’t feature in my wardrobe.

Katy Perry

Cameron Diaz

 Victoria Beckham

Acne sufferers: From left, Katy Perry, Cameron Diaz and Victoria Beckham

If you haven’t suffered from acne,
you are blessed. It is painful, embarrassing and disfiguring, and the
scarring it can leave behind often takes months to fade. No wonder sufferers want to be rid of it, and are willing to invest hope and hard cash in the latest remedy, as a result of which the global anti-acne industry was worth nearly 2 billion in 2009 alone.

As celebrity acne-sufferers like Victoria Beckham, Katy Perry and Cameron Diaz can no doubt testify, no amount of make-up will ever conceal a spot effectively.

To make matters worse, my skin is oily as well as spotty, so even thick foundations and heavy powders didn’t take the shine off my face for long.
All things considered, it came as little surprise to me when I learnt that stress and depression are among the associated symptoms of continued acne.

As a poised, professional woman who takes pride in her appearance, it felt remarkably unfair still to be suffering from what is usually thought of as a teenage complaint. However, I am not alone. Latest statistics reveal that 50 per cent of women suffer from acne at some point in their adult life, with the condition becoming increasingly prevalent in women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even older.

Latest statistics reveal that 50 per cent of women suffer from acne at some point in their adult life

Most skin experts believe that an increase in the male hormone, testosterone, is the main cause. It
creates an excess of sebum — an oily/waxy substance produced by the
sebaceous glands to lubricate the skin. Too much sebum causes a build-up
of oil and dead skin cells in hair follicle pores. Bacteria make their
way to the blockage, and the growth in bacteria causes acne.

facets of modern life are also thought to exacerbate it, including junk
food, the excessive consumption of sugar, hormone imbalances and
stress. Interestingly, there’s
also a growing school of thought that acne is genetic — a theory which
certainly strikes a chord with me.

While lamenting my latest acne break-out to my impossibly glamorous 62-year-old aunt last year, I was amazed to discover that she still suffers from the occasional spot herself. During the 25 years I spent battling my dreaded spots, I tried virtually every treatment going, from prescription drugs, face lotions and potions to alternative therapies such as homeopathy.

Nothing worked. And as every hoped-for cure proved a false dawn, I sank ever deeper into despair and frustration. My war against acne began not long after my 15th birthday, with the first of many severe attacks during my adolescence. I had spots everywhere: along my hairline, on my chin and around my nose.

Miracle cure: Samantha Brick finally has her acne under control thanks to Proactive products

Miracle cure: Samantha Brick finally has her acne under control thanks to Proactive products

My mother booked an appointment with our GP, who merely prescribed ‘some sunshine’ to combat the problem. I was depressed and became well-versed in the art of wearing heavy make-up to conceal my acne. My worst fears about my spots making me unlovable were confirmed when my first boyfriend dumped me for a girl with a perfect complexion.

My 18th birthday party was also
marred by my skin. /02/29/article-2108353-11F9F678000005DC-7_110x110.jpg” width=”110″ height=”110″ alt=”ACNE” class=”blkBorder” />

Eve Lom Dynaspot, 20,

Non-drying, it can be used under or on top of make-up and contains antiseptic tea tree oil to aid healing.

No! No! Skin, 132, Boots

Clever gadget directs Light and Heat Energy deep into skin to open pores, destroy bacteria and ease inflammation.


Proactiv 3 Step System, 39.99, Boots

Calms irritated skin, unplugs pores and smooths your complexion, boosting it in days.

COR Silver Soap, from 15, body

For acne-prone skin, it contains nano-silver with silica compound to stop bacteria.


Deep Pore brush, 21, Clarisonic (0800 988 4864)

Designed for oily skin, it’s gentle enough to use twice a day.

Face Touch Up Stick, 18,

If all else fails, a robust cover-up can rescue you. This one gives thick coverage in one swipe.

Just minutes before a big meeting with a broadcaster, my male boss looked me up and down and informed me, rather brutally, that I’d reach a higher rung on the career ladder if I ‘sorted my skin out’. I was devastated, particularly since the stress of work had contributed to a bad outbreak on my cheeks at the time.

Shortly afterwards, and at my wits’ end, I started taking the contraceptive pill Dianette, which suppresses testosterone. It proved to be my salvation. For ten years, Dianette helped me maintain the smooth, alabaster complexion of Nicole Kidman.

But I had to stop taking it in my mid-30s to try for a baby, naively assuming that after being acne-free for so long it was a problem that was behind me.

Three months later, my spots were back with a vengeance. My husband was horrified, joking that he would never have married me if he’d realised I suffered from such a condition. Naturally, his tactlessness — albeit it in jest — sent me scurrying back to the doctors.

My sympathetic GP suggested Roaccutane, a highly effective drug in the treatment of skin conditions. Unfortunately, it also damages the natural enzymes in the liver, creating the risk of back pain, digestive problems, severe lethargy, and even depression and suicidal tendencies.

The main reason I declined this particular ‘miracle’ drug was because it is known to cause birth defects in unborn babies. For that reason, doctors now put women taking Roaccutane on birth control too.

Appealing as the prospect of clear skin was, this treatment was out of the question for me because I was hoping to conceive a child.

So, instead, I used antibiotic skin creams which didn’t eradicate my acne, but did help minimise it. I even decided to holiday in India specifically to buy Retin-A — an expensive anti-ageing cream also used to combat acne. It’s available only on prescription in the UK and rarely given out, but in India it’s as easy to buy as Paracetamol.

Last year, however, I finally had a breakthrough when I heard about a skincare range called Proactiv. At the time it was available only in the U.S. (happily, as of last month, it can be bought over the counter at Boots), but I was so desperate I ordered it directly from the manufacturers in America.

I signed up for the brand’s three-step treatment — a cleanser, toner and skin repairing treatment which, at 39.99 a month, wasn’t cheap.
But it worked: within a month, my spots had dried up, and the shiny patches which invariably showed through my make-up were gone.

Six months later, I am happy to say my skin has improved significantly.
And so, today, at the age of 41, I can finally see the upside of having naturally oily skin — hopefully wrinkles will take that bit longer to form.