The Angst of Adult Acne
What triggers these oil slicks? Hormonal fluctuations are often to blame -- and nothing drives hormones wild like motherhood. "During pregnancy, the skin may react to the body's increased level of progesterone, which can induce acne," says Carr. (Some women, on the other hand, find that the corresponding rise in estrogen curbs sebum production and reduces acne.) After delivery, when progesterone and estrogen levels drop, acne frequently clears up. At the same time, however, the body's higher proportion of androgens (acne-causing sex hormones) can mean new or continued outbreaks for some moms.
In addition to hormonal changes, external factors can bring on adult acne as well. Some medications -- including corticosteroids, androgenic steroids, phenytoin, and progestin-only oral contraceptives -- can spur oil production. And while many women use abrasive scrubs, astringents, masks, and exfoliators to help keep zits at bay, these products can backfire, triggering an overabundance of sebum, aggravating acne, and irritating the skin; oil-based facial and hair products may also clog pores. Another common culprit is stress, which can contribute to a surge of acne-inducing androgens. Finally, although many women find that downing a chocolate bar or an order of greasy fries invariably provokes an outbreak, dermatologists disagree about whether such foods are actually to blame.