What it’s really like to… get acne in your 30s

Adult acne may sound like an oxymoron, but more women are developing the skin condition later in life due to stress and fluctuating hormones
What it’s really like to… get acne in your 30s

As a former beauty editor, I am well-versed in the A,B,C's of skincare. I know my AHAs from my BHAs. I know that hyaluronic acid will, figuratively speaking, inject moisture into your skin, while salicylic and glycolic acids will suck excess oil out. I know way too much about peptides and collagen and boosting both, which all should equate to me having smooth, shiny skin that screams vitality and virtue, right?

Somewhere along the way, my skin stopped playing ball and red, flushed cheeks that suddenly became prone to miniscule, albeit, aggravated-looking pimples, gave way to painful, cyst-like lumps along my jawline. At first I naively thought that maybe my make-up brushes, riddled with bacteria and desperately overdue a wash, were to blame. They probably were, and I probably need to wash them at this very moment, but they weren’t the main offender.

No, my trusty hormones had taken on a life of their own, and I had also developed rosacea somewhere along the way, so no matter what I tried, I couldn’t seem to recalibrate. That’s because the incredibly frustrating thing about hormonal acne, is that it defies logic. Granted, postpartum hormones were most likely the culprit in my case (mixed in with a dose of new mother stress), but I couldn't seem to get rid of it, even after the other affects of childbirth receded from memory. 

Acne also has triggers, just not the usual kind. Rosacea is sensitive to heat (hello new home Dubai) and cold (hello hometown Dublin), spicy food and stimulants like caffeine, and you can minimise its effects, but even if you painstakingly take your make-up off every evening, drink so much H2O you worry you might be giving yourself hyponatremia, and cut out things like caffeine and chips, you can still have acne flare-ups that are out of your control.

The other thing about acne is that you never really know what’s going on underneath the surface. Acne is skin deep. Literally. I knew about salicylic acid, I had been using it religiously in Obagi Clenziderm Foaming Cleanser form, yet it seemed to have momentarily lost its magical powers and couldn’t persuade the spots that had taken up residence on my face to find alternative living arrangements.

And then there’s the scarring. My propensity for picking, poking and prodding the colony of little lumps that had invaded my jawline meant that even after a breakout cleared up, I was left with self-inflicted blotchy red scars that took months to heal.

But then, following a conversation with a friend about retinol, I fell down a Google-shaped acne rabbithole and learned that alternating between niacinamide in the mornings and salicylic acid at night could be the key to all my skincare woes.

Niacinamide, which is essentially Vitamin B3, can be used to treat a whole host of skin conditions including pigmentation, large pores and a weakened skin barrier. And while it shouldn’t be used at the same time as an acid like salicylic, when layered correctly, each product helps the other do its job more effectively.  

After two or so months my flare-ups started happening less, and my skin which was unscathed by any kind of spot as a teenager might I add, returned to normal-ish condition. Niacinamide nirvana, you might say.

The even better news? The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% costs around Dhs50, so I can continue to put my best face forward without shelling out a small fortune on products every month. Disclaimer: I still get breakouts, but nothing I can’t manage with a bit of concealer.

And while it might sound flippant, finding a skincare formula that works has been a game-changer, and not just for my skin.