Q: I'm in my 30s, and I've suddenly developed acne. Nothing seems to help.
A: Of the hundreds of e-mails I get in response to this page every month, the ones from people suffering from acne are among the most desperate and sad. What I always want to tell you is that there's hope; with that in mind, I called Rhoda Narins, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine and director of the Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center in New York City. She had plenty of good advice, since she says she sees many people developing acne in their 20s and 30s. At that age, it's often due to a reaction to products you're using on your face or, especially if you use oils, your hair. So the first thing to do is switch to oil-free or noncomedogenic products. Avoid anything that contains lanolin, mineral oil, or petrolatum. Don't use pressed powders or pancake or powder foundation, because they contain oil. And never cleanse with harsh soaps that will dry out your skin, because they don't help clear up the acne, and you wind up using too much moisturizer to counteract the dryness. Try over-the-counter acne products containing sulfur, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid, all of which can help; but again, don't overuse them, because they'll dry you out. If your face doesn't clear up in two to three months, see a dermatologist. For severe acne, Narins puts patients on Accutane, the only cure. (You cannot take it if you're pregnant or trying to become pregnant; side effects, including depression, have been a recent concern.) Changing your diet won't affect acne at all, Narins says, though it can be made worse by stress, heat, and humidity.
Bottom line: A couple of changes in your product regimen may be all it takes to eliminate breakouts, but it could be two to three months before you see a difference in your skin.