You probably thought whiteheads were behind you when you said goodbye to curfews and awkward school dances.
Unfortunately, these embarrassing white bumps often pop up beyond high school, into college years and far beyond. “Acne is thought to be seen in teenagers, but studies have shown that up to 45 percent of adult women have clinical acne,” says Minneapolis dermatologist Brian Zelickson, M.D., founder of MD Complete Skincare.
So what’s causing whiteheads to overstay their welcome? “Hormones can affect oil-gland activity, the stickiness of skin cells leading to clogging of pores, increased skin bacteria, and inflammation,” says Zelickson.
Watch this video for four reasons you’re still breaking out as a grown woman:
For the most effective at-home approach to treating whiteheads, Zelickson recommends choosing either a cleanser or spot treatment with salicylic acid or 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide. Tea tree oil, a natural anti-fungal, is another ingredient that can help zap zits. We likeSkinnyskinny Organic Anti-Acne Treatment Serum from our e-tailer Rodale’s ($24, shop.womenshealthmag.com), which contains tea tree oil and the antibacterial Babassu oil. Also worth considering: “Some people are helped by blue light from a device,” says Zelickson, who recommends Tria Acne Clearing Blue Light ($299, triabeauty.com).
If you decide to see a dermatologist, Zelickson says most will knock out the whiteheads with a combination starter of a prescription retinoid cream paired with an oral antibiotic. Retinoids, a derivative of vitamin A, clear acne and also offer anti-aging benefits. Antibiotics target whitehead-causing bacteria.
Unfortunately, there’s no single, one-size-fits-all cure for whiteheads, says Zelickson, so you may need to do a bit of trial and error to see which ingredient your skin responds best to.
Just don’t be disappointed if you don’t see results immediately. The biggest hurdle to success with any approach is that people don’t give ingredients long enough to work on acne, which is a condition that takes more than one skin cycle (30 days) to see the results of your labor. “Most therapies can take four to six weeks to start working, so be patient and make sure they’re really not working before changing course,” says Zelickson.