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2015 May

Zits for Grown-Ups

Cafeteria cliques may be a distant memory, but if you’re still battling pimples, Gervaise Gerstner, a New York City dermatologist, explains how to fight these bad boys off.


What is acne anyway? Zits occur when pores become plugged with sebum (an oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands) and dead skin cells that haven’t sloughed off properly. When bacteria that normally live on the skin’s surface enter those clogged pores, they can multiply, release fatty acids that are irritating to the skin, and cause inflammation, explains Gerstner. In adults, acne most often pops up on the chin and the jawline but can also be found on the chest, the back, and the upper arms.



• Hormones - Doctors believe that acne is often caused by hormonal fluctuations. For women, breaking out along the jawline is often a sign that your period is on the way. Pregnancy and going off birth-control pills are two other times hormone-driven acne can occur.

• A Level-10 Freak-Out: Stress will stimulate your body to produce more hormones, which may contribute to breakouts, says Gerstner.

• Mom and Dad: Bummer. Susceptibility to acne may be written in your DNA.

• Drugs: Skin reacts to certain medications, including lithium, Dilantin, and many oral or inhaled steroids that are prescribed for the treatment of asthma.

• Cosmetics: Heavy creams can clog pores and cause acne cosmetica, which is exactly what it sounds like—pimples triggered by makeup.

• Hair products: Styling sprays, serums, and mousses applied too close to the face can cause what’s called pomade acne.

• Sweat: Not wearing ventilated clothing or wicking fabrics while working out can make acne worse, especially on the chest. Keep a clean towel nearby when you exercise so you can dab off perspiration periodically. Showering immediately after hitting the treadmill will help, too.

• Your phone: Dirt and bacteria congest pores and create acne. Cradling the phone against your chin or touching your face frequently, for instance, can cause you to break out, so clean your phone daily with an antibacterial wipe.



First wash your face no more than twice a day (but do wash right after exercising) with a mild cleanser and follow up with an oil-free moisturizer for oily skin. “Use an acne wash only a few times a week to prevent skin from dehydrating, which could trigger more oil secretion and pimples, as well as leaving skin feeling tight,” says Gerstner. “If necessary, apply a two percent salicylic acid spot treatment to the pimple.”

      Next, be sure to exfoliate three nights a week with a product containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs). Scrubs can be harsh. “I like to use glycolic acid pads to remove dead skin cells, improve texture, and loosen clogged pores,” says Gerstner.

      If your acne doesn’t clear up with over-the-counter treatments, see a dermatologist. Two of Gerstner’s favorite prescription remedies: a topical form of Vitamin A, called Retinol, which can help clear up clogs in the T-zone area, and oral contraceptives, which are approved for acne treatment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to regulate hormones. According to Gerstner, it will take about three months to see results with oral contraceptives, but unlike with an oral antibiotic, you’ll get long-term effects.



Just follow these three simple steps.

1. Soak a washcloth in hot water, then wring it out. Hold it on the top of the whitehead until the washcloth cools.

2. Using the cloth, press down gently around the blemish for about 30 seconds. This should be enough to draw out the whitehead without squeezing.

3. Apply a treatment that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

TIP: Handling a blemish before it’s ready (before it’s white at the top) may only push oil and debris in deeper, making the problem worse. To help bring the pimple to the surface, use an oil-free medicated concealer during the day; at night, apply a drying treatment with sulfur or clay.


Excerpted with permission from The Real Simple Guide to Real Life by the editors of Real Simple, an engaging, must-read manual for busy young women with busy, new lives. This easy-to-read handbook is full of smart advice, charts, checklists, and whimsical illustrations. Being a modern woman is not always easy, but with help from Real Simple, you will be able to navigate the world with confidence, good humor, and grace. Available wherever books are sold. For more information, visit

Give Your Child a Healthy Start to the School Year

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Help ensure your child enters the new school year healthy and without delay with these tips from the Virginia Department of Health.