When we pine longingly for younger-looking skin, most of us aren't thinking about the pimples we had at 17. But they often creep back right around the time we spot those first few lines, and they can be just as stubborn. "Women go through hormonal changes in our late 30s and 40s that can cause our androgen levels to spike," explains Jeannette Graf, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "Skin produces a lot more oil, which can lead to breakouts, especially around your mouth, jawline, and neck." To complicate matters, if you use anti-aging products and then add the wrong acne fighters to the mix, the overload can send your complexion into a red, flaky tailspin. Allow us to guide you back to your soft, glowing self.
Rev up your morning routine. Even if your face doesn't look shiny, breakouts mean there's pore-clogging oil lurking beneath the surface. One way to get oil under control is to switch to a cleanser with 0.5 to 1 percent salicylic acid, like Burt's Bees Natural Acne Solutions Purifying Gel Cleanser. Next, swipe an alcohol-free toner over your entire face. And forget what you've heard about the sun clearing up pimples: "Studies suggest that UV rays—which we know cause wrinkles—may make acne worse, so always wear an oil-free, SPF 30 or higher lotion labeled noncomedogenic," says Jennifer Lee, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Use glycolic acid at night. At bedtime, wash with the salicylic acid cleanser, but let it sit on your skin for 30 seconds before rinsing to dissolve oil. Apply your toner all over, then smooth on a serum that contains 5 to 8 percent glycolic acid (if you have sensitive skin, use this every other night for the first week or two). "The ingredient triggers collagen while also unclogging pores, so it's great for treating pimples and wrinkles simultaneously," says Neal Schultz, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and the founder of BeautyRx Skincare by Dr. Schultz.
Watch out for skin-sabotaging foods. Chocolate isn't the offender here—in fact, the dark kind is better than reaching for low-fat or fat-free sweets, which are often loaded with added sugars that can make both acne and wrinkles worse. Same goes for refined white grains like white bread and pasta. "These high-glycemic-index foods cause a boost in skin's oil production and set off a process called glycation, which damages skin's collagen and elastin," says Lee. You may also want to skip the skim milk in your coffee: Some studies indicate it's linked to acne. Espresso, anyone?