If you, like us, thought your skin problems would leave you the minute you turned 20, welcome to Club Disappointment. The increase in adult acne in recent years has been described by doctors an "an epidemic," with a 200% rise in the number of adults seeking specialist acne treatment last year. And while it's a condition that eventually surfaces on the outside, it can often be related to what's happening with your insides, too.
Of course, severe acne isn't something than can be treated overnight—it can often require months of assessment and medication before you find something that works for you. However, outside of the dermatologist's office, lots of adult outbreaks could be improved by making a few simple lifestyle changes and looking after your body just as carefully as you do your skin.
From mastering the art of de-stressing to getting enough shut eye, here are seven things your acne could mean about your health.
1. You're dehydrated
We know you've heard this a million times, but it's true. Dehydration makes your skin dry and rough, causing your skin to overproduce oils, and increasing the layer of dead skin cells that can build up and clog your pores. Acne caused by dehydration often appears on the forehead and around your ears, so if you're finding that your breakouts appear in this area, try upping your H2O intake and cutting back on dehydrating drinks like caffeine and alcohol.
2. You're not getting enough sleep
Those late nights scrolling through Facebook really do take their toll… Sleep is vital for every aspect of your health, and if you're not getting enough, your skin will to reflect that. The "perfect" night's sleep is different for everyone, but generally we should be aiming for seven to nine hours of good quality slumber per night. Turn screens off an hour before bedtime and maintain an optimum temperature in the room—studies suggest that around 18 degrees celsius is ideal.
3. You're stressed
Stress isn't likely to cause acne outright, but if you're already prone to problem skin, it can certainly aggravate your symptoms. Research on students, for instance, has found that they can suffer more flare-ups during exam season, and that their skin calms down during summer break—and this hypothesis can be extended to tough times at the office, relationship issues, and more. The other issue is that having acne can be cause of stress in the first place, leading to a never-ending cycle—so if this sounds like you, it's worth making time to organize your schedule so you have space to unwind.
4. Your digestion is sluggish
The NHS says that there's no evidence that diet plays a role in acne, but many dermatologists say there is a correlation between digestion and spots, particularly when they appear on your forehead, between your eyebrows, or on your jawline—cutting down on fatty foods and boosting your fiber intake can help. Food intolerances can also show up through your skin, and often people with acne find that cutting out dairy makes a big difference for them—it's not the answer for everyone, but it could be a good place to start.
5. Your gym gear isn't cutting it
You're working out, and that's fab for your overall health—but we don't all get acne just on our faces, and if the skin on your shoulders and back is breaking out, this could be the cause. Make sure that your exercise gear has moisture-wicking technology, which draws your sweat away from your skin and prevents it from irritating your pores. And if you're not already, be sure to cleanse your face after each workout sesh, too.
6. Your hormones are out of balance
You know those big, painful cystic spots you get every… oh, 28 days or so? You don't have be a genius to figure out that they're period-related, but for some women, acne that's connected to your hormones comes more than once a month. Taking the contraceptive pill is a possible solution, but if your problems are really severe and traditional treatments aren't cutting it, it's worth seeing your doctor to check for conditions like PCOS, which can cause recurring skin problems.
7. You're not cleaning your stuff often enough
How many times a day do you put your phone to your face, or touch your phone and then your skin? If you're anything like us, that number runs into the hundreds—so why are we not wiping down the surface as often as we can?! Wipe your phone screen down with a microfiber cloth every 24 hours, and use santizer to kill bacteria, particularly if your acne is around your cheeks and chin. And remember, the same goes for items like your pillow case, which touch your skin on a daily basis, and any headgear like hats that rub your face.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.