a woman with adult acne, antibiotics

When you mention acne, most people think of teenagers. Indeed, an estimated 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 are troubled with pimples and at least minor acne at some point. However, a surprising number of adults also suffer with this condition. Approximately 50 million American adults have acne, and many of them take antibiotic pills or use topical antibiotics to treat it. That adds up to an awful lot of people on antibiotics!

Can Antibiotics for Acne Be Replaced?

Dermatologists at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that many women could take an old-fashioned diuretic called spironolactone instead (Barbieri et al, Journal of Drugs and Dermatology, June, 2018). Originally marketed under the brand name Aldactone, this water pill has anti-androgen activity. As a consequence, it is inappropriate as a treatment for men’s skin problems. But women often respond quite well.

When patient satisfaction was compared between spironolactone and oral tetracycline, there was no significant difference between the two groups.

The authors conclude:

“spironolactone may have similar clinical effectiveness to that of oral tetracycline-class antibiotics.”

Because so many people take antibiotics for acne, substituting spironolactone could significantly reduce the amount of antibiotic used by the population. This in turn would be a step to help reduce antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Sulfur Soap to Calm Acne:

Prescription antibiotics and spironolactone aren’t the only treatment for blemishes that may be helpful. Sometimes over-the-counter remedies work surprisingly well. One woman described her success with a very old-fashioned approach to clearing the complexion.

Q. I am a 41-year-old woman who never experienced acne until the past few years. I tried several medications, soaps and creams, but I found nothing to be particularly effective.

Recently, a friend recommended sulfur soap. I find it on the Hispanic product aisle.

After using it for a few weeks, my face is starting to clear up. Is this product safe? How could a bar of soap costing less than $3 be more effective than salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide?

Sulfur Soap Is Antibacterial:

A. Topical sulfur is an old-fashioned skin treatment that has antifungal and antibacterial activity (Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, Jul-Aug., 2004). For decades, doctors have recommended its use for seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, dandruff, scabies and warts, as well as acne. It does appear to be safe, although a few people may have a mild skin reaction.

Sulfur is found not only in bar soap, but also in some liquid face washing products and certain creams and lotions. It may be a helpful addition to an anti-acne regimen.

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  1. Michael
    Durham, NC

    I just turned 65 and have had sensitive skin and bouts of acne throughout my life starting way back during adolescence. Back then at the beginning of it all it was especially difficlut because I would get the cystic type of acne with big welts forming deep below the skin. If they ‘blossomed’ of course it would be very painful physically and emotionally at that young age.

    I was seeing Dermatologists and trying all the meds for it including antibiotics which helped but only if I kept on taking them, fortunately my doctor was good enough to not let me do that. This continued throughout highschool culminating in an especially painful and embarassing massive breakout around my nose during the Thanksgiving break of my freshman year in college whereby I saw a new Dermo Dr. who gave me the idea of food allegy type of reaction(s) possibly being to blame for my acne troubles.

    Thinking of it along these lines I started to identify foods and additives which did seem to be somewhat related to my breakouts and finally hit pay-dirt after noticing that my skin seem to start clearing up after nights of ‘partying’ with friends back then and going to bed without having washed my face. It dawned on me that maybe my skin was also reacting to the soap(s) I was using on it in addition to any food allergens.

    So, I started trying just using hot & cold water rinses and being a science major in school I knew that when water evaporates it draws off a high amounts of heat energy, so I figured that it might be good to let the water evaporate helping to draw the excess heat energy away, since it always felt warm or even hot at the site of any big enough acne reactions, and help to cool & calm the ‘acne allergic reaction’.

    Well, now to this day even at the age of 65 in using the following technique – simply rinsing my face with hot water and finishing with cupping a cold water rinse on my nose, the site of the major breakout in college where my doctor explained the nose area has a high amount of vasculature making it more susceptible to such a problem and the cold water helping to contract this & control any possible bigger reactions there, then simply patting the edges of my face, nose and eye areas dry leaving the rest wet and allowing the water to evaporate – though I still can get breakouts with my sensitive skin depending on any possible allergenic type of foods or additives I ingest or are exposed to, but now over the many interim years not only have I been able to control & resolve any breakouts that occur but my facial complexion has made almost a complete recovery from some of the scarring that was happening because of the original acne problem.

    I have found one synthetic soap mild enough to use on a ‘once a week’ basis for some extra-cleaning if necessary which is Oil of Olay Sensitive Skin with Shea Butter and now strongly feel from my own long experience with this, that many cases of acne may be caused by such an allergenic type of skin reaction to more than just the chemicals in foods, medications and supplements but also to any topical chemicals that are put on the skin, including soap itself.

  2. Lea

    My teenage son kept his acne under control by swabbing morning and night with hydrogen peroxide. Cheap, easy and effective!

  3. Rebecca
    Lansing, MI

    I found that scrubbing my face while it was HOT in the shower only clogged my pores more. What helped me immensely was not touching my face until after the hot shower, then splashing it with cold water from the sink, and scrubbing with a cold, soapy cloth. For me, problem (mostly) solved. Every time I rub my face when the pores are open, I get more pimples.

  4. Anne

    Skin problems! I think we get so accustomed to that perfectly Photoshopped skin we see in all the magazines that we assume our concerns are unusual. However, I will say that even at almost 66, I still have problems, and it’s very annoying! To make matters worse, my skin is actually drier, so a lot of topical creams, toners, etc., make that worse. That also includes cleansers. My biggest problem seems to be white heads that aren’t necessarily large, but are very dense and difficult to remove. The worst areas are the sides of my nose and my chin. It seemed as the aloe vera was helping for awhile, but that is also drying for me. Lately I’ve been taking L-lysine supplements because of problems with cold sores, and it seems like that is also helping clear up my skin, in general.

    It’s interesting to me that so much attention is given to teenager skin, when there is still a big market for adults.

  5. diane

    I am 59 years old, have taken acutane twice (it turned my skin into tissue paper), been on tons of antibiotics. 6 years ago, my dr. agreed i should take a food allergy test. BINGO!!!!!! at 53 years old (and $400), my face finally started clearing up after deleting 8-10 trigger foods!!!!!!

    Over the years, I retook the test 3 times, with the food list changing just a little bit every time. finally, my p.a. said: ‘you know what? you might have a GUT problem….i suggest you get on a really good probiotic.’

    What?????? 2 months later, my face was 80% improved, and I was able to add back most of the trigger foods on my list. I’m a believer.

  6. Cherl

    I have had acne since the age of 13 approximately. I am 60 now and it is still present. What I have found very effective, is also very simple. I purchased about 20 white wash cloths, which I use twice daily. I use a salicylic acid before bed and benzoyl peroxide during the day.

    This routine keeps my face clear. I think the twice daily cleansing plays a big part. The cotton wash cloths are slightly abrasive and help with exfoliation, gently. This also prevents putting all those little beads into the water supply.

  7. Laura

    I also got acne in my thirties. I was on 3 Rx from my dermatologist, but having problems with the meds. Then a friend mentioned that her son’s breakouts were greatly reduced by using a fresh washcloth each time he washed his face. I bought 12 washcloths and used a fresh one morning and night to wash my face. Voila! All 3 meds could be stopped because simply removing the reinfection source cleared up my skin.

  8. Gerry

    I suffered from adult acne for many years, ages 25 to 42. I went to a number of doctors and suffered from the poking and popping of the pustules which were always painful and horrible looking; one doctor in particular, whom I saw every few weeks, was really unpleasant and told me I’d have a big red nose when I got old. (No idea why he said that.)

    I don’t have a big red nose and I’m old now. After my divorce, one of my friends suggested I try her dermatologist, don’t remember his name, in downtown Atlanta, who saw me once and said, “Vitamin A palmitate from Bronson Labs, six pills a day for a few months, then cut back to 2 or 3 as necessary to keep it under control.” I still take Vitamin A Palmitate every few days now if I get a pimple from say, tomatoes or other acid fruits.

    It has worked for me now for 40 years. Very cheap remedy. As a matter of interest, I ran into my ex husband’s second wife in a restroom when we were all attending our son’s marriage, she was complaining to her friend about her pimples…maybe it had something to do with the stress of being married to that man!

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