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Breaking Out Is Easy to Do

5 reasons why zits happen after 50

Surprising Causes of Zits After 50

Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

Listen, face: Haven't we got enough to deal with already?

Just when we finally ditch our high-school fondness for minis, lip gloss and rock-band tees, our skin breaks out in a very teenlike rebellion.

Without naming names, I can tell you that more and more women in their 50s, 60s and even 70s are covertly adding pimple treatments to their drugstore cart. To discover what's causing the breakouts, I sought out Debra Jaliman, a dermatology professor at Mount Sinai Hospital's Icahn School of Medicine and the author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist.

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1. Your iPhone is dirty. Your mobile phone is such a germ magnet, they should rename it the iMoeba. Every time you press it to your made-up face, toss it in your less-than-sterile handbag or set it down on any surface, hordes of bacteria happily latch on.

The result? Chin breakouts that some beauty wags have dubbed "tech-ne" (get it?). To keep tech-ne from your door, swipe your phone every now and then with an alcohol-based wipe. The same goes for any TV remote controls you're tempted to pick up: Just imagine the bacterial migration involved when you touch one of these frequently handled devices, then touch your face.

Jaliman suggests getting earbuds "so your phone isn't constantly nestled against your face." She also recommends you take the precaution of putting calls on speakerphone, even at home.

2. Your hairline may be the culprit. Certain beauty products applied too close to your scalp — among them hairstyling oils, gels and serums, as well as leave-in conditioners — can cause forehead flare-ups. To stave off that prospect, apply them midshaft rather than to the roots.

And if that doesn't do the trick, Jaliman says, "Toss them out and try another product." (Oh, and put the kibosh on wearing sweaty baseball caps, bike helmets or sweatbands; all need to be washed or cleaned often.)

3. Pimples thrive on pressure. There's prom stress and then there's real-life stress: The emotional vise of a death, divorce or job loss can spike your body's levels of cortisol (aka the "stress hormone"), sending your face into spots. To fight back, "Do something relaxing for yourself every day," Jaliman urges. "Meditation is certainly a good start. It also helps to stick to a diet of fresh vegetables, fruit and fish, and avoiding high-glycemic and sugary, processed foods such as doughnuts, pastries and chocolate. Or try cutting out dairy — it can be a surprising food trigger for adult acne."

4. It might be your makeup applicator. Makeup brushes are a common catchall for bacteria and dirt, Jaliman says, so make sure you keep yours spotless. And how do you achieve that? "Wash all makeup brushes weekly in baby shampoo," she suggests, "then let them air-dry thoroughly."

But she's not done scrubbing us yet. "Never use the same washcloth twice when cleansing," warns the good skin doctor. "A fresh washcloth daily is a skin-healthy practice. Additionally, be sure to clean the undersides of your nails; they can be a breeding ground for bacteria that get transferred to your face."

5. Don't delay treating a blemish. Switching to a nighttime retinol treatment can be a good move when wrinkles and acne overlap. Because this vitamin A derivative accelerates cell turnover, Jaliman says, "It can smooth facial lines at the same time that it prevents dead cells from clogging pores." (To reduce redness and inflammation, she also recommends adding a vitamin C cream by day.)

To spot-treat blemishes, I've experimented with bacteria-killing benzoyl peroxide antidotes such as Proactiv Emergency Blemish Relief and La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Action Acne Treatment. To unclog pores and reduce redness, you can try a salicylic acid treatment such as Neutrogena SkinClearing Blemish Concealer or Cover FX Blemish Treatment Concealer.

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love after 50, as well as AARP's new Beauty & Style special edition for tablets.