Best Adult Acne Treatment

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 4/8/2021

If anyone had told you at 14 that 20-, 30-, or even 50-year-olds could still deal with acne, you'd probably have closed the MSN chat immediately. But not without first sending a laughing face emoticon.

Unfortunately, they'd have been correct. Fast forward a few years, and there's a chance you're among the nearly 15 percent of women who have to deal with adult acne — plus the concealer stains from minimizing its appearance.

Adult acne may continue from where your teenage breakouts left off. It can also spontaneously appear in your adult years, despite being a no-show during adolescence. In some cases, this sneaky, recurring condition may appear in your teens, leave for a little bit, only to re-appear in your adult years.

The good news is, this condition can be managed with the right practices and skincare products.

Even better news, we'll be sharing the ingredients to look out for when selecting these products. We'll also let you in on some of the reasons you may deal with adult acne.

Causes of Adult Acne

Acne starts to count as “adult” after the age of 25 — however, just about the same factors responsible for teenage acne come into play with this condition. These factors include:

Hormones

Hormones help the cells in your body communicate. Now, we're not ones to pick favorites — but on one hand, there are hormones like estrogen that help with developing sexual characteristics and regulating the function of sebaceous glands. 

On the other, androgens like testosterone not only stimulate the growth of sebaceous glands, but encourage the production of sebum (oil), a big factor responsible for the appearance of acne. 

Likewise, hormonal fluctuations right before your period hits can also lead to adult acne. 

Genes

We hate to break it to you, but if you've had your fair share of adult acne, there’s a chance this condition was graciously handed down to you from within your gene pool.

A genetic predisposition to acne increases your chances of having breakouts in later years. 

This predisposition influences the number, size, and activity of sebaceous glands responsible for producing oil in the body. Your genes may also influence hormones and your body's immunity.

Diet

A big pro of becoming an adult is finally getting the chance to have ice cream for breakfast, bagels for lunch, and whatever floats your taste buds for dinner. Unfortunately, certain foods — much like these options, also increase your chances of developing adult-sized acne.

These foods raise your blood sugar quickly, which in turn releases a hormone called insulin. When excessive amounts of this hormone show up in your blood, oil glands produce more oil, increasing the risk of acne. 

Medication

In some cases, drugs like benzodiazepines which are used to manage anxiety, stress etc, may lead to acne. Likewise, lithium, which is used to treat bipolar disorder and certain antidepressants can be leading causes of acne.

Stress

There aren't many things stress is good for, and blemish-free skin definitely isn't on the list. When your body is under stress, you tend to produce increased levels of the hormone cortisol. 

This bad boy binds to the sebaceous glands, increasing your body's oil production, and your chances of showing up at work with a fresh set of stress breakouts. 

Other factors like the tobacco enjoyed during smoke breaks, or diseases like Polycystic ovary syndrome (POS) can also contribute to adult acne.

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The Best Skincare Ingredients to Manage Adult Acne

Acne, especially in its mature, adult form, has rightfully earned its place as a pretty annoying skin condition to deal with. This may explain why there's a whole industry dedicated to its management. 

While there's no shortage of products to minimize the appearance of acne, to really get your treatment right, extra care has to be paid to the ingredients that go into these cosmetics. A few tried and trusted options include:

Tretinoin

This retinoid is a big deal in the acne-busting universe. First off, it's comedolytic, which is fancy-speak for saying it won't clog your pores. 

But beyond that, tretinoin also puts in the work to unclog your pores, while also encouraging the normal movement of oil in the body. 

Staying impressive, this ingredient also encourages the production of new skin cells and has anti-inflammatory benefits — a crucial feature for fighting off acne.

Azelaic acid

This acid hits the trifecta when it comes to fighting acne: it is antibacterial, helping to fend off p.acnes, the acne-causing microorganism. Azelaic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties, which is good news for preventing acne, a condition whose whole M.O consists of being inflammatory.

To top things off, this acid can also help to correct pigmentation following an acne breakout.

To make it four, we should note that azelaic acid also has comedolytic properties.

Niacinamide

There's a reason niacinamide is the current darling of lotions, serums, moisturizers, and other skincare products. 

Make that two reasons. In managing acne, niacinamide has potent anti-inflammatory properties, and can also help to reduce the production of oil in the body. This ingredient has led to notable improvements in acne the world over.

Salicylic acid

You know how acne is formed when oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria stick together and form a pact underneath your skin? Salicylic acid comes in to break the party up. It achieves this by dissolving the glue that holds the pore-clogging materials together.

It also has mild anti-inflammatory abilities, and can help to fight off acne-causing bacteria.

Benzoyl peroxide

This ingredient is non-clogging, has anti-inflammatory properties, and will also help to clear a build-up of comedones in your skin. It also has antibacterial properties which is why it earns top marks in managing acne.

You can apply benzoyl peroxide as a cream, gel, or lotion to the parts of your body affected by acne. 

Sulfur

We know it doesn't have the best smell... alright, it stinks — but don't give up on sulfur just yet.

This ingredient can help to fight off acne-causing bacteria, and may be useful in breaking down keratin, a protein needed for hair growth which can cause acne in excess.

Not to keep score, but the Hers acne cream has three out of the six of these must-have acne-fighting ingredients, plus other cool additions. Check it out here.

Other ways to manage adult acne

While you get your acne under control with the right ingredients, your skin can benefit from observing the following practices:

  • Gentle skin handling — that means no attempting to scrub the acne away, that can leave your skin irritated.

  • Use only oil-free skincare products and make up to avoid clogging your pores.

  • Use sunscreen, but also look out for oil-free options.

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Closing off

It was hard enough dealing with acne while wearing backpacks and glitter lip gloss. Pairing acne with the responsibilities of your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s is just one more thing you'd be happy to do without.

Thankfully, ingredients like azelaic acid, sulfur, niacinamide etc can help with the management of this condition.

You can learn more about acne and other skincare tips by taking a quick look at this  handy guide.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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