Acne. It’s something that plagues many hormonal teenagers, leaving them feeling self-conscious, unattractive, and downright miserable. But us adults are safe from its cruel grasp, aren’t we?
Unfortunately, no, we’re not.
In fact, we’re at more risk of developing acne in our adulthood than ever before, with a growing number of people battling oily skin and unpleasant breakouts.
Recent studies have demonstrated that of those aged 20- to 40-years-old, 40-55% have mild, persistent acne and oily skin. Furthermore, 54% of women who are 25-years-old and above have some type of acne on their face, according to the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology. This study also revealed that acne will persist into middle age for 12% of women, too.
What is Adult Acne
It doesn’t matter how old you are, acne is caused by the buildup of sebum (the oil your skin naturally produces) and dead skin cells, which, when they accumulate, block your pores. These blocked hair follicles become a breeding ground for bacteria, and as they start to multiply rapidly, your immune cells start to fight off the infection. As this happens, you start to develop those unwanted signs of acne, including swelling, spots, and redness.
But why is this process becoming evermore frequent in adults?
Well, it’s largely down to how our lifestyles are changing. Those at the International Dermal Institute believe our varied diets, increasingly stressful routines, and a variety of other internal and external factors are adding to the number of flare-ups and breakouts we’re experiencing.
These researchers also discovered that adult acne does differ from teenage acne in some ways. Adult acne sufferers are more likely to have lesions around the mouth, jawline, and chin, instead of the T-zone, with the breakouts including fewer comedones (papules, blackheads, and whiteheads). Furthermore, as many adults also have other underlying skin problems or sensitive skin, it can be an even bigger challenge to combat adult acne.
Nevertheless, there are some solutions available, and throughout this extensive guide, we’ll take a look at what’s causing adult acne, what the best medications are, and how you can treat breakouts in your own home.
Best Adult Acne Treatment
Causes of Adult Acne
Before we delve into the ways you can treat adult acne, let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of adult acne. By understanding this it will enable us to better approach our skincare regime and treatment programs so we can get rid of acne once and for all – hoorah!
Even adults are prone to fluctuations in their hormones, especially if you’re female. An imbalance in these hormones can contribute toward a breakout, which is why many women experience acne when they’re pregnant, menstruating, or are going through menopause. They may also find this arises when they stop or start taking contraceptive pills.
Researchers have also revealed that stress can be linked to acne flare-ups. Why? Because when we get stressed, more androgens are released into our bodies. Even though androgens are male hormones, women also have them, and these hormones are responsible for stimulating our skin’s oil glands and hair follicles. Thus, as your skin begins to produce an increasing amount of oil, this can block your pores and create breakouts.
Ultimately, this places you in a never-ending cycle as you feel stressed because you’ve got spots, and this stress creates more spots.
Do you have a close relative, e.g. your Mom, Dad, brother, or sister, who has had or has acne? Then you could be at an increased risk of getting it too. Studies have demonstrated how there’s a genetic predisposition for acne, which can be found in some families. Therefore, if you’ve got this particular gene, you’re more likely to suffer from breakouts during your lifetime.
Hair Care Products
If you’ve got acne it can be made worse by the products you use on your hair and/or skin. Therefore, if you’ve already got acne or have family members who’ve had acne, it’s a good idea to opt for products that are non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic, oil-free, or won’t clog your pores.
All of these products will make sure your pores are free of any substances and won’t become clogged up with excess product, dead skin cells, and oil.
Unfortunately, some medications come with the unwanted side effect of acne. This means, if you’ve noticed more flare-ups after you’ve started taking a particular medication, you should speak to your doctor while continuing to take your prescribed pills. Ask your doctor if one of the side effects is acne, and if so, what alternatives are available. If there aren’t any, you may want to ask them for treatments that can help with your acne, perhaps even speaking to a dermatologist too. However, always ensure the medication you’re using for your acne won’t interfere with the prescribed medication you're taking.
And for a little more information, be sure to watch this video from Doctor Oz. He speaks to a female acne sufferer, explaining how acne develops, and how to combat adult acne.
Acne on Cheeks
Your cheeks are one of the most visible parts of your face, and, unfortunately, are also an area where adult acne can make its mark, particularly if you’re suffering from a nasty breakout.
Although there are plenty of natural and medicated remedies available for cheek acne, it’s worth trying to establish what may be causing these flare-ups before you start trying to treat them. And, although we’ve explored some of the most common causes of adult acne above, we’ll now delve into some of the lesser-known causes of acne on cheeks.
Throughout the day, your cheeks are subjected to a buildup of all the dirt in the surrounding environment along with your skin’s natural oils. And if you’re using makeup, this adds to the problem.
If left unwashed at the end of a long day, your cheeks’ pores will become blocked up with all this excess dirt, and as we’ve already seen, this is a great environment for acne-causing bacteria.
Live in an urban area? Then you’re at more risk than those who live in rural areas, due to the amount of pollution that’s in the air. However, regardless of where you live, it’s crucial you wash your face morning and night to get rid of any dirt and keep your skin clear.
Even though you might not notice it at first, your poor diet could be increasing your risk of developing acne on your cheeks. Your skin is one of the first places to be affected by a bad diet, which is why you should try to avoid refined carbs, fried or processed foods, and chocolate. Even though these won’t, if eaten on occasion, cause acne, they can increase the production of sebum over a long period of time, which is the key ingredient for an acne breakout.
Avoid Chocolate if You’ve Got Acne
Instead, it’s recommended to eat a healthy diet that consists of lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Unhealthy, Sedentary Lifestyle
Living an unhealthy lifestyle will have a direct impact on your skin. For example, smoking can expose your skin to harmful processes that disrupt your skin’s natural regeneration program.
Furthermore, getting enough exercise every week is crucial, as this helps keep your stress levels in check. And when you’re less stressed, your sebum production is lower, which helps contribute toward healthy, clear skin.
Ever thought your cell phone or pillowcase could be causing acne? Probably not, but these objects we come into contact with on a daily basis can really increase our chances of having a breakout.
As cell phones and pillowcases rest on your cheeks when you’re using them, they can pass dirt onto your skin. In fact, did you know a cell phone can be up to ten times dirtier than the average toilet seat? Grosse!
Pillowcases are also home to bacteria from your body, harmful chemicals (e.g. those in fabric softeners and detergents), and dust mites, all of which can add to your risk of spots. So, to help prevent this from happening, regularly sanitize your phone and change your pillowcases as frequently as possible (at least once a week).
The sun is a valuable source of Vitamin D, which is why we need to get our quota in, but too much can have the opposite effect on your skin. Not only are you at a higher risk of getting skin cancer, but you can also increase your chances of having a breakout.
How the Sun Can Cause Acne
The sun encourages sebum production when it penetrates your skin, which is why you should try to avoid any exposure to its UV rays between peak times – 10:00 to 15:00.
Body Acne Wash
Alongside your cheeks, body acne is another huge problem for many of us, with the majority of acne cases including body acne.
Where acne develops is different from person to person and is added to by a number of different factors, but everyone can benefit from the right body acne wash. So to help you find the best solution, here are some things to consider:
Cleansing is an important part of your skincare routine when you’re battling acne, but it isn’t always enough. You don’t just need something that’s going to get rid of any excess dirt and oil, but something that’s also going to eradicate the bacteria that’s causing your painful lesions, reducing any inflammation in the process.
Salicylic acid is one of these ingredients as it’s a keratolytic that boosts skin regeneration and prevents pores from becoming blocked. When it’s applied to the skin, it dissolves skin cells and increases moisture, helping to promote the growth of new, healthy skin cells. It also gets rid of any excess dirt and oil, while fighting bacteria and reducing inflammation.
Many studies have promoted the benefits of salicylic acid, and it’s particularly good if you’ve got dry and/or dark skin. However, if you do have sensitive skin, you’ll need to proceed with caution as it can irritate it further.
Benzoyl peroxide is another active ingredient that’s often used in cases of mild or moderate acne. It works to combat bacteria, reduce inflammation, and dry the skin out so it’s replaced with healthy new cells.
This type of body wash is particularly beneficial if you’ve got oily skin, but bear in mind that you may need to go a through a bad patch before your acne gets better. As benzoyl peroxide dries your skin out, it can go red and blotchy, but after four to six weeks, you should start to see the benefits.
Tea Tree Oil is ideal if you want to try a natural ingredient before you move onto something harsher. Although it might not be as strong as the two we’ve already mentioned, studies have shown that it’s an effective way of getting rid of bacteria that cause acne. It’s great if you’ve got dry skin, or you’re allergic to salicylic acid. And because it’s natural, it shouldn’t cause too much irritation if you’ve got sensitive skin.
Recommended Body Acne Washes
Recommended Body Acne Washes
There are a number of body acne washes that come highly recommended, including:
- Murad Body Acne Wash – This combines glycolic and salicylic acids for extra acne-busting power. It’s great for exfoliating your skin and helps reduce inflammation. And with the added ingredients of licorice root and green tea extracts, it helps reduce irritation and soothe the skin.
- Panoxyl 10% Acne Foaming Wash – Boasting the highest strength of benzoyl peroxide without needing a prescription, this foaming wash not only prevents future breakouts but kills bacteria straight away. It also helps exfoliate your skin to give it a fresh, rejuvenated look.
- Tea Tree Skin Clearing Body Wash – Produced by the Body Shop, this acne body wash combines the soothing properties of tea tree oil with other ingredients that help cleanse the skin, reduce inflammation, and eliminate acne for good.
- Proactiv Deep Cleansing Wash – Utilizing the ingredients of benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid, this body wash can be used on the body and face. It gets rid of impurities, clears blemishes, rehydrates, and soothes your skin.
- Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash – Recommended by dermatologists, this body wash uses the active ingredient of salicylic acid to get rid of bacteria and cleanse the skin. With gentler ingredients included, it also targets inflammation and reduces irritation.
Adult Acne Medication
The type of adult acne medication you need depends on the severity of your breakouts. Milder cases can often be treated with some of the ingredients we’ve seen mentioned above, e.g. benzoyl peroxide (or topical treatments as they’re commonly known). But severer cases often require specialist ingredients that can only be prescribed by your doctor.
One important thing to remember, though, is that many of the treatments we’re about to mention below can take up to three months to provide you with positive benefits, which is why any acne treatment involves plenty of patience!
Acne Treatment – Before and After Pictures
These work at exfoliating your skin to prevent your pores from becoming blocked. Common treatments include tretinoin and adapalene, which are prescribed as gels or creams and are normally applied at night, twenty minutes after you’ve washed your face.
Topical retinoids do increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun (as does benzoyl peroxide), which is why it’s even more important to wear sunscreen while you’re using these types of medications.
Side effects include mild irritation and stinging sensations.
Another treatment that’s available as a lotion or gel, topical antibiotics are applied up to twice a day. They target acne-causing bacteria and are normally prescribed on a six- to eight-week course. However, once you’ve completed the course, the treatment has to stop due to your risk of becoming immune to the properties of the antibiotics, increasing your risk of further breakouts and infections.
Side effects include mild irritation, and red, burning, or peeling skin – but these aren’t common.
Sometimes, you may find you have adverse side effects when using benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids, which is why you may be given azelaic acid. Developed as an alternative bacteria-killing treatment, it gets rid of dead skin too. Usually, it’s applied twice a day as a gel or cream form, but those with sensitive skin may only be able to apply it once a day.
Side effects including stinging or burning skin, dry skin, itchy skin, and red skin. However, this treatment doesn’t make your skin more sensitive to the sun’s rays.
For severer cases, a course of antibiotics may be required. More often than not, these are tetracyclines, unless you’re pregnant or are breastfeeding. If you fall into the latter groups, you may be offered erythromycin, which is safer to use.
These treatments vary in length, often lasting from four to six months, with results being apparent after six weeks. Your skin will be more sensitive to UV rays during this time, and you need to be careful if you are taking the contraceptive pill, as the antibiotics can reduce how effective it is. You will need to use additional contraception during this time.
Despite this drug being developed to treat those with high blood pressure, scientists have also found it can help female acne sufferers too.
As one of the hormones that can result in acne breakouts is testosterone, this drug helps reduce the levels of testosterone in your system, limiting how much of an impact it has on your skin.
This medication does come with some side effects, including being a diuretic and potassium retention. Therefore, you do have to avoid foods that are high in potassium. Equally, if you’re male, are pregnant, or have low blood pressure, you won’t be a suitable candidate for this drug.
Best Medication for Adult Acne
When acne is deemed severe and other treatments aren’t working, isotretinoin may be prescribed. This powerful drug comes with a number of benefits, including its ability to reduce how red and swollen your spots are, decrease bacteria, prevent pores from getting blocked, and limit how much sebum your skin produces.
However, due to the strength of isotretinoin, it does come with some significant side effects. Common side effects are conjunctivitis, blood in your urine, changes to your blood sugar levels, blepharitis, and the inflammation, dryness, and cracking of your skin, lips, and nostrils. Rarer side effects are hepatitis, kidney disease, and pancreatitis.
Isotretinoin can only be prescribed by your doctor or dermatologist and is not suitable if you’re pregnant or are trying for children.
Hormonal Acne Treatment
Another way to combat acne is to seek a hormonal acne treatment, especially if it’s obvious that fluctuating hormone levels are contributing to your breakouts (e.g. menopause, menstruation, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and increased androgen levels).
Menopause starts in most women when they’re aged 40 to 50, and it’s common for acne to flare up during this time. This is due to a drop in estrogen levels (the female hormone) and a rise in androgen hormones (the male hormone). Even if you’re using hormone replacement therapy (HRT), you could still experience some breakouts that are caused by your ever-changing hormones. This is due to an increased level of progestin, another pesky hormone that can contribute to pimples.
In the majority of cases, menopausal acne can be treated with prescribed drugs, but there are a number of other ways you can combat hormonal acne:
Some of the medications we’ve seen listed above are enough to treat hormonal acne, with many over-the-counter treatments being sufficient enough. However, when the case of acne is severe, it may require something a little stronger. This is due to hormonal acne often presenting itself as cystic bumps, which are painful, large spots that are found deep underneath the surface of your skin. A lot of topical medications can’t get to these areas, deeming them useless in the treatment process.
Therefore, hormonal acne pills may be required to reduce your acne and rebalance your hormones.
Working to reduce the level of androgens you have in your system, this treatment, as we’ve seen before, uses spironolactone (Aldactone).
Acne can often be treated with oral contraceptives, which tend to contain ethinylestradiol together with norgestimate, norethindrone, or drospirenone. This combination of ingredients targets the hormones that are causing your acne, which is why they’re particularly useful when your hormones are peaking (e.g. when you’re ovulating).
Using Oral Contraceptives to Combat Acne
This treatment isn’t recommended if you’ve got a history of blood clots, high blood pressure, breast cancer, or you’re a smoker.
Natural Remedies and Lifestyle Changes
Sometimes you might not want to opt for contraceptive pills if you’re suffering from hormonal acne, which is why you may want to take some natural steps to try and combat it.
These include cleansing your face with a mild cleanser twice a day, treating your spots with a topical treatment (or another natural remedy) after you’ve washed your face, keeping your skin moisturized, and promoting the growth of good bacteria in your body by taking probiotics.
You might also want to speak to your dermatologist who may be able to set up a healthier diet for you, and may recommend a chemical peel to get rid of those dead skin cells that are clogging your pores.
Home Remedies for Adult Acne
Thankfully, there are a number of other home remedies you can try in your battle against acne. Even though these might not be successful at getting rid of severe breakouts, they can help combat mild to moderate spots, while also helping you keep your skin clear once you have overcome severe lesions.
Here are some of our favorite home remedies for adult acne:
Not only is this remedy a great way to stay acne-free, it’s also perfect for relaxing and unwinding at the end of the day – lowering your stress levels which could also be contributing to breakouts.
To apply, simply crush or chop some fresh peppermint leaves before wetting them and applying to your face like a mask. This should feel refreshing, leaving your skin feeling uber clean afterward. Repeat twice a week.
Tea Tree Oil
We’ve already hailed tea tree oil and its natural healing properties, which is why you might want to introduce it as part of your skincare regimen. Why not place a few drops in a steaming hot bowl of water to cleanse your face before you wash it? Or, apply a few drops straight from the bottle to help fight bacteria. As it’s 100% natural, you can use it every day.
Boasting antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds, green tea is one of your best friends when it comes to fighting acne. To get the best results, pour a cup of green tea and let it cool before using it as a rejuvenating face wash. Or, for a more direct approach, place a wet green tea bag over your breakout.
The Benefits of Green Tea for Acne
Not only does it taste delicious but honey has great antibiotic properties, too. You can apply a teaspoon of honey (the organic kind is the best!) to the affected area, or create an indulgent face mask by mixing a cup of plain oatmeal with half a cup of honey. Leave for thirty minutes before washing it off thoroughly to reveal soft, vibrant skin.
Helping to decrease the inflammation caused by acne, chamomile is another wonderful ingredient to have in your cupboard. Combine a tea bag of chamomile with some water in a blender (enough to create a paste), before applying to your spots. Or, for a relaxing touch, boil two tea bags in water for fifteen minutes before letting them cool. Then use a cotton ball to dab the solution onto your face.
To naturally dry and shrink blemishes, try witch hazel, which is a great astringent (reduces the size of your pores). To reap its benefits, use a cotton ball with a few drops of witch hazel that you wipe across the affected areas twice a day (morning and night).
You may already know that aloe vera is a wonderful way of soothing burns, but it’s also perfect for promoting healing, fighting infection, and even reducing acne scars. Buy an organic aloe plant (or grow your own), before cutting a stem off and scraping the gel out with a spoon. Apply this directly to your acne to instantly soothe your skin.
Top tip: When buying aloe gel from health stores, always make sure it’s 100% pure and hasn’t been combined with other ingredients.
Adjusting Your Lifestyle
These natural ingredients are all well and good, but if you don’t assess your lifestyle they’ll be pointless. To really give yourself a good chance of overcoming your acne, you need to get rid of any stress in your life. You should also try to reduce how much nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine you’re consuming, exercise frequently, and get enough sleep at night.
Using Coconut Oil for Acne
Finally, we love coconut oil so much, we’ve dedicated a whole page to it! Using coconut oil for acne presents you with a whole host of benefits, while also being a great product for using in your hair and on your skin.
However, one of the primary concerns around using coconut is the fact it is, well, an oil. Isn’t it just going to make your acne worse?
There are some people who won’t benefit from using coconut oil, especially those who are already suffering from quite severe breakouts. Coconut oil is highly comedogenic, which means it will clog your pores if you don’t use it correctly.
Image Title: Using Coconut Oil for Acne
How Does Coconut Oil Fight Acne
Coconut oil boasts strong antimicrobial properties due to the fact it contains a lot of medium-chain fatty acids. Half of these fatty acids are made up of lauric acid, which has been found to be incredibly effective at treating acne-causing bacteria – even more so than benzoyl peroxide.
To get these positive benefits from coconut oil, you’ll need to apply it directly onto the areas of your skin that need it, because this is where the bacteria is hiding.
What’s more, you can also use this coconut oil to reduce acne scars and inflammation. This is because coconut oil keeps your skin incredibly moist, which helps it heal and fight off infection.
Who Should Use Coconut Oil
There’s no denying the fact that coconut oil can be very beneficial when you’re trying to overcome breakouts, but as we’ve seen, it isn’t always the right solution for everyone. Instead, coconut oil is recommended for people who have very dry skin or very oily skin. The latter may sound bizarre but people with oily skin tend to dry it out by using astringent products, however, these only worsen the problem. By using coconut oil, it helps lift bacteria and dirt from your pores while also moisturizing your skin in the process.
The best way to use coconut oil is to warm a little bit up in your hands so it becomes a liquid. Then, massage it into your face, targeting the areas that you need to remove dirt from. You could also try making homemade face masks that combine coconut with other acne-busting ingredients, including turmeric, raw sugar, honey, plain yogurt, and lemon.
Finally, always make sure you’re using pure coconut oil. Any added ingredients may irritate your skin, being counterproductive in your fight against acne.
Best Skincare for Adult Acne
To make sure the products you’re using to fight acne are given the best possible chance, and to reduce your risk of future breakouts, it’s imperative you follow a healthy, consistent skincare regime.
Here are some top tips for the best skincare for adult acne:
Cleansing Your Face
There shouldn’t be a day that goes by without cleansing your face because this is fundamental in removing any excess dirt and sebum. Find a cleanser that suits your skin, avoiding any harsh ones that can lead to dryness. Find ones labeled as being non-comedogenic, opting for ones that contain salicylic acid at the times you’re more prone to breakouts (e.g. when you’re menstruating).
Healthy Skincare Regime – Using Cleansers to Fight Acne
Using Spot Treatments
After you’ve cleansed your face you’ll want to use the product(s) that will help fight your acne. Apply these as directed, always making sure you’re adding extra sun protection if the treatment (e.g. topical retinoids) is increasing your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
Sometimes, exfoliation is warned against when you’ve got acne, but in most cases, exfoliating your skin a couple of times a week will help get rid of nasty breakouts. By exfoliating your skin you’re getting rid of dead skin cells which can clog up your pores, and it also helps your skin regenerate itself. To give your exfoliation as much acne-fighting power as possible, try to find a product that contains glycolic acid.
Stopping Squeezing and Picking Spots
It can be incredibly satisfying squeezing that huge zit that’s been plaguing you for days, but this temporary indulgence is outweighed by the nasty side effects of your picking – acne scars. Picking spots adds to the inflammation, which can make the scars left behind even worse. So, if you’ve got a particularly painful spot, head to your dermatologist. They can often drain painful cysts for you, or they may give you a cortisone shot to reduce the inflammation and irritation of your spot.
Applying the Right Makeup
You apply makeup to your spots to boost your self-esteem, but this makeup clogs your pores and worsens the problem. It’s a vicious cycle. However, we’re not suggesting you ditch makeup altogether. Instead, try to find non-comedogenic makeup that won’t get clogged up in your pores, perhaps even seeking modern makeup solutions that are hailed as being non-acnegenic and won’t add to your risk of breakouts. There are also some cosmetic products that have acne-fighting ingredients, providing you with the perfect solution to good skin and added confidence.
Treating Dark Marks
When you’ve had a particularly bad breakout, you can be left with dark marks. Even though these can be unsightly they will often fade with time. But if you want to speed up this process, try using a bleaching product, exfoliating regularly, and wearing sunscreen.
However, if you have scars, you may need to try a more intense treatment, with laser treatments, subcision, and microneedling all being potential solutions for more stubborn scars.
Practicing the Art of Patience
Finally, don’t get too downhearted if your new acne product and skincare regime aren’t providing you with results straight away. As frustrating as it is, treating acne takes time and regardless of how strong or powerful the treatment is you’re using, you aren’t going to see results overnight. Instead, it takes a lot of perseverance and patience to nail acne – but once you’ve established a stellar routine for your skin, you’ll be able to keep those pesky spots at bay.
And finally, for a few extra tips and tricks, why not check out this video by Farah Dhukai. She explains what routine has helped with her acne, and how it helps get rid of any breakouts within a couple of days.
The road to pristine, spot-free skin may be long, and yes, it may have a few dips and turns in it too, but there’s nothing stopping you from achieving that flawless look you’ve been dreaming of.
By taking some time to understand the factors surrounding adult acne and those potential trigger points, you can assess what areas of your life may need to change to reduce your risk of breakouts. Take some much-needed time out and establish a regime that’ll work for you. And if you are concerned about your latest flare-ups, visit your doctor or dermatologist to see what product/medication they recommend for you.
Remember, you’re not alone in your battle against acne – it affects the best of us (even Katy Perry, Keira Knightley, Cameron Diaz, and Rihanna – to name a few). So, hold your head up high and repeat after me, “I can and I will beat acne – for good!” Hoorah!
Have you had or are you currently suffering from adult acne? What treatments would you recommend and is there anything you’ve introduced to your skincare regime that’s made a difference? Please, share your comments with us in our comments box below!