What is adult acne?

Adult acne can be brutal. Even if you felt like yours was the “worst” or you were “the only one” when you were a teenager, most adolescents deal with at least occasional breakouts.

Speaking for myself, I certainly felt singled out and more pimply than the rest, but the truth is that acne is a near-universal struggle for pubescent teens.

Once you arrive to adulthood, you expect the acne to go away. Or, if you weren’t literally expecting it, you were at least hopeful. Even if forever-greasy skin was in your genetic dealing, or you have the sneaky suspicion that acne scars might follow you forever, you focus your energies on at least getting past the pimple phase.

But then, adulthood comes and the zits stay. And whether or not you saw it coming, it can be socially mortifying. You thought you felt singled out as a teen with especially bad breakouts, eh? Think again! Living as an adult with unshakable, perpetual acne is no less than a curse.

What causes adult acne?

There are many possible explanations for adult acne, and unfortunately, it’s next to impossible to know where to cast the blame.

Whether or not you know the root cause, it’s easy enough to track what factors aggravate your breakouts. Take the time to do some introspection on this, or—if you really have no idea what makes your acne worse—take a month to write down how you think your acne looks or feels every day, and review for patterns.

Once you have a rough idea of the aggravators of your acne, you can be more realistic about home remedies for adult acne. There are plenty of remedies out there, but any one of them in an isolated case might not help at all. Take a look at these common aggravators, and once you’ve identified any one(s) that apply to your case, you’ll be able to choose remedies more intelligently.

  • Hormones and stress – Stress produces cortisol, which is itself a hormone. But other hormones come into play, too, especially for women. Some women with adult acne even experience breakouts as late as menopause. When it comes down to it, though, most hormonally-fluctuating adult acne is connected to the menstrual cycle or pregnancies.
  • Genetics – Whether thanks to the size of your pores, the amount of grease your skin produces, or any other pore-clogging feature of your skin, some of us were dealt a bad genetic hand when it comes to acne.
  • External contributors – You might be using a soap, perfume or hair product that you don’t even realize is causing bigger breakouts. Medications can also affect sebum (acne) production, too.

Our top six home remedies for adult acne

Whatever home remedy for adult acne you opt into, anything topical requires a thorough but gentle skin care regimen. This can be anything you do at home to keep your face clean, and to exfoliate (or, as I like to say, “slough off”) dead skin cells every day.

Fun fact: Did you know the primary use of the term “slough off” actually refers to a snake shedding its skin? I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly how I feel when my acne and eczema act up simultaneously. Anyone with me?


1. Crushed Peppermint

No, we’re not talking about the kind of peppermint you throw in with chocolate to make peppermint bark in the winter. Crushed peppermint leaves—and, actually, some other types of mint, too—can be your friend when fighting to stay acne-free. The even better part is that this is a treatment most adults can appreciate on an emotional level, too. Personally, I probably wouldn’t have liked this much when I was a tween starting to break out. But taking a few minutes twice a week to relax, open my pores, and breath in some strong peppermint can provide benefits far beyond clearer skin.

Tip! To use crushed peppermint as your at-home adult acne remedy, start by washing and drying a good-sized baggie of peppermint leaves. Then, either crush or chop them—whatever you need to do to get every leaf broken down into fine pieces.

The peppermint is then wet with water, and applied to your face as a mask. It will feel cool and refreshing, and open up your pores to break down that acne-causing sebum and leave you feeling squeaky clean afterword. Any leafy mush you don’t use can be stored, and the process can be repeated as often as twice a week.

VIDEO: DIY Mint Mask for Acne and Inflammation


2. Tea Tree Oil – topical or as a steam

Tea tree oil is another home remedy for adult acne, and can be applied in a plethora of forms. My personal favorite is using tea tree oil in a bowl of hot water—just a few drops—to give my face a good steam before cleaning my face and applying my acne-fighting cream. Home remedy for adult acne - tea tree oil

That said, tea tree oil can be applied topically. This natural oil helps to open pores, and has even been shown to fight bacteria and to help your skin heal after bad breakouts—which, in turn, helps to avoid acne scarring. Tea tree oil can even be used as often as once a day.

Tip! What crushed peppermint and tea tree oil each do is open up your pores and promote blood flow to the surface of your skin. What they don’t do, however, is directly zap acne-causing bacteria. Use trial and error techniques to see what complementary acne-fighting products can work well with these natural exfoliating cleansers.


3. Stress Management

Stress isn’t a direct cause of acne, but it is one of the key aggravators of adult acne that you just can’t shake. Subtle—or even not-so-subtle—changes to your lifestyle that reduce stress can reduce your breakouts with it. If you’re able to identify any specific stress-causing projects, problems or relationships, be proactive about how to change the very construct of the situation. Stress management as a home remedy to fight adult acne Or, of your stress is more “general” or omnipresent, try any one of these stress management techniques:

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine—these substances are the greatest stress-enhancing that we consume.
  • Add more physical activity to your week—it might sound counter-productive to put physical strain on your body to release stress, but getting your heart rate up and exerting some of that pent-up anxiety outside or in the gym is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your stress level.
  • Make sure you’re sleeping enough—stress can make this extra hard, but ensuring you feel rested in the morning helps you heal from the stress of the previous day, and helps you cope better with the stress of the next one.

4. Change what you eat

There are several ways that changing your diet can help you fight adult acne. First and foremost, you might have light allergies or intolerances that you’ve never diagnosed. And even where you don’t have an allergy, sometimes your body reacts a little “harshly” to products it has a harder time digesting. This can actually result in breakouts of acne. Food as the best home remedy for adult acne

Dairy products are a common thing that people with adult acne can try avoiding, which often proves to be helpful. Others try to limit carbs. If there’s anything for certain, it’s that junk food will never do you any good—the more corn chips or candy you eat, the worse it will be for your skin.

The final consideration for this home remedy is a little more delicate. If you struggle with regular constipation, changing what you eat could hit two birds with one stone. Your constipation could actually be the aggravator that’s leading to your breakouts. Waste product holds toxins that your body has to release—and if it’s not doing so efficiently, it will show in your skin. Eat more leafy greens or other sources of fiber to move things along. It could solve your constipation, and thereafter your acne.


5. Change your care products

Other cases of adult acne come back to negative reactions to different fragrances or ingredients used in other care products. You probably don’t think much about your acne when you wash your hair, but even something like your shampoo can aggravate your skin and cause breakouts. Changing care products to fight adult acne If your skin doesn’t like an ingredient in something, it will turn your pores into battle grounds and leave you with fewer resources to fight of acne-causing bacteria.

If you’re going to try this home remedy, start with one product at a time. Change up your shampoo for a fragrance-free or a baby shampoo, and see how your acne does over a month. If nothing happens, but you’re in the height of summer for example, maybe your sunscreen is to blame. Perfumes and other products are worth considering, too.


6. Over-the-counter acne fighters

Many of these home remedies for adult acne will be used in conjunction with the following over-the-counter products. Each acne product you find at the pharmacy will have an active ingredient. And, many though there are that fight acne, some ingredients work better than others. You can read about products that exfoliate, or that promote the production of new skin cells. But we’re going to focus on the two active ingredients that do the best job fighting the very bacteria that cause acne.

  • Salicylic acid

This active ingredient is one of the most popular in over-the-counter acne cleansers. The acid actually dissolves some of the material—on a non-harmful, molecular level—that binds your skin together. It naturally exfoliates dead skin cells and dissolves facial oils as soon as it hits your skin’s surface.

And what’s the purpose of all that? It unclogs your pores. By dissolving some of the “glue” that seals your skin, and by penetrating natural oils and even clogged pores, and exfoliating your skin, salicylic acid is especially good for fighting whiteheads and blackheads.

  • Benzoyl peroxide

This active ingredient actually kills the bacteria that causes acne in the first place. It also helps to exfoliate and keep pores clear and clean. Benzoyl peroxide will typically be available in over-the-counter products in 2.5-10%, but it can leave your skin dry and sensitive, so it’s wise to start with a lower concentration.

Benzoyl peroxide is also effective in opening your pores up to oxygen, which helps to further break down the gunk inside them. By “unplugging” your pores and attacking the bacteria itself, you could see an impact to your acne in a matter of weeks.

Read our detailed guide about adult acne treatments

Choosing the home remedy for you

Choosing a home remedy for adult acne isn’t as simple as saying, “Well, I already have this on hand,” or “So-and-so tried it.” 

It’s more likely that you’ll be undergoing a series of trial and error experiments to figure out what works best for your type of skin—and your type of acne.

When trying any one of these home remedies, be sure to keep a journal of how your acne looks and feels as you undergo the treatment. You might think you’ll be able to cast an objective eye over the results, but the day-to-day ups and downs (especially if you’re a lady of menstruating age) are essential to note.

That way, you can recognize more quickly what works and what doesn’t. And, you can be more alert of any adverse side-effects that make it “not worth it” in the end.

If you’re an adult with acne, you’re one of the chosen few (or not-so-few) whose acne has proven resistant. Your breakouts have probably fought off multiple products already, and maybe even multiple doctors. The good news is that a little bit of empirical science can go a long way—first, start by identifying your aggravators.

Then, you can take that insight and look at these home remedies to find a solution that might work for you. And lastly, document and give it enough time to see if you chose wisely, or if it’s time for round two.

Start with a look at your own acne aggravators, and give any one of these home remedies a try!