Sometimes, it starts as an unassuming bump during moments of stress or that time of the month. Other times, it’s lingering dark spots or painful uprisings out of nowhere. It can often feel like adult acne has no rhyme or reason—those pesky breakouts should have ended after adolescence—but the truth is, many people face skin issues far beyond their teenage years.
The reasons can vary, from hormones to your diet to the makeup you’re wearing. There are options to address acne, so it’s important to be proactive with your dermatologist to find products and treatments that work for you. We talked to skincare experts for tips to get you started on your journey to blemish-free skin.
Identify the culprit
For successful acne control, it’s important to be proactive and take note of what triggers your breakouts. A small journal can be a helpful tool to track potential causes.
“Having this documentation [of what triggers your breakouts] can help your doctor get to the root cause of the problem sooner, so you can have clear, acne-free skin,” says Dr. Michele Greene, a New York dermatologist. She says that hormones, stress and environmental factors are three of the top causes of adult acne.
Dr. Jason Emer, a Los Angeles dermatologist, adds, “I see a significant increase of adult acne in women after pregnancy and hormonal changes, and women with PCOS, stress, breast cancer, and who take birth control on and off.”
Dr. Emer lists other less considered acne-causing culprits like eating dairy, oil-based beauty products, silicone, jojoba oil, shea butter, excess vitamin B, dirty cell phones and sunglasses, and pillowcases. Your significant other’s beard may also be to blame. When kissing, your body responds to the friction by producing more oil, which leads to clogged pores and breakouts.
Consider your treatment options
According to Dr. Green, the most common methods for addressing adult acne are a good skincare routine and topical or oral antibiotics. Monthly chemical peels or facials are popular treatments to help minimize acne by cleaning your pores, exfoliating the skin, and reducing excess oil production.
Dr. Emer adds, “We do chemical peels like Revepeel, infusion/exfoliation facials like Dermalinfusion [formally known as Silkpeel], Clear & Brilliant combined with microneedling and PRP, as well as Laser Genesis or Aerolase to decrease the internal inflammation and open the pores.” He also lists Spironolactone as a popular alternative medication to treat hormonal, cystic acne in women.
As your skin clears, you may be left with those dreaded acne scars. Recently, there has been a rise in correcting the scars that acne often leaves behind. Common treatments include CO2 lasers, Fraxel lasers, punch excision, and dermabrasion, but don’t commit to any treatment until you consult with a dermatologist. The type of treatment you get needs to match the type of scars you have.
Know that you’re not alone
Battling adult acne can bring on a range of emotions, including embarrassment, frustration and anger. It’s important to remember that acne is a common problem that many people face.
“It can be emotionally devastating to have adult acne, but there are many treatment options,” says Dr. Green. “Advances in dermatology have offered patients a variety of treatments to control acne, blemishes and the scars that acne often leaves behind.”
There are a ton of online communities that can provide emotional and practical support for anyone who faces adult acne.
If your acne is less severe or you are looking for some over-the-counter products to explore, consider gentle alternatives first. We asked top experts on RealSelf for their favorite products to treat adult acne — no prescription required. Here are their top picks.