Adult acne is a very common skincare concern and certainly an embarrassing and exasperating one. Discover how you can create a skincare routine that treats and prevents breakouts.
- It isn’t always raging hormones that cause acne, though it’s the most common reason. Other contributing factors include genetics, stress, certain medications and bacteria.
- Women are prone to hormonal breakouts during their periods.
- Acne results when bacteria, dead skin cells, dirt and oil get trapped in your pores.
- Most commonly, blemishes are either whiteheads (closed comedones) or blackheads (open comedones).
- Blemishes that are red, swollen and painful to the touch are called cysts, occurring when bacteria and oil become trapped deep down in the pores; these are the most difficult to treat and can easily leave scars.
- Acne usually worsens during the hotter months of summer.
While in the past adults suffering from acne had few options, today you’ll find countless treatments tailored specifically for grown-up skin. When buying products, look for these main ingredients:
- Salicylic acid: A beta hydroxy acid derived from white willow bark that has exfoliating and antiseptic properties. It will help keep your skin smooth and prevent a build-up of dead skin cells. Importantly, if you’re allergic to aspirin, avoid salicylic acid; their chemical compositions are similar.
- Benzoyl peroxide: Naturally antibacterial and antiseptic, benzoyl peroxide works by exfoliating and drying excess oil and sebum. If your skin is dry or sensitive, avoid benzoyl peroxide; it's too drying for these skin types.
- Glycolic acid: Helps remove deep impactions from the pores, reducing excess oil and preventing bacteria from building up in the hair follicle.
- Sulfur: Deep-cleansing agent that helps to kill bacteria, absorb oil and loosen dead skin cells.
Seven steps to clearer skin
1. Be consistent. For acne-prone skin, consistency is key. Constantly switching products can exacerbate acne, so stick with your new routine for at least several weeks (or months) to give skin time to respond.
Why not immediate results? Because many blemishes begin to form weeks before they appear on your face. So, acne will typically look worse before it gets better, while the products work to "purge" blemishes hiding just beneath the skin.
2. Start with a clean slate. Prevent acne by properly cleansing the skin, morning and night, with an acne-fighting cleanser like Murad AHA/BHA Cleanser or SkinCeuticals Clarifying Cleanser. Many think cleansing in the mornings is useless, since you've already removed all traces of makeup the night before. But, as you sleep, oils and pollutants actually build up on your skin’s surface.
If your medicated cleanser becomes too drying to use twice a day, apply it only at night and use a non-medicated cleanser like Caudalie Gentle Cleanser in the mornings.
3. Eliminate dead skin. Exfoliating will remove dead skin cells, dirt, oil and debris, encourage new cell turnover and might even help minimize the appearance of acne scars.
Manual exfoliators use tiny beads to slough off imperfections from the skin’s surface. Use a gentle formula, such as Sothys Gommage Exfoliant, two to three times a week. You can also apply a chemical exfoliant. MD Skincare Alpha Beta® Daily Face Peel/2 Steps uses alpha and beta hydroxy acids to reduce pores size and even out skin tone.
Don’t use exfoliating products too often or scrub too aggressively — this can cause small cuts in the skin’s surface that allow bacteria to creep in, causing blemishes.
4. Always hydrate. Moisturizing is important to adult skin, because as we age, our skin tends to get drier. Even if your skin is extremely oily, it will still benefit from a lightweight moisturizer at least once a day. Plus, acne-fighting treatments, though effective, can be harsh and drying to the skin.
Also, acne products can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage. Try using a moisturizer with sunscreen every morning. Peter Thomas Roth Max Sheer All Day Moisture Defense SPF 30 will hydrate and protect without clogging your pores.
5. Spot your solution. To shrink existing blemishes, use a spot treatment. Look into these various options: NeoCeuticals Acne Spot Treatment Gel, Murad Exfoliating Acne Treatment Gel, Cellex-C Skin Perfecting Pen.
6. Mask the problem. Facial masks are a great way to dry up blemishes and clear up imperfections. Try a mask with specialized ingredients that reduce inflammation and absorb oil.
Applied once a week, acne masks should leave blemished areas looking and feeling calmer and less inflamed. More importantly, they'll help clear blemishes faster by reducing bacteria that blocks the hair follicle.
7. Seek help. If your acne still hasn’t cleared up, don’t hesitate to consult a dermatologist. Combating acne early can prevent acne scarring and discoloration.
Learn everything you need to know about acne-fighting skincare in our Complete Acne Handbook.