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Cristina Spanò
Cristina Spanò

The Secrets To Clearing Up Adult Acne

It's a totally different monster than the pimples you zapped as a teen.

If you have adult acne (hello!), then you know it's a totally different monster than the pimples you zapped as a teen. While teenage acne is primarily caused by oily skin and hormones, adult acne has distinct origins and needs a different treatment plan.

Here’s everything you need to know about why you’re breaking out now, and what to do about it.

Causes for adult acne

This is usually due to hormonal imbalances, certain medications, diet, stress and more, says Alpana Mohta, a certified dermatologist and medical advisor for BetterGoods, an independent organization that analyzes the ingredients in skincare, beauty and personal care. Hormonal imbalances when you’re approaching menopause can cause an increase in sebum production, which can lead to clogged pores and breakouts, while certain medications such as corticosteroids, hormonal pills and Vitamin B12 supplements can also cause breakouts, Mohta says. Diet — anything rich in sugar and dairy products — along with stress, can also play a role.

Differences between adult breakouts and teen acne

When you’re an adult, the breakouts tend to be more deep-rooted and persistent than teen breakouts. “While teenage acne is characterized by blackheads and whiteheads, adult breakouts take the form of painful cystic acne, which can discharge pus,” Mohta says. Adult acne can also be more difficult to treat, and tends to leave deep acne scars and hyperpigmentation.

Where adult acne occurs

It’s more likely to be found on the lower half of the face, while teen acne is usually on the forehead, nose and chin, says Harikiran Chekuri, a certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon.

If you experienced a lot of pimples as a teen, are you more likely to breakout as an adult?

Some research has shown that people who had acne as teens are more likely to experience adult acne, likely due to the fact that the underlying causes of acne — such as the growth of acne-causing bacteria, hormonal imbalances and certain medications — can persist into adulthood. But even if you never had a pimple as a teen, you may still breakout as an adult.

Ingredients you should look for to tackle adult acne

Retinoids, azelaic acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, Mohta says. Retinoids can help exfoliate the skin and unclog pores. Azelaic acid will reduce inflammation and kill acne-causing bacteria while clearing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Salicylic acid can help to exfoliate the skin, dissolve sebum and unclog pores. Benzoyl peroxide can help kill acne-causing bacteria.

But, Chekuri says, it’s important to find an approach that works for you. And please always contact a doctor or dermatologist to help with a treatment plan.

“What works for one person may not work for another, so don’t be afraid to experiment until you find something that helps,” she says.

Products that may help

  • All Clear Mint Cleanser

    This is one of the most gentle acne cleansers we’ve tried, and yet it does wonders without drying or causing any redness. That’s due to its aloe vera base, which may calm the skin as its cleanses. The aloe is also anti-inflammatory, which is key for adult acne. $39 at Banish.com

  • Murad Deep Relief Acne Treatment

    It’s a spot treatment for your acne which may really help with cystic acne. One of the main ingredients is salicylic acid, which is why it works so well. Use it during the night or during the day: You won’t see it, and it’s effective immediately without drying out your skin. $44 at Murad.com

  • Sunday Riley U.F.O Salicylic Acid BHA Acne Treatment Face Oil

    Best for those with sensitive skin and acne. This is a very gentle face oil that has salicylic acid — but only 1.5%, so it works without causing any additional issues. It will also brighten your dark spots, and calm red areas. $80 at Sephora.com

  • Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

    Designed to help calm your skin while tackling pimples, this contains .5% salicylic acid and 10% azelaic acid plus licorice root extract. Rub it on after cleansing for an additional layer of acne-zapping cream — and this may help with everything from random redness to acne to rashes to rosacea. $39 at Paulaschoice.com

  • Peter Thomas Roth Goodbye Acne Complete Acne Treatment Gel

    With 2% salicylic acid and 1% retinol plus Vitamin C and pantothenic acid — this gel means business. It’s especially good for hormonal acne such as that horrible cystic acne you get while going through menopause, so keep this on hand. $44 at Sephora.com

Have any of you suffered from adult acne? Let us know in the comments below.

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