Adult acne isn't fun. Here's what causes it and the best adult acne treatments.

Having adult acne can feel downright unfair.

After all, you did your time. There’s a good chance you’ve been figuring out how to get rid of acne or different types of pimples for years, all in the hope your hormones would get themselves together by your mid twenties. Early thirties at the latest… right?

Not so fast, mate.

Even though you’re well past puberty, are doing your darndest to eat well and exercise, and aren’t out partying every night, adult acne is surprisingly common.

According to Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica, between 40-55 per cent of adults aged 20-40 have been diagnosed with a low-grade, persistent acne and oily skin, with the thirties being the most common years.

So what causes adult acne and what’s the best adult acne treatment? Let’s find out.

Side note – here are seven ways to improve your skin while you sleep in the video below. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

Adult acne causes.

Although it might feel like you’ve got the face of a greasy high school student, adult acne and teenage acne are quite different.


“The first difference is that adult acne seems to be more persistent than teen acne with low-grade breakouts. Nodules and cysts (the angry, red, inflamed type of pimples) are less prevalent.

“However, acne scarring for adults can also be more prevalent, due to the skin losing its ability to repair itself,” explains Hobson.

Adult acne is also more likely to be found on areas like the neck, under and running along the jaw, as well as around the borders of the hairline, unlike teen acne, which commonly occurs on the cheeks, forehead and chin.

“Adult acne normally has less blackheads present and there tends to be a general increase in skin sensitisation. Generally speaking, adult acne tends not have the same severity as pubescent acne.”

There is one similarity between the pimples you got in school and the ones you’ve got now. Your hormones are probably still to blame.

“A major aggravating factor leading to adult acne is chronic stress, which can stimulate an increase of our hormone levels (including testosterone) which in turn stimulates an increase of our skin’s oil production,” explains Hobson.

It’s this increased level of oil, combined with your dead skin cells, that creates skin blockages and causes breakouts. Monthly hormone fluctuations can also be a trigger – women in their thirties are more susceptible to premenstrual breakouts. Women approaching and post-menopause are also much less likely to suffer from adult acne.


Cosmetics with comedogenic ingredients, some medications, poor skin care and a poor diet can also worsen the situation.

roaccutane side effects
Adult acne isn't very fun and can affect your self-confidence. Image: Getty.

Adult acne treatment.

So what can you do to treat and prevent it? Let's go through the different adult acne treatments and the best products for adult acne.


Hormonal and medical treatments for acne.

The most common form of acne or pimples treatment, especially in teens, is the contraceptive pill.

Central Sydney Dermatology’s Associate Professor Stephen Shumack told Mamamia the reason women experience really great skin while they’re taking the pill is thanks to the added oestrogen, which boosts overall skin health and keeps the skin moist and hydrated – “it’s a bit like being pregnant and experiencing the ‘pregnancy glow’."

That said, being on the contraceptive pill isn't feasible for everyone, especially people with adult acne who might be looking to start a family.

Those with severe cystic acne can consult a GP about about roaccutane (otherwise known as isotretinoin). Roaccutane is a type of retinoid, which works by reducing sebum production, bacteria and inflammation in the skin.

It's not without side effects - some users may experience increased skin sensitivity, dry, itchy or flaking skin, dry lips, sweating, peeling palms and blurred vision. Roaccutane is also not suitable for everyone (especially pregnant or breastfeeding women) and must be prescribed by a doctor.

Extractions for pimples.

Extractions are the manual removal of a build up of bacteria, excess oil and skin cell debris from pore. Essentially, it's the professional way to 'pop pimples'.

Focusing on whiteheads, blackheads and inflammatory pimples, extractions are generally performed during a facial after cleansing, exfoliating, steaming and deep cleansing. These facials can be up to 70 minutes long, with between five to forty minutes spent on the actual extractions.


Cost wise, you're looking at over $100 for a quality extraction facial, on top of which you can often add other treatments such as LED light therapy. Depending on your skin, you'll need between four to eight facials, but extraction facials are something you can incorporate into an ongoing routine to maintain results.

You can read more about extractions and how to get rid of pimples in our full story here.

Laser and light therapy for skin.


Skin specialists often recommend a low level laser or light therapy for skin to patients, especially those that come in after stripping their skin trying to remove oil.

A red light wavelength laser helps to fix the impaired barrier which happens after using harsh products or treatments, is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and extremely healing. Laser treatments are often used in conjunction with extractions.

You can read more about light therapy for skin and if blue light therapy for acne works in our full story here.

How to get rid of pimples naturally.

Factors like diet, exercise and home remedies may be useful in treating adult acne.

Although Nutritionist and author of Falling In Love With Food Zoe Bingley-Pullin said no foods can conclusively treat acne, eating a diet rich in brassica vegetables, fibre, complex carbs, anti-inflammatory foods and healthy fats won't hurt.

Tea tree oil, rosehip oil, jojoba oil, apple cider vinegar and manuka honey are also common ingredients used to treat pimples naturally, but shouldn't be substituted for professional, personalised advice.

You can read more about how to get rid of pimples naturally in our full story here.

Tips and best products for adult acne.

When choosing skincare to manage and treat adult acne, it's likely you won't get results with the same harsh, stripping acne products you used in your teens. Generally speaking, here's what to keep in mind when you're picking your products:


Try a gentle cleanser.

Pimples are oil, so get rid of the oil and your pimples will disappear? No, in fact, they might get worse.

Harsh acne products strip your skin of all of its natural oils, which will prompt you skin to create more oil. They also dry out your skin's natural water levels and barrier, making it harder for sebum blocked in your pores to get to the surface.

Instead, choose gentle, pH neutral cleansers. Cleansing milks and oils are great, as are cleansers with ingredients like alpha hydroxy acid and glycolic acid that can help with acne.

We love: Skinstitut Lactic Acid Cleanser ($34), Dr. LeWinns Gentle Cream Cleanser ($24.95), Beaute Pacifique Gentle Foaming Cleanser ($68), La Roche-Posay Effaclar Foaming Gel ($24.95) and Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel ($21).

Image: Adore Beauty.
best cream skin cleanser
Image: Dr Lewinns.
Image: Beaute Pacifique.
Image: MECCA.

Use a chemical exfoliator.

Using a chemical exfoliating product can help unclog blocked pores by dissolving dead skin cells and getting your skin cells to turn over or renew.

It's easy to overdo it with chemical exfoliation - try applying a glycolic acid, lactic acid or salicylic acid (all alpha hydroxy acids) chemical exfoliant after cleansing once a week, gradually working up to twice a week or every second night.

We love: Alpha H Liquid Gold ($59.95), Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads ($34.99), Pixi Glow Tonic ($46) and The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution ($14.50).

Image: Sephora.
Image: Priceline.
Image: Adore Beauty.
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
Image: Priceline.

Wear sunscreen.

You still need an SPF 50+ sunscreen everyday, but choose a lotion or fluid rather than a thick cream.

We love these chemical sunscreens (sunscreens that absorb rays and destroy them within the skin): Cancer Council Daywear Face Moisturiser SPF50+ ($14.95), Dermalogica Pure Light SPF 50+ ($97), Ultraceuticals Ultra UV Protection Daily Moisturiser SPF 50+ ($79), Ultra Violette Queen Screen SPF 50+ Luminising Sun Serum ($47), La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Ultra Light SPF50+ ($29.95) and Neutrogena SPF 50+ Ultra Sheer Fluid ($19.99).

Image: Cancer Council.
Image: Dermalogica.
Image: Ultraceuticals.
Image: Ultra Violette.
Image: Chemist Warehouse.


We love these physical sunscreens (sunscreens that bounce rays back out into the environment): Ultra Violette Clean Screen SPF 30 Mattifying Mineral Skinscreen ($42), O Cosmedics Mineral Pro SPF 30+ ($49), Invisible Zinc Sheer Defence Facial Moisturiser SPF50+ ($23.80), Medik8 Physical Sunscreen Broad Spectrum Physical SPF 30+ ($78) and Revision Skincare Intellishade® TruPhysical ($75).

Image: Ultra Violette.
Image: O Cosmedics.
Image: Invisible Zinc.
Image: Medik8.
Image: revision Skincare.

Don't avoid moisturiser.

Moisturiser and face oils are not the enemy - if you're using anti-acne ingredients that will strip your skin of some moisture, you need to replace that moisture to keep your skin from over-producing oil.

We love: Voeu Age Regenerate Anti-ageing Day Moisturiser ($7), Neutrogena Moisturiser Combination Skin Oil Free ($9.69), Beaute Pacifique SuperFruit Cream ($68) and Avène Cleanance Expert Tinted ($26.95).

Image: Woolworths.
Neutrogena Moisturiser Combination Skin Oil Free
Image: Chemist Warehouse.
Image: Beaute Pacifique.
Image: Adore Beauty.

Most importantly, it's essential to remember that there are no miracle remedies that will work their magic overnight.

It does take commitment, but adult acne it is controllable, treatable and even beatable.

Do you suffer from adult acne? What works for you?

Want more content on pimples, acne and skincare? Read more here: