What's the deal with adult acne? Here's why you're still getting it and how TF to get rid of it.

Acne is such a freakin' jerk. It plagues us through our teenage years, only to come back and basically spit in our faces when we're in our 20s and 30s. The worst. Apparently being a grown-up doesn't mean having your own house, tonnes of money and flawless skin. RUDE! 

While we can't do too much about the crippling housing prices or the whole money thing, we can help you on the acne front. We speak to a qualified skin expert and pull together all the juicy info on how to deal with adult acne.

Why me? WHY?

If you're one of the little lambs struggling with adult acne for what feels like your entire life, don't think you're alone in your fight. In fact, you are anything but alone, friends. According to the most recent Global Acne Report (see - it's so common it has a report!), acne affects approximately 80 per cent of people between the onset of puberty and 30 years of age.

Watch: We're obsessed with this blackhead blasting face mask. Post continues below. 

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It turns out that it's actually quite normal to suffer from some form of acne in your adult years - whether it be the non-inflammatory type such as whiteheads and blackheads, or inflammatory type such as nodules, pustules and cysts. 

Cystic inflammatory acne is one of the more common types of adult acne and it's a skin condition that is a bit harder to treat. If you don't know what cystic acne is, it's basically those lumpy pimples that sit deep beneath the skin - the ones you can't squeeze or drain. 


Okay, cool. Me and a bunch of other people have adult acne. What's causing it though?

So, what's the go? Why do we get it? Let's just get this straight - adult acne is not always the result of you being a bit behind with your skincare routine – so don't beat yourself up. Often it's just an unfortunate thing thrust upon you by the universe/your hormones.

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for your face, You Beauty, where we find out exactly how to get rid of blackheads. Post continues below. 

Fluctuations in hormones (which usually happens before your menstrual cycle), is one of the main causes of adult acne. "This might be due to the oral contraceptive, a change in diet or skincare or due to another medical condition," said skin expert Dr Giulia D'Anna from Dermal Distinction.

"Whenever the male hormone testosterone (yes, females have testosterone too!) spikes, the sebum or oil produced in the oil glands becomes a little more sluggish. This leads to the oil getting clogged in the pores and acne breakouts." Hormonal-related breakouts usually pop up on the chin, jawline, and cheeks. 

But it's not only hormonal changes that you need to look out for. Old mate stress has a lot to do with making things worse. While stress alone isn't the cause of adult acne, it's one of the top acne triggers, so it can definitely amp things up.

When you're stressed, your body creates high levels of cortisol - a hormone that leads to excess oil production, and impairs the skin’s ability to heal. What fun! If you're struggling with chronic stress, this can therefore affect the duration of your acne breakouts, meaning they’ll stick around longer and are more likely to cause scarring.


So, what's a gal to do when her hormones are everywhere and she's feeling stressed AF? Trying to practice some different techniques to reduce your stress levels is a very good place to start. Hit up the goodness of meditation or get into a regular form of exercise and you may start to notice a difference.

Important thing: If you're experiencing breakouts on your forehead or down your back (bacne, for all the uninitiated), take a look at what's going on in your shampoo. According to Dr D'Anna, "If you experience acne/breakouts around the hairline, it might be your shampoo or leave-in hair products that are too blame. Often they contain waxes that literally plug the pores." Yep - everything is out to get you and your face. 

Another important thing: Stay the hell away from coconut oil. "A really typical oil that triggers acne is coconut oil. This was trending heavily last year, but hopefully everyone knows that coconut oil is so 2019. If you are an oil lover, use almond oil or Jojoba oil instead. They both rate much better because their oil is thinner and less likely to block the pores."

So, is adult acne actually different to teenage acne? 

Yep, it's totally different. Teenage acne is triggered by three main things: "Hormones, poor skin cleaning and the bacteria P. Acnes," said Dr D'Anna. "Teenagers' hormones are literally all over the place. The spikes in testosterone are big drivers for the acne build-up, but combine that with a bit of laziness in skin cleaning, and you have a recipe for disaster."

So yeah, a 13-year-old's skin is very different to a 30-year-old's skin. Your skin is a thousand times drier and more fragile as an adult, so products you used as a teen may not have the same effectiveness for you as an adult. So, that 10 per cent benzyl peroxide product you were slathering all over your face as a teen, isn't going to cut it as an adult. 


Throw it out. It's too harsh.

Start a fresh big girl routine that'll actually work for your skin.

Alright, alright. I'll ditch the toner I've been using since I was 15. What kinda products should I be using?

A good rule of thumb is to get into the habit of choosing products that are labelled ‘non-comedogenic’ or ‘non-acnegenic’. That means the product won't block your pores or cause breakouts. Yay! And luckily there are a heap of great over-the-counter products that fit the bill.

To start, look for a good cleanser. "I generally recommend using a cleanser that has BHAs (beta hydroxy acid) and AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids)," said Dr D'Anna.

Just to give you a heads up, BHAs can also be called salicylic acid - so look out for this ingredient. "Salicylic acid is great at dissolving oil, so it really gets in the pores of the skin and flushes them out," said Dr D'Anna. "AHAs, like lactic acid or glycolic acid, are also perfect for flushing away superficial dead skin cells that might eventually block the pores." 

If you're struggling to figure out where to look first, Medik8 Clarifying Foam Oil-Free AHA/AHA Blemish Cleanser, Skinstitut Glycolic Cleanser 12% or La Roche-Posay Effaclar Foaming Gel are all good options.

In terms of spot treatments, Dr D'Anna says to look for products with salicylic acid. Remember, spot treatments are best for targeting pimples here and there - you don't want to slather this stuff all over your face because you could end up damaging your skin.


Another good ingredient those with acne-prone skin should get around is retinol (vitamin A). "Retinol is really effective at reducing dead skin cell build-up and it also helps to unpack the dead skin stuck in the pores." Nice! Here's a couple of retinol products you might like.

Wait, wait, wait! Your moisturiser. Don't forget your moisturiser. You want it to be oil-free and non-pore-clogging - and it's probably best to stay away from the heavy stuff, too. We like CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion, SkinCeuticals Daily Moisture Lightweight Pore-Minimimzing Moisturizer and Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel

And we know we don't have to say it, cause you're a smart little chicken and you're totally our favourite (just don't tell the others), but if you use all these cool actives like AHAs and BHAs, you MUST use sunscreen each day. Must! 

What are some other effective treatment options? 

The bad news: No matter how many skincare products you buy, sometimes it just feels like your skin is destined to break out. The good news: There's a whole load of other things you can do to help fix your adult acne woes.

Like professional treatments. Do some of these! They can help reduce the oil and dead skin cell build-up that blocks the pores. "One particular treatment I love for adult acne is skin needling," said Dr D'Anna. "P. Acnes loves to live in the pores because they don’t have much oxygen. If you have a skin needling treatment, it breaks up their home by flooding the pores with oxygen."

Wrecking the home of the bacteria that is wrecking your face? Priceless.

Dr D'Anna also said that chemical peels are the absolute sh*t when it comes to getting rid of acne. So DO try these. 


"There are a number of BHA based peels. A traditional peel is a Jessner - this is perfect for acne." If you're confused about what kind of peel is right for you, take your cute little self into a skin clinic and find out what will work best.

"But we can't even leave our homes right now!" We hear you cry (Melbourne). If in-clinic treatments aren't an option, at-home LED treatments might be for you. "Using a blue LED light in the clinic or at home (if you can afford one) is perfect for acne. Blue light helps to reduce the number of P. acnes bacteria" (the little suckers that create this mess).

And what if none of this helps?

Let's face it - if your acne is persistent and you feel like you have tried all of the above, sometimes the only way to overcome it is to speak to your doctor about your options. 

"Talk to you medical doctor if you are taking the pill. Perhaps you can look at another brand that might hit the right spot with your hormones, as it is all about getting the oestrogen/testosterone levels just right," said D'Anna.

Been there, done that? We hear you.

"There are some prescription medications that your dermatologist can prescribe, too. A typical one is called Roaccutane, but keep in mind that this is hardcore. Your skin will be completely oil-free and super dry. So definitely something you need to talk to your dermatologist about," said Dr D'Anna.

Feature image: Getty

Do you struggle with adult acne? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.