The complete guide to treating and beating adult acne.

Image via Instagram (@lilyallen)

Having acne when you’re older can feel downright unfair.

After all, you’re well past puberty, eating and exercising well and not out partying all night, so why do you have the skin of a teenager without the perks of the lifestyle? And what do you actually need to know about how to treat adult acne?

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

RELATED: Have adult acne? Lily Allen wants you to know you’re not alone

However, the two types of 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 are less prevalent,” Hobson says.


Scarring for adults can also be more prevalent, due to the skin losing its ability to repair itself.” (Post continues after gallery.)

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,” says Hobson.

RELATED: Everything you need to know about dealing with cystic acne.

“Generally speaking, though, adult acne tends not have the same severity as pubescent acne.”

One similarity? 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.

Skin signs of a health condition
One similarity is that your hormones are probably still responsible. Image via iStock.


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, with women 33-year-old or older more susceptible to premenstrual breakouts and medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome. Women approaching and post-menopause are also much less likely to suffer from adult acne.

RELATED: Shelly Horton: “I’m thinking of having a voluntary hysterectomy.”

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

So what can you do to treat and prevent it?

1. Don't pick it

Simple but important.

"Picking will only result in scarring," explains Dr Michael Freeman, dermatologist at The Skin Centre.

RELATED: What do pimples on certain areas of your body mean?

"In severe cases, also consider seeing a specialist who can assess the underlying cause and identify if stronger, medical treatment is necessary.

2. Cleanse

"Cleansing is such an important step in preventing breakouts - but using 'teen' skin care for adult acne will not get you the wanted results," says Hobson. She advises using a cleansing oil, which gives the skin a really deep cleansing, then follow up with an antibacterial facial gel wash or clay-based cleanser.

"Ensure you spend a bit more time focussing on the chin and jaw area where you get your breakouts," she says. (Post continues after gallery.)

3. Exfoliate

Exfoliating will not only help treat your breakouts, but will also keep the skin from becoming congested in the first place.

"I'd suggest using Hydroxy acids — in particular Salicylic Acid, which is great for decongesting pores — not only in your two to three times weekly exfoliation, but also in some daily leave-on treatment products like serums or moisturising lotions," she says.

We recommend the Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant ($56).

4. Don't avoid sunscreen

It's a myth that all sunscreens will make you break out. Just look for non-comedogenic sun protection SPF products.

RELATED: Are you applying your sunscreen correctly with your makeup?

5. Assess your diet

What you eat can have a significant impact on your skin, so making small changes like avoiding processed foods and those known to trigger acne (and yes, for some that is chocolate!) can have big results.

"Try and avoid foods with processed sugars. Sugar can promote acne by elevating blood sugar levels which can mess with your hormones, including increasing the production of acne-causing hormones like androgens, excess oil and skin cell production, which all lead to clogged pores and breakouts," explains Hobson. (Post continues after gallery.)

Drinking plenty of water, herbal teas (which are packed with anti-oxidants) and eating plenty of fresh, leafy green vegetables can also help.

Some people find cutting their dairy intake also reduces the frequency of their breakouts, Hobson adds.

6. Masking

Hobson also recommends applying a deep cleansing, sebum controlling mask once a week on the area prone to breaking out.

7. Exercise

Both Dr Freeman and Hobson believe exercising can also offer a wealth of benefits for your skin.

RELATED: 4 ways to squeeze exercise into your life when you just “don’t have time”

"Many forms of physical exercise can be beneficial as it can improve the body's immune system enabling it to fight infection such as skin breakouts," says Hobson. "It can also reduce stress, which can act as a trigger for breakouts." (Post continues after video.)

8. Professional skincare treatments

Cameron Diaz swears by them, and Hobson says treatments like a chemical peel or professional exfoliation can be very useful.

"The inclusion of treatments using LED blue light are also highly beneficial," she says.

"However for severe cases, these treatments need to be combined with a good home care regimen and in tandem with medical treatments, such as laser therapy and oral or topical medications."

9. Trying supplements

If your acne is triggered by female hormones, Hobson suggests visiting a naturopath. "They can assist in the balancing of female reproductive hormones through diet and supplementation," she says.

"In addition, I'd recommend taking a supplement of Zinc if your levels are low as it is a vital mineral to assist with healing the skin."

RELATED: 7 health supplements that actually work

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

"It takes a multi-pronged approach to treat it effectively, including home care, improved lifestyle choices, professional treatments and sometimes medication," says Hobson.

It does take commitment, but it is controllable, treatable - and beatable.

Do you suffer from adult acne? Where are you prone to breakouts?