There’s tons of advice out there for teens with acne, but what should you do if you reach adulthood and those bothersome breakouts still haven’t stopped?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne can continue well into your 30s, 40s and even 50s, and adult acne can be more stubborn than it was in your adolescence.
Just like in your teens, hormones play a part in the production of adult acne, but there is a difference.
“Hormone fluxes in adolescents primarily come from puberty,” said Austin-based dermatologist Adam Mamelak. “These fluxes tend to stabilize at the end of the teenage years or one’s early 20s. Hormonal fluxes that contribute to adult acne come from more ‘regular’ physiologic sources, such as one’s menstrual cycle or pregnancy. Often, adult hormonal acne can be indicative of one’s sensitivity to natural hormonal fluctuations in the body.”
Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, added that “acne in general, for both teens and adults, is hormonal and genetic, but adult acne is more androgen-influenced. As we age and lose estrogen, it becomes less effective and can cause acne, which is usually around the jawline.”
Dermatologist Chesahna Kindred from Baltimore, Maryland, told HuffPost that “usually, teenage acne responds to treatment but the patients do not stick with the prescribed skin care regimen. Then, when the patient is an adult and is more diligent, the acne is refractory.”
Dermatologists agree that clogged pores and bacterial overgrowth contribute to adult acne, and maintaining a skin care regimen that uses products with ingredients to clear your pores, reduce bacteria and maintain the right amount of moisture is crucial to fight your pimple problem.
We asked three dermatologists about the best over-the-counter products to help prevent and treat acne, as well products that treat hyperpigmentation often found in darker skin tones long after the bumps are gone.
Here are the cleansers, treatments and moisturizers they recommend.
CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser
Caring for acne-prone skin requires topical antiseptics that reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria on your face. Kindred suggests using a benzoyl peroxide facial wash such as CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser (Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment).
Clinique Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel
Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, prefers salicylic acid for adult acne as it tends to be less drying than benzoyl peroxide. “Adult skin tends to be drier than teenage acne-prone skin. Clinique’s acne spot treatment is a great salicylic acid option that is tolerable and effective.”
Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam
Henry also recommends trying products with glycolic acids, which are another ingredient that simultaneously treats and prevents acne while being less drying on the skin than benzoyl peroxide.
Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser
Another reason to choose glycolic acids? They offer a deeper exfoliation, which also gives you better access to cleaning out pores. If you are looking for this type of exfoliation in a cleanser, Henry suggests Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser.
CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser
Too sensitive for AHAs like glycolic acid and BHAs like salicylic acid? Henry suggests trying a gentle foaming cleanser. These cleansers easily remove dirt, oil and makeup, all of which contribute to clogged pores that create acne. This one contains niacinamide and ceramides to help calm and moisturize irritated skin.
CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
If you’re prone to acne scars and hyperpigmentation, it’s not enough to only treat the acne ― you’ve got to treat the spotting at the same time. Austin-based dermatologist Adam Mamelak recommends CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser because it “has salicylic acid to gently exfoliate the skin, niacinamide to soothe inflammation, as well as hyaluronic acid and ceramides to moisturize and protect the skin barrier.”
SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Gel Cleanser
While looking for these double-duty products, consider those with retinol or glycolic acid, since both ingredients have multiple benefits when combating acne. Mamelak said, “Not only do they help exfoliate and turn over the skin, decrease inflammation and oil production, these agents can also help lighten dark spots and PIH left behind from acne lesions.”
PCA Skincare Pigment Bar
Kindred tells HuffPost that “for darker skin tones, the inflammation related to acne often leaves a brown footprint known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH. In these cases treating only the acne is often insufficient.” She suggests picking over-the-counter treatments that include hydroquinone, niacinamide and kojic acid, like PCA Skincare Pigment Bar.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
Sometimes products are good at fighting acne and hyperpigmentation, but not labeled as such ― that’s why it’s good to know your ingredients! “Most of the retinols that help with PIH are formulated with moisturizing agents and are advertised for fighting fine lines and wrinkles, not acne per se,” Mamelak said. “That’s why I think of azelaic acid in these scenarios.”
Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1%
Mamelak also advises that you “know your skin type ― not all products are created for all people. Products geared to help with oily skin might be overly drying or irritating for individuals with dry or sensitive skin.” He recommends Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1%for oily skin. Be careful not to overdue it ― this gel has a drying effect, so it’s best to start applying it 2-3 times a week and slowly increase the frequency of use after a few weeks.
PCA Skin Clearskin Facial Moisturizer
Don’t forget to moisturize! Mamelak warns that while removing excess oil from the skin and clogged pores can definitely help reduce breakouts, be wary of too much of a good thing. “Overly drying your skin can lead to pore-clogging flakes and actually stimulate your glands to produce more oil,” he said. This calming and balancing facial moisturizer is ideal for people with combination skin.
Sunday Riley Luna Retinol Sleeping Night Oil
“Using products that both treat and prevent acne are critical,” Henry said. So serums containing retinol are great, as they fight both acne and post-acne scarring. This cruelty-free treatment is the ultimate multi-tasker, reducing the appearance of pores and wrinkles while visibly improving the signs of premature aging: fine lines, uneven texture, age spots, dryness, and dullness.
Neutrogena Stubborn Marks PM Treatment
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly serum with retinol, Henry suggests Neutrogena’s Stubborn Marks PM Treatment. This nighttime marks treatment also contains vitamin A and helps erase post-acne skin marks to correct uneven skin tone.