Adult Acne: What’s New and What Works?

Can we talk about Adult Acne for a minute? I’ve found myself totally caught off guard by it. I feel a little like when a friend who’s going to have a baby soon, asks me for breastfeeding advice, and among other things I tell her that nursing is curl-your-toes painful for a few weeks, and she nods like she’s taking it in. But then she calls me when the baby is 2 weeks old and the nipple scabs are forming and she can’t figure out why no one told her that nursing hurts like the devil.

I know I was warned about acne-for-grownups, but I guess I didn’t believe it? Or thought it was like a one week sort of thing? For most of my 20’s and 30’s I might get a breakout the week before my period, but usually it was no big deal. These days, it’s like a daily thing. Turns out it’s a longer phase than I anticipated. So lately, I’ve turned my attention to actively combatting it.

Things I’m using right now:

1) Rika Light Therapy Facial Massager. Each night, I use the blue light (which supposedly kills bacteria) for about 10 minutes, then I use the red light (which supposedly promotes healing) for about 10 minutes. Does it work? The jury is still out, but I do feel like I’ve seen improvement. My skin’s not flawless, but there have been less breakouts, no “deep” acne, and more even skin tone while using the Rika.

Honestly, I don’t know how much data there is to even back light therapy up. The reason I tried it is that Mindy Kaling recommended a light-therapy-bacteria-killing tool in her book. But when I looked it up, it gets mediocre reviews and has a fairly high price. So I tried the Rika wand instead — which had a $20 off coupon, so it ended up being half the price of Mindy’s recommendation. And I figured it was worth a try.

2) The light therapy instructions say to apply a serum or oil before you begin, which makes sense. You’re basically using the wand to slowly massage your face, and using an oil helps. I’ve been using Bio-Oil. I can’t even remember how I ended up with the Bio-Oil. I think it was maybe in a welcome back at a conference? The reviews on it are vast — over 5000 on Amazon.

3) I’ve been a Clarisonic user since my Colorado days. I still use it daily in the shower. I remember it making a huge difference when I first started using it. Does it still make a difference? I honestly don’t know, it’s basically habit at this point and I haven’t thought to question it.

4) During the day, I wear Mom’s Stuff Protective Day Face Balm. I love this stuff so much. It doesn’t have added sunblock, but the ingredients are apparently naturally sun blocking. If I was really going to be in the sun, I’d add sunblock just in case.

Things I want to try:

5) I briefly mentioned adult acne in a Friday link list, and a reader commented:
Differin has been wonderful for treating my adult acne AND I’m definitely seeing improvements in wrinkles and hyperpigmentation with it too after a year of daily of use. It is prescription strength vitamin A cream that is very similar to Retin A except it does not have the same flaky/sensitivity side effects. It was made available over the counter relatively recently and is affordable. (You can get it in the skin care aisle at nearly any drugstore or Target.) I saw pretty immediate results in breakouts but the wrinkle softening effects took months to kick in. I was a Retin A user for years but my skin became intolerant of it so I thought I’d give Differin a try. It’s become a daily holy grail product for me!

I’ve been dying to try it ever since I read her ringing endorsement. Have you tried it?

6) Lastly, I haven’t gone to the dermatologist yet. But I’m thinking about it. Recently, we tried an online dermatology appointment for my daughter, and I might try it for myself as well. Basically you upload photos of your skin and describe the problem, and a doctor takes a look and calls in prescriptions to your preferred pharmacy. It’s super convenient and totally makes sense if you have a fairly ordinary skin problem.

Your turn. How’s your skin these days? Have you tried anything — medicine, food, cleanser, DIY toner, tools — that gave you a big improvement skin-wise? Any favorites you’d recommend? Please chime in.

P.S. — Homemade natural facials.

100 thoughts on “Adult Acne: What’s New and What Works?”

  1. To get rid of hormonal acne I only wash my face at night with coconut oil and use a nightime cream. Rinse with water in the morning. This changed my skin. I haven’t had a pimple in years.

  2. I have been dealing with some adult acne. I started using the over-the-counter Differin every other night about two months ago. It has helped. I do notice drying and peeling so I might need to go to every third night. I’ve also started using Cetaphil face wash and like the results so far (about a week in). Additionally, I have been using rose hip oil on the nights I don’t do Differin. I believe that has helped, too. I still have little clogged pores (blackheads?) that I need to visit my dermatologist about and/or an aesthetician. Something I want to explore is hormone testing. I recently listened to Candace Burch on a Lady Gang podcast (I’m so not the target demographic but they make me laugh) and she spoke to getting tested to determine hormone imbalance and that might help with the acne.

  3. I’ve had acne pretty much non stop for the past 27 years or so. It’s hormonal so the only thing I’ve found that clears it up is being pregnant! Ha! Totally not a long term solution, but something in those pregnancy hormones makes my skin clear, and as soon as baby comes out, the acne returns. I wish I could bottle up the pregnancy hormones (without all the bad bits) and take them as a daily pill! I have had some success with particular birth control pills helping my acne a lot (but never completely clearing it up) but the pill that worked best doesn’t seem to be available in the US. Before I had kids I had fortnightly facials that helped a lot too, but with three young kids I don’t have the time – or the disposable income to spend a couple hundred dollars every few weeks on my skin! My mum continued to get regular breakouts until she had a hysterectomy in her 50s so I’m guessing I inherited her skin and have at least another 10 years of acne to look forward to.

  4. I’m 38 and have always had very oily skin. I recently overhauled my skincare after deciding Epiduo wasn’t working for me. A friend living in Korea emphasized the importance of a low pH cleanser, so I started using CeraVe cleanser for oily skin. I follow with a salicyclic acid/retinol toner, then Paula’s Choice benzoyl peroxide lotion in the morning, or a tea tree cream at night. I was also a heavy Clarisonic user but now think that was part of my problem. Oh and I do a Skinfood black sugar mask once or twice a week. It’s been a rough month or two as my skin adjusts, but I think the system is finally starting to work!

  5. Try Phace Bioactive! I’ve used all their products now. The difference in my acne-probe skin has been amazing!

  6. I went from pretty flawless skin all through my teens/early 20s to horrible, constant cystic acne for about 15 years. I have tried everything. Differin didn’t do much for me but I had good results with Spiranolactone and Ziania (retinol + topical antibiotic from my dermatologist), along with consistent exercise. The biggest improvement though came for me after I found a study about the benefits of a low glycemic diet on cystic acne. I decided to try it and cut out refined carbs and added more protein to every meal religiously for weeks and saw a massive improvement. I have continued that for a couple of years now and rarely have a breakout.

  7. I had bad acne in my teens and was on medication for years. Regular and cystic. So, when adult acne hit with a vengeance in my late 30s, I didn’t even want to go to a dermatologist as I just figured they would put me back on meds (basically antibiotics). So, I tried everything. What finally worked was oil cleansing and moisturizing with oil. I have been doing this for about 6-7 years and it works great. I rarely ever get a pimple. If I do, I put some tea tree or eucalyptus oil on it and it goes away in a day. I now cleanse at night with a mixture of castor oil (it draws out dirt) and jajoba oil (I’ve also tried olive oil but jajoba works best for me). Some people find castor oil too drying, so you have to find the best mixture for you. I moisturize with oil too. I currently have a Vit C oil, not sure of the brand, but I basically just look for a facial oil with good reviews, that isn’t too expensive and isn’t scented. In the morning, I usually just wash my face with water and nothing else. I recently tried French Girl cleansing wash and love it. I like using it in the mornings or in the shower. I basically try to keep any cleanser or mask/scrub I use as basic and organic as possible. My skin is so clear and I rarely ever have problems.

  8. I thought adult acne was my fate, I tried everything and my dermatologist even made my skin worse. However as a last attempt I booked an appointment with an esthician and it was such a game changer. I now get compliments on my skin, which I never thought would happen. If you’re in Oakland then Acne Specialists of Oakland on Piedmont Ave are incredible! I have nothing to do with them, just a very happy customer!

  9. Blown away by the comments! So many stories!

    I’ve tried it all as well. From prostate cancer drugs, to acids, accutane, adapaleno, diets, hormones and every time it comes back. And at 37 years it is quite exhausting. And at this point, I am tired of everything. Of false promises, of so many harsh chemicals (I’ve tried every acid you can imagine), of being afraid of not really knowing if the new treatment is going to work or not, if it is going to do harm to my body, of having being patient for so many years.

    Lately, my kids (two girls, 5 and 7yo) are starting to be aware of my skin and starting to question a lot and saying that I don’t look beautiful with this “little things on your face” anymore. It caught me completely off guard and I really don’t know how to handle it. Sometimes I try to normalize and other times, I assure them that I will talk to a doctor and that is treatable. I’ve worked so hard to achieve a mature auto image and self-stem but I wonder what goes on their little minds seeing me wanting to leave my gray hair natural, not wanting to use make up or high heels everyday, and just being comfortable in my skin, even with pimples!

    Well, I’m trying retin A now and it is getting better but it is super slow. Also, leaves your skin very, very sensitive. The good thing is that I can treat acne and ageing at the same time, I guess… :)

    Lots of love for all of you!

  10. I had adult acne in my 30s and it was awful; hard lumps under the skin that returned with each period. Painful, ugly and there for weeks / months.
    My husband jokes that my spots are the worst because you don’t even get the pleasure of squeezing them…. they refuse to be squeezed, in fact, any handling and they just get worse.
    However, the bloody things didn’t return after I went to the dermatologist and she gave them a little jab of something – can’t remember what but not at all painful.
    I also found proactiv worked really well for me.
    Am now almost 44 and I sometimes get them but not like in my early / mid 30s. Now my hormones seem to have other tricks up their sleeves…deep joy.
    Hope you find a solution xxx

  11. A couple of years a ago I stared to get rosacea with red blotches, itchy skin, rosacea acne and as a side bonus began to get adult non-rosacea related acne. I tried a few sensitive skin products and acne products. Turns out that both of these skin issues resolved the best with killing off the overabundance of bacteria with apple cider vinegar. I wash my face, then dilute the vinegar with water (use like a toner) and leave it on overnight. I also make sure I change my pillowcase every other night. Seems to have done the trick for both issues. I still have rosacea, it’s just under control now and acne is gone.

  12. Here’s my daily routine that has been keeping my acne at bay…and makes my skin radiate. I use Cetaphil face wash for sensitive skin with my Clarisonic, followed by Obagi c serum and Obagi sun shield moisturizer. You can get Obagi online or more than likely at the dermatologist.

  13. I’ve struggled with horrific adult acne in my 30’s and now 40’s. I’ve been on every medicine (except accutane) with varying results. Multiple dermatologists told me I’m a great candidate for Accutane and that is the only option I have left. Out of desperation, I started Plexus last spring and the supplements have almost completely cleared up my skin. It’s really expensive $220/month, but I am currently pregnant as a gestational carrier for my brother and his wife so I am not able to try anything else until after the pregnancy. After the pregnancy, I will likely do accutane as a permanent solution to this adult acne problem.

  14. Corene Bingham

    Hi Gabby!
    The Unblemish regimen for adult acne works AMAZING! It is by Rodan + Fields (the dermatologists who created ProActive in the 80’s/90’s). They are the #1 skincare in America and they use a Multi-Med Therapy that works great for acne. They also have a 60 day money back guarantee so if it doesn’t work or you don’t like the products you can return the empty bottles after 60 days and get a full refund. Let me know if you are interested in trying it, I have a $20 off your order sale for first time customers. You can check out my website or dm for a better price at corenebingham on instagram.

  15. Ugh. Acne, often cystic, since I was 12. Mostly hormonal, but exacerbated by diet. Sugar and my acne have a direct correlation. Was on Accutane in my 20s and it made me paranoid and depressed. Have tried everything…very frustrating. But seems like it’s from internal, not external, factors. Have always cleansed and treated consistently.

  16. I just dealt (am still dealing with) this over the summer. Stress and a new moisturzer made my skin erupt in painful cystic acne that scarred. I went to an aesthetician who started me on the Face Reality acne program. The creator of this line is the dermatologist who invented benzoyl peroxide. Everything is non comedogenic and super gentle on my senstitive skin. I was give a list of ingredients and foods that cause break outs. Since using the Face Reality line, I’ve avoided soy and dairy, changed my makeup to Jane Iredale mineral makeup, and started on some zinc supplements (90mg/daily). The zinc helps with the inflammation and redness. You can find an aesthetician who is trained in this line to learn more about the program. My face went 90% clear after 4 months and I’m very pleased with the results!

  17. I went off birth control (for endometriosis, but causing other issues) and had my hormones checked, and leveled out. Cleared up a lot of my skin issues as well as other things. I don’t think everyone talks about how hormones don’t just taper off, but slow down in fits and starts like the opposite of puberty. Getting a handle on that can be helpful for a lot of things.

  18. I started using Ever skin care, and after it took care of my acne, I started selling it. I would love to send you samples to see what you think. Of all the products, the Reveal peel pads probably made the biggest difference in my acne. It is so frustrating to have acne as an adult, I feel your pain!

  19. i HIGHLY recommend vitamins for the liver. I suffered with adult acne forever until my facialist said my liver was causing acne. Apparently, as you get older things from ibuprofen to medication to age can affect your liver and make it harder for your skin. I don’t drink so initially I thought my liver couldn’t be in bad shape. But I take two of these every day and I swear my acne has improved so much.

  20. So much improvement with Rodan + Field’s Unblemish regimen. It’s designed to keep working on the entire acne cycle and prevent new breakouts before they happen. This has been a game changer! You have to commit to consistency – twice daily use but clear skin is worth it!! Even my teenage daughter noticed that since I’ve been using R+F, my skin is clearer and I’m skipping the cover-up. High praise from my girl!

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