The best acne treatments for adults

Adult acne: What causes skin breakouts in your 20s, 30s and beyond?

Teenagers aren’t the only ones suffering with acne breakouts

We explore what causes adult acne and a few ways you can adapt your skincare routine if your skin is prone to breakouts.

There are two things that make acne bearable as a teenager. Firstly, you know you’re not alone. With clinical studies estimating that around 85% of 12-25 year olds suffer from acne1, it’s at least a complaint you share with your friends. Secondly, knowing it’s not going to last forever. Yes, that light at the end of the tunnel. The belief that the moment you hit 20 your spots will magically disappear. It's an age-old myth that teenage acne sufferers universally grasp onto. Unfortunately, it turns out you can’t outgrow acne. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 12% to 22% of women aged 26 to 44 experience adult acne2. As a result, for a large number of adults, skin breakouts are an unwanted reality they never saw coming.

Fortunately, a wide range of acne-friendly skincare is available. But before we talk about that, let’s answer the big question – why is your skin acting in this way?

What causes adult acne?

You’re probably wondering if adult acne is different to the spots you had as a teenager. In reality, the causes of adult acne are surprisingly similar to what you went through during puberty.

Firstly, to be clear, 25 is the age that dermatologists consider your skin reaches adult maturity. Excessive skin oil and bacteria clogging up follicles remains the main cause of spots in the over 25s.  And yes, a surge in hormones is probably still what's triggering this to happen. This makes pregnancy, menstruation and other hormonal changes, the adult acne equivalents to puberty.

In addition, adult acne also runs in families. So, if you have a parent who suffered from spot breakouts post-25, you have more chance of having them too.

However, one difference can be the location of spots. There are two broad types of adult acne – persistent and late-onset. Persistent is a continuation of acne into adulthood and therefore looks similar to teenage acne. However, late-onset acne tends to show more on the lower jawline and chest.

Acne-friendly skincare for adults

Regardless of your age, the fundamentals of acne skincare are exactly the same. Whether you’re 13 or 30 a consistent routine, using non-irritating products is the most effective way to prevent the formation of spots.

Therefore, a regular skincare routine that keeps your skin clean and free of bacteria can protect your face from spots.

This process should include three essential elements:

  1. Cleanse

Makeup, dirt and oil encourage bacteria to gather on your skin. Thoroughly cleanse twice a day, morning and evening, to reduce core-clogging build-up. Look out for gentle, non-irritating formulations containing spot-fighting ingredients. For example, willow bark, salicylic acid, tea tree oil or neem extract. At the end of cleansing, wash any lingering residue thoroughly off your skin. Then, pat skin dry with a soft cloth or towel to avoid further irritation.
  1. Exfoliate

Exfoliating twice per week removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. This stops them clogging your pores and uncovers the fresh skin cells below.

Abrasive scrubs containing course ingredients can irritate breakouts and hinder the healing process. Liquid exfoliants containing beta hydroxy acid (also known as BHA or salicylic acid) or alpha hydroxy acid (AHAs include glycolic and lactic acid) can be more effective.

AHAs work on the surface layer of the skin, lifting dead skin cells and removing dirt and oil. BHAs offer the benefit of working beneath the skin too, cleansing the inside of pores. Plus, BHAs can also be used on skin showing signs of post-breakout acne scarring.
  1. Moisturise

Healthy skin is more able to fight breakouts and heal faster, limiting scarring. Hydration is absolutely key to this. Although moisturising doesn’t treat breakouts, keeping skin hydrated is important. Selecting an oil-free, lightweight moisturiser provides all the necessary nourishment your skin needs, without clogging pores or irritating breakouts.

And finally, consistency is key

The key to using skincare to control adult acne is consistency. Therefore, the most important thing is creating a routine that you can keep up. And to be patient.

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Last updated: 3 April 2020

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AcneSkin Health