In my last post, I talked about my own adult acne story. Now, I’m no expert on acne, but through years of breakouts, countless visits to dermatologists, and much research, I have to say, I know quite a bit about it. One thing I know? You have to treat adult acne differently than you do the typical teenage variety. Unfortunately, most products on the market are targeted to the teen demographic. So let’s go over your treatment options if you are an adult struggling with breakouts.
Benzoyl Peroxide – As I’ve gotten older, my skin is less able to tolerate high concentrations of benzoyl–I turn bright red and with continued use, develop rough, dry patches on my face. If you can tolerate it on your whole face, that’s fantastic. But for those of us who can’t, it’s best used as a spot treatment. I really like Dermalogica Special Clearing Booster (1 oz.) because it contains soothing ingredients like watercress and chamomile extracts in addition to benzoyl peroxide.
Salicylic Acid – The amount of salicylic acid in most OTC acne treatments isn’t enough on its own to conquer acne. What it does do is help the skin absorb other acne treatments because it is a beta-hydroxy acid. In other words, it’s a chemical exfoliant. Because of this, I always use a facial wash that contains salicylic acid. Personally, I like Dermalogica MediBac Clearing Skin Wash, but I think any wash containing salicylic acid is fine. As an additional spot treatment for those deep, painful pimples, I like to use NEUTROGENA®Rapid Clear®Sore Pimple Gel – it has a nice cooling effect which, although temporary, feels good.
Glycolic Acid – This is another chemical exfoliant–many adult acne sufferers like it because of its effects on wrinkles and fine lines. For me, I loved it because it made my skin really smooth and it did clear up my skin for a while. But then the breakouts came back. Other people swear by this stuff, though, so if you’ve tried everything else, you might want to check out a glycolic acid facial wash like Aqua Glycolic Facial Cleanser.
Oh, and exfoliate – Acne forms from clogged pores. Exfoliating can help alleviate this. Glycolic and salicylic acid are chemical exfoliants, but there are manual exfoliants too. A word of caution, though: when you have active breakouts, you need to be careful with exfoliants. You don’t want to scrub the outer layer of your skin off by using a harsh, abrasive cleanser with bits of seeds and nuts in it–that’s only going to make your skin worse. Although I can’t afford one, I’ve heard good things about the Clarisonic Pro Professional 4-Speed Skin Care System.
Alternately, you can buy a cheap non-electric brush for your skin. Your best bet? A baby hairbrush. Nope, I’m not kidding–those soft bristles are easy on the face. Just, you know, don’t scrub too hard. If brushes and such are too much for your skin to handle, there’s also Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant. I know I’m sounding like a broken record with the Dermalogica stuff, but it’s my current go-to brand. This exfoliant is a powder made of rice and salicylic acid–my skin feels much smoother after I use this, but it’s not too harsh either.
Oral Antibiotics – Antibiotics were the only thing that completely cleared up my acne. I decided to stop taking them because after two years, I started to worry about things like antibiotic resistance. But if you have a flare-up that you need to get under control fast, a short-term course of antibiotics may be ideal for you. Some antibiotics may upset your stomach or have other side effects–it could take a few tries before you find the right one.
Hormonal Treatments – If your breakouts are hormonal, oral contraceptives may be all you need to get them under control. And if birth control doesn’t work, your dermatologist may recommend trying an antiandrogen, like spironolactone, either alone or in conjunction with BC. Spironolactone is a diuretic, so be aware of the side effects–for me, aside from having to pee all the time (sorry, TMI?), it made me tired and, at times, dizzy.
Accutane – Also known as isotretinoin, Accutane is the last resort for many adult acne sufferers. Accutane is hardcore–it can cause serious birth defects, so women who are prescribed it must use two forms of birth control and submit to monthly pregnancy tests. If you search online, you can find stories of people who complain of losing hair, depression, hearing loss, and worse on this drug. So why would anyone want to use it? Well, it’s the only drug that can cause acne to go into remission. Your doctor will prescribe a 15-20 week course of treatment and, after that, your acne may go away entirely. Forever. When it works, it’s a beautiful thing. But you need to seriously consider the potential side effects. After a friend of mine developed vision problems while taking Accutane, I decided it wasn’t for me. Her acne ended up coming back anyway, so for her, it wasn’t worth it.
Topical Treatments – I’ll skip over benzoyl peroxide since we’ve already discussed that. But if you think your skin can tolerate a higher concentration of it or you’d like to try a combination of BP and an antibiotic (like Duac, which combines BP and clindamycin, or Benzamycin, which is BP and erythromycin), your doctor will need to write you a prescription. Another popular adult acne treatment is retinoids (Retin-A, Tazorac, Differin)–these have the bonus of also being used to treat wrinkles and fine lines, so you really get a double-whammy with them. Be aware, you can by retinol treatments over-the-counter, but my dermatologist said they are usually not strong enough to do anything for acne. Oh, and the stuff you get from the doctor? It is STRONG. If you have sensitive skin, ask your doctor about easing into it–for me, I started with a very small amount every three days until I could tolerate a pea-sized amount every other day. Also, these make your skin sensitive to the sun so you should never apply it in the morning–only do it at night, before bed.
If all else fails…
…well, there’s always makeup. For me, the Holy Grail is MAKE UP FOR EVER Mat Velvet + Matifying Foundation No. 40 – Natural Beige. It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way–I think I’ve had my bottle for a year now and I’m finally about to use it up. Other people I know who have acne swear by Bare Minerals because they feel it’s healthier for their skin–that may be, but for me, it’s just not enough to cover the redness.
So there you have it! A semi-definitive guide to adult acne treatments. I realize that I’ve left out things like blue light treatments, dermabrasion, etc., but I just don’t have enough experience with these to give you any good information. But if you have advice about any other treatments, please do share!
*This is a personal post, however it does contain affiliate links.