Most of us suffered from breakouts during our teen years, when hormones are raging and the skin becomes as out of whack as you feel inside. We tend to assume that this acne will dissipate once we reach adulthood, but this is unfortunately far from true. In fact, as many as 85 percent of females and 15 percent of males suffer from adult acne, according to research published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.
Like the acne we experience as teens, hormones are mostly to blame for adult acne we experience later in life. The reason women are so much more susceptible than men is mainly due to hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle. If you experience painful pimples and cystic acne along the lower cheeks, jawline, temples, and neck it is likely you have a variant of acne called ‘hormonal acne,’” exaplins to Rina Allawh, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in King of Prussia, PA.
“This type of acne is triggered by fluctuations in our male and female hormone levels and typically worsens at the onset of the menstrual period,” she says. “Oral contraception may be helpful in controlling this type of acne by regulating hormone levels, specifically increased androgen levels, such as testosterone, which is often the root of ‘hormonal acne.’” Dermatologists can also prescribe treatments, such as tretinoin (retin-A) or spironolactone, to treat adult acne.
Plus, there are practically an endless amount of over-the-counter skincare products on the market designed specifically to target and treat acne. The trouble is finding one that works for stubborn hormonal acne. So, we asked dermatologists to share the best products for adult acne. Scroll on and shop for clear skin.
The Best Products for Adult Acne
Pricey? Certainly. But worth it? 100 percent, according to Marguerite Germain, MD, South Carolina-based dermatologist and owner of Germain Dermatology in Charleston, SC. This product is formulated with a powerful concentration of salicylic acid, one of the number one acne-fighting ingredients, and it also contains calming ingredients like camellia sinensis leaf so that the serum can effectively clear pores without irritation, she says.
When you’re on the go or just looking for a quick way to cleanse your face and remove your makeup, Dr. Germain recommends Obagi’s cleansing wipes. “These contain 2-percent salicylic acid, which is the strongest over-the-counter amount that is used to treat and prevent acne,” she says. “These wipes are great for use throughout the day to remove excess oil and pollutants that the skin is exposed to.”
When most people read “retinol,” they immediately think of its anti-aging benefits, but retinol was actually first used to treat acne. “Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives known to help regulate skin cell turnover to help prevent the pores from becoming clogged,” explains Marisa Garshick, MD, a dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery (MDCS) in New York. “As a result, they are very effective to both prevent and treat acne breakouts and can also be helpful for scarring.” She likes this over-the-counter gel, which contains adapalene to treat acne flares, helps improve discoloration, and smooth over textural changes that go along with acne scars.
This is another over-the-counter retinol product that Dr. Allawh recommends to her patients. The lightweight, fast-absorbing oil contains 0.3% retinol SA, a patented blend of retinol and emollients that helps deliver retinol slowly into the skin. Still, Dr. Allawh does suggest starting out slow, using only two to three times a week. “Everyday use is limited by skin irritation, peeling, drying and burning,” she warns. “Some tricks of the trade to help with tolerating retinoids include shorter contact time (applying at dinner and washing off at bedtime), mixing with a nighttime non-comedogenic moisturizer, and starting with application a couple nights weekly and increasing to nightly as tolerated.”
If you’re looking for a moisturizer that’s not too heavy and won’t clog your pores, this is a good place to start. It’s lightweight and formulated with willow bark, which is a natural source of salicin, a precursor of salicylic acid that helps to unclog the pores, explains Dr. Garshick. “It also contains oligopeptide-10, which has antibacterial benefits and can help to reduce acne-causing bacteria, as well as niacinamide, which is soothing on the skin but also helps improve blemishes and discoloration that may result from the breakouts.”
This product contains a mix of three alpha-hydroxy acids — glycolic, salicylic and lactic acid — which are highly-effective chemical exfoliants that help unclog stubborn pores, explains Dr. Allawh. “This potent product is helpful for anti-aging, unclogging pores, and correcting an uneven complexion,” she says. She recommends leaving this product on for 5-10 minutes and then rinsing it off with a gentle cleanser followed by a moisturizer.
Brendan Camp, MD, a Manhattan-based dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology is a big fan of this toner, which combines two powerful acne fighting ingredients —salicylic acid, which helps remove oil, and glycolic acid, which helps remove dead skin cells. And while it effectively cleanses pores, this toner doesn’t strip skin of its natural moisture, which is key. Plus, it comes in a fairly large bottle, too, so it will last you a couple months.
The active ingredient in this cleanser is benzoyl peroxide, which helps reduce acne-causing bacteria without leading to antibacterial resistance, making it a great option for those with acne-prone skin, explains Dr. Garshick. “It can also be used on the face or body including the chest, back or buttocks, all places where cystic breakouts can occur,” she says. If you are struggling with hormonal acne, she recommends using this cleanser daily to keep breakouts at bay.
If you’re pregnant and experiencing bouts of adult acne, you might be wondering what products are safe to use. While some practitioners recommend avoiding certain acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and retinol, there are some safe alternatives. Azelaic acid, for example, is considered safe for use in pregnancy. “Azelaic acid, as found in this formulation, can help reduce breakouts and redness, improve discoloration without causing irritation to the skin and balance excess oil,” says Dr. Garshick. She recommends using it one to two times daily.
For those who prefer a bar soap, Dr. Garshick recommended this one. “Unlike ordinary soaps that can strip the skin of its natural oils, this one effectively cleanses and washes away dirt without drying out the skin,” she says. For this reason, it is a great multipurpose option, as it can be used for the face and body. “It can be used by all skin types, is non-comedogenic and won’t clog pores, and has been clinically-proven to work in those with acne-prone skin.”
You might also like: The Best Drugstore Skincare Buys, According To Dermatologists
"We often receive complimentary products to review at Family Proof. Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn a share of the revenue from our affiliate partners."