Adult Acne Is the Pits — Here’s How to Tackle It


When you’re a pimply-faced teenager whose self-esteem is greatly affected by acne, the thought of becoming an adult with clear skin is a precious one. When you become said adult and are still suffering with acne, it’s pretty heartbreaking.

No matter your age, acne can greatly affect your self-confidence and how you feel about yourself. When it comes to the acne you experience as an adult, the causes are generally different from teenage acne, which is usually a result of excess sebum production.

According to dermatologist Dr Philip Tong, contributing factors of adult acne include “cosmetics, hormones, medications and some underlying medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome”.

“Teenage acne also tends to be comedonal in nature whilst adult acne is more inflammatory and can present as papules, pustules or nodules,” Dr Tong told TheLatch—.

The pattern of adult acne can differ between men and women, something that isn’t as common in teenage acne. Same goes for the triggers, with women more likely to experience fluctuations that are connected to oral contraceptives.

“In adult women, it tends to affect the chin and jawline whilst men tend to have it on the cheeks and upper back,” Dr Tong said.

“The triggers may also be different. For example, women who change oral contraceptives or start a new contraception may experience a flare-up whilst men can get acne from excess protein shakes used in bodybuilding or anabolic steroids. Women are more likely to clog pores and cause acne flares with certain makeup products, especially those with very good coverage.”

When it comes to treating acne in your adult years, unfortunately, there’s no quick fix (as much as we wish there was). There are a number of factors that can influence your skin including lifestyle, diet, stress and certain medications so it really needs to be tackled holistically.

If you’re suffering from cystic acne, it’s best to seek professional help as you might need a stronger treatment.

“There is no hard or fast rule to use when treating adult acne,” he said. “The treatment is individualised and for some oral antibiotics or the oral contraceptive pill may be appropriate. Sometimes, isotretinoin (also called Roaccutane) can be useful, particularly the low dose option.”

If you are interested in exploring your options when it comes to prescribed acne treatments, definitely make an appointment with an expert in order to see how you can treat your skin — especially if you’ve tried everything under the sun to treat it yourself.

“By the time patients come to me, they have tried the majority of treatments apart from isotretinoin (also known as Roaccutane) because it is only prescribed by dermatologists in Australia,” Dr Tong said.

“It does have side effects but with the right advice and skincare principles, most people manage very well. Dermatologists are also trained to understand rarer causes of acne which may not be always obvious at the beginning and may need further tests to work out the cause.”

If you don’t fall into the camp of needing medically prescribed drugs to treat your skin issues, then investing in quality skincare products should prove helpful for you.

“Keeping a good skincare routine with dedicated quality products is important such as a soap-free cleanser and oil-free moisturiser,” Dr Tong said. “It is important to avoid over-the-counter home remedies such as tea tree oil, toothpaste or bicarb soda.

“A skincare routine coupled with medication prescribed by your health care professional may often be the key to achieving clear skin. Furthermore, unless recommended, I try to ask my patients to avoid harsh toners and scrubs as they can dry the skin out and cause breakouts.”

When your skin is already feeling sensitive and a little raw from breakouts, try to stick to gentle products that will soothe your skin rather than astringent skincare products. One we love is the Avène Cleanance Comedomed Anti-Blemish Concentrate, which is great for oily, acne-prone skin.


Formulated with ComedoclastinTM, a plant-based active ingredient made from milk thistle oil, this gel-like product effectively reduces the reappearance of blemishes and blackheads and regulates the hyperproduction of sebum.

Clinical studies of 36 participants over 56 days found that Avène’s Cleanance Comedomed Anti-Blemish Concentrate reduced blemishes by 45%. To use, simply apply to your face morning and evening after cleansing.

If you’ve managed to get your skincare routine under control and have noticed a reduction in acne, you might also experience a little acne scarring. This is pretty common and as scarring comes in many forms, it can be difficult to treat.

“After successful isotretinoin (or Roaccutane) treatment, there is often red marks or dark marks in the scar themselves — these can be treated with topical measures such as niacinamide or fading creams prescribed by your doctor,” Dr Tong said.

“Alternatively, laser is an option. Acne scarring that causes depressions in the skin needs specific treatments such as microneedling, certain chemical peels, hyaluronic acid fillers and certain types of lasers to improve the texture and appearance of the scars — it is often best to get an assessment by a dermatologist that manages these all the time.”

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