Your Personal Treatment Guide for Adult Acne

For some people, acne briefly appears in their teen years and eventually disappears. For others, this skin condition can persist well beyond the teen years. Or, you might even find yourself battling acne for the first time in adulthood. In either case, acne is one of the most frustrating skin conditions to deal with.

With the right treatments, it’s possible to have smooth, clear skin again. This quick guide explores some of the most common causes of adult acne, how it can be prevented, and how to effectively treat it.

What Causes Adult Acne?

Hormonal Fluctuations

Acne in adulthood can be caused by a number of reasons. One of the most common culprits is hormonal changes. For women, it’s typical to experience breakouts during times of hormonal fluctuations, such as menstruation, during pregnancy, peri-menopause, menopause, and before or after starting birth control pills. Hormonal imbalances, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, can also cause acne.


During times of stress, our body produces more androgens, which is a type of hormone. This particular hormone stimulates oil glands in the skin – and more oil production typically means more acne. If you find yourself struggling to control breakouts when life is getting hectic, there may be a connection.


Certain hair and skincare products are laden with pore-clogging ingredients. These can include moisturizer, sunscreen, shampoo, conditioner, cleanser, body wash, and more. While they don’t cause skin problems for everyone, they can trigger breakouts in people who are acne prone. When shopping for these products, look for labels that have any of these terms or phrases on them:

  • Non-comedogenic
  • Oil-free
  • Won’t clog pores

How to Prevent Adult Acne

As you get older, your skincare needs change. The cleanser that worked during your teen years might not cut it anymore. Make sure you’re using a cleanser that is specially formulated for your current skin type, whether it’s dry, oily, sensitive, or combination. Once you’ve identified a solid cleanser that addresses your skin’s problem areas, this will serve as the foundation of your skincare routine.

Women suffering from hormonal acne can take oral contraceptives or anti-androgen drugs to help regulate their hormones. For those struggling to control breakouts during times of stress, consider making lifestyle changes. When your body is overworked and stressed, the hormone cortisol is produced, which may lead to more acne. Be sure to get enough sleep and exercise, and incorporate stress-relief practices into your daily routine.

If your skin is acne prone, it’s also a good idea to limit sugar from your diet as much as possible. Sugar can have an inflammatory effect on the body, which increases metabolic stress and may lead to breakouts. If you’ve tried all of the above and you’re still struggling to keep acne under control, talk to your dermatologist about the following treatments.

Best Treatments for Adult Acne

Professional & Prescription Skincare Products

When drugstore products fail to produce the results you want, you may need to step it up. Professional skincare products often contain higher levels of active ingredients to work at the cellular level of skin. Ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids increase cell turnover to reveal new, healthy skin, and they can help expel clogs from pores.

For those requiring something stronger, there are also prescription medications that are used to fight off acne. Retin-A (tretinoin) is a powerful topical medication that eliminates acne by speeding up skin cell turnover and reduces the buildup of pore-clogging dead skin cells. It can also help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmented marks that are left behind after an acne breakout.


Microdermabrasion is a procedure that uses a small device that delivers a spray of microcrystals to gently exfoliate the skin. This treatment can be used for mild acne, and it helps prevent future breakouts by keeping pores free of dead skin cells. It can also reduce post-acne hyperpigmentation.

IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)

While IPL has primarily been used for facial skin rejuvenation, recent studies show that it is also effective when treating acne. This treatment creates tiny, controlled injuries in the skin using a rapid pulse of light. The skin’s natural healing process is then triggered, which helps clear inflamed skin caused by acne. IPL can also clear up mild scarring left behind after breakouts.

Adult acne can be frustrating to deal with, but luckily, there are many options to help you treat and manage this skin condition. If you’d like to schedule a consultation for personalized recommendations and a skin analysis, contact Dermatology Medical Group, Inc. in San Francisco today at (415) 362-2238.