We all know the feeling: You wake up in the morning ready for the day, and as you start your routine, your eyes are drawn straight to it: a red bump. You sigh and begin that seemingly-never-ending search for the best adult acne treatments. Whether your skin tends to be oily, dry, or a total combination, it's safe to say that pretty much everybody experiences some kind of acne in their life. And many of us know that it doesn't just happen when you're a teenager!
Some people won't even see acne until their adult years, and there are a number of reasons that American Academy of Dermatology says "adult-onset acne" can occur: fluctuating hormone levels, stress, family history, hair and skin care products, medication side effects, or an undiagnosed medical condition. If you are noticing breakouts quite often, it's best to consult your dermatologist about the best treatment plan for you.
According to Dr. Susan Bard, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Vive Dermatology, "Adult acne is often times due hormonal influence which need to be addressed in order to relieve the acne. Over the counter treatments such as benzoyl peroxide or adapalene can be helpful but are often not potent enough to eliminate the acne and prescription treatment is often needed."
It's important to keep in mind that when looking for an adult acne treatment, what worked when you were 14 or 15 might not work when you're an adult (in fact, it could do the opposite in some cases). It's also vital to consider your skin type, as well as how diet effects your skin, and what products you use in and on your body — hair treatments, lotions, face cleanser, whether or not you use a form of birth control, etc. For example, some people may be surprised to hear that it can actually be good to use an oil-based cleanser to combat excess oil production. Other times, doctors may point you in the direction of salicylic acid (to flush out toxins) or retinol (to boost skin cell turnover).
No matter your skin type, diet, or any other lifestyle factors, there is a way to control all types of acne. Below, we've gathered a few of the best adult acne treatments that may help you say goodbye to those pesky spots.
1. A Benzoyl Peroxide Spot Treatment: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment
From award-winning French pharmacy brand La Roche-Posay, this spot treatment cream is unique because, according to the company, it is the only one on the market that contains both benzoyl peroxide and micro-exfoliating lipo-hydroxy acid. The ingredients work together to target and reduce blemishes, and then go deep into the pores to clear both blackheads and whiteheads. Oil free, non-drying, and made for sensitive skin, this spot treatment can be used daily on affected, acne-prone areas.
What fans say: "Amazing product! I read about this product not being well known and how effective it was. I get cystic acne and nothing seems to help, even prescriptions that I've tried. This product cleared up my skin fast! Some of the deeper blemishes took a little longer to go away but I haven't had any new flare ups since I started using it. It did not dry out my skin but I have oily skin so it takes a lot to dry it out. The bottle is pretty big for the small amount that you need so it's worth the price."
2. A Cult-Favorite Drying Lotion: Mario Badescu Drying Lotion
This cult-classic drying lotion uses three key ingredients to zap away unwanted blemishes: sulfur (purifies), salicylic acid (promotes clear, even skin), and calamine (soothes and dries). They work together to combat whiteheads and pimples through a quick-drying, targeting technique. Apply the lotion straight to the affected area before bed (don't shake the bottle, just dip a Q-tip inside) and let it sit overnight so that the formula has time to work its drying powers, and you will wake up with visibly reduced blemish.
What fans say: "This stuff is my holy grail when I get break outs. I have tried SO MANY techniques to my breakouts. BUT THIS STUFF!!!! OMG!!! I take a q-tip and dab it into the pink solution (do not shake!!) and then dab it onto my upcoming acne or acne in general before I go to bed, and then BAM! The next morning, it’s practically gone!"
3. A Prescription-Strength Treatment With Adapalene: Differin Gel
This acne-fighting gel is the only non-prescription, FDA-approved retinoid that uses adapalene. We know — what do those words really mean? Retinoids are just a class of chemical compounds relating to Vitamin A, and they help to regulate cell growth. Adapalene is the type of topical retinoid that is used to treat acne. So thanks to those qualities of Vitamin A — promoting cell turnover and reducing inflammation — this cream helps to target those blemishes, quickly reducing their appearance and helping prevent future breakouts.
Editor's note: This was recommended to me by my doctor for my acne, and I've been using it multiple times a week for 12 weeks with noticeable improvement. It's harsh for the first few weeks, but ultimately left my skin softer and clearer.
What fans say: "I'm so pleased this is now available without a prescription. I was prescribed this for years for teenage acne, and now I'm using it as an adult.It makes your skin worse for 4 weeks before it gets better. Expect dry, scaling, red, burning, acne. It will get better! Start out using it 2-3x a week and work up to daily. Pair it with a gentle, unmedicated wash and moisturizer and it's the best otc treatment I've ever used."
4. A Tea Tree Facial Cleanser: The Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Facial Wash
This vegan facial wash does a lot more than just smell totally divine. It uses Community Trade tea tree oil, an essential oil that has a very long list of benefits, and has been used for centuries to target blemishes and promote clear skin. Similar to the way benzoyl peroxide functions, tea tree oil helps to dry out skin (so that's why it's best to stick to a diluted version when applying to acne). Gentle and ideal for blemish-prone skin, this gel-based cleanser will help to purify by removing excess oil while promoting clear skin.
What fans say: "I have acne prone skin and my friend recommended this to me. After spending hundreds of dollars on other products, I decided the $10 was worth the try. It’s cleared my skin up better than the name brand stuff I was subscribing too and doing nothing for me. It’s clean, refreshing, and if you have acne prone skin, it’s great."
5. A Gentle Acne Treatment That Hydrates: Vichy Normaderm Beautifying Anti-Blemish Care
For those with dry or sensitive skin, this dual acne treatment and moisturizing lotion should be a great fit. Using salicylic acid to combat and prevent acne breakouts, the cream will address excess oil, blemishes, and shine without compromising on hydration, leaving skin soft, supple, and moisturized for up to 24 hours.
What fans say: "It has been a life [savor] for me. Suffering adult acne for almost a year, all treatments failed for me. But this did wonders!! Will never leave using this. And did I mention about awesome [moisturizer] it is! Can be worn alone or under makeup. Love it!"
6. A Wildly-Popular Bentonite Clay Mask: Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay
Using 100 percent natural calcium bentonite clay from Death Valley, California, this cult-favorite acne treatment has been used to combat skin blemishes for centuries, used by civilizations all around the globe. The clay works in a few ways: it gently draws out toxins, visibly reduces the appearance of marks on the skin, and calms inflammation. Use it all-over or as a simple spot treatment when you're just looking to target a specific area.
What fans say: "Wow, what a change just by adding this to your skin regimen. I have been battling adult acne for the past 6 months and this did just the trick to dry them out and keep them from forming. Forever customer here."
7. Easy-To-Use Facial Cleansing Pads: First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Blemish Patrol Pads
Great for oil-prone skin, these triple-action blemish patrol pads use four key ingredients (three of which are totally natural) to promote clear skin, prevent breakouts, and remove excess oil. Tea tree oil's antibacterial properties fight against new blemishes while witch hazel's astringent properties restore and revitalize skin tone by combating oil. Salicylic acid helps to dry up existing acne, and a small amount of willowbark extract helps to reduce irritation, leaving skin blemish-free, smooth, and happy.
What fans say: "My husband has cystic acne. And MANY scars. The pits end up filling and the cycle continues. Well i ended up getting a cystic pimple, and my co worker suggested these because it was so painful! They worked so well on me, my husband was willing to try them himself and they have cleared his skin so fast!!! I’m going to take pics tonight so i can do before and after photos because if it’ll heal this much in only 2 days, i can’t wait to see how it looks in a week!!!"
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This post was originally published on January 3rd, 2018. It was updated and republished on June 27th, 2019. Additional reporting by Amy Biggart.