17 of the Best Ways to Treat Adult Acne!

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Adult Acne is frustrating!

It can affect just about anyone past puberty. The American Academy of Dermatology say's it's the most prevalent skin condition in the United States. Almost HALF of adults suffer from some form of acne.

Teenage acne has different causes than the acne that adults get. So those same treatments that worked well when you were in your teens, can be useless - or even make your acne WORSE as an adult!

Most teen acne is caused by puberty (and teenage hormones) and excess oil. While adult acne is caused by stress, hormonal shifts, and increasingly delicate skin. It's possible to be acne free during your teenage years then get your first breakout as an adult. Some adults get acne as late as in their 50s!

Waiting for acne to clear can be extremely frustrating. Without treatment, acne can cause low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and permanent scarring.

If you have acne scarring, micro-needling can greatly reduce acne scars. Learn more by reading our posts: What is micro-needling?Why is a micro-needling pen better than other methods of skin restoration? and Scars and Stretch Marks. We also have 2 blog posts that are acne scar specific: Acne Scar Treatment | The Best Ways to Make Acne Scars Look Better! and Micro-needling Acne Scars | 5 Reasons You Should Try it!

7 Things That Cause Adult Acne

Women get adult acne more often than men do. If you’re getting acne as an adult, it is likely due to one or more of the following reasons:

1. Fluctuating hormone levels can cause adult acne. Women's hormones change frequently around their periods, during pregnancy, in peri-menopause and menopause. Some women get their first breakout when going through menopause. Many women also get acne after starting or stopping their birth control pills.

2. Stress can cause adult acne. When we are under stress, our bodies produce more androgen hormones. The androgens stimulate the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, which can lead to acne.

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3. Your family history may make you more prone to adult acne. People who have relatives with acne are more likely to get adult acne.

4. Hair and skin care products can cause adult acne. If you have adult acne, read the labels on your skin and hair care products. Make sure that you see at least one of the following terms on every container: Non-Acnegenic, Non-Comedogenic, Oil Free, or Won't Clog Pores. Products with these labels are least likely to cause acne.

5. Adult acne can be a side effect of medications. If you suspect that a medication is triggering your acne or making it worse, continue taking the medicine — but ask the doctor who prescribed it if acne is a possible side effect. Ask about taking a different medicine. If changing medications is not an option, you may want to see a dermatologist who can help you control the acne.

6.  Undiagnosed medical conditions may cause adult acne. Once the medical condition is diagnosed and treated, the acne often clears. An example is Hidradenditis suppurativa. It is a long-term skin disease, which often goes undiagnosed because it looks like acne. If you have acne in your armpit, on your groin, or under your breasts, you might have this disease. Click this link to find out more:  Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation.

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7.  Dairy may cause adult acne. There's no definite link between dairy and acne, but there are theories about it. Studies have shown associations between dairy and acne, but they don’t show cause and effect, and they don’t prove that dairy causes acne. Even though people who've quit dairy may tell you it improved their acne, it doesn't mean that the same will be true for you.

F. William Danby, MD, explained in a medical journal in 2008, how acne and dairy may be related. Milk contains components related to the hormone testosterone. The testosterone may stimulate oil glands in skin and cause acne. Recent research has found a link between the whey protein in milk and acne. To learn more, read our blog post, Does Milk Cause Acne?

So what can you do to improve your adult acne?

Many people with mild acne get good results with products available without a prescription. A product containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid often clears the skin. This does not mean that the acne will clear overnight. Most over the counter treatments take 4 - 8 weeks to show improvement. Once acne clears, you have to continue the treatment to prevent future breakouts.

Blue light therapy is a newer, very effective option in the fight against acne. Certain blue LED wavelengths (400nm to 470nm) target the P. acnes bacteria, the strain of bacteria that causes inflammatory acne. The light starts development of oxygen radicals that kill this bacteria without damaging healthy skin. It works best for mild to moderate acne and is great for people who cannot use the harsh products commonly used to fight acne. Lights that combine red and blue wavelengths or just blue lights can be used to treat acne; but acne treatment is most effective with combination blue (415 nm) and red (640 nm) LED devices. Red light (640 nm) reduces the inflammation associated with breakouts. Light therapy can be done in an office or at home with a hand held device.

In one study, a home LED light system decreased inflammatory acne by 77 percent and noninflammatory acne by 54 percent. LEDs are pain free and have no down time. Unfortunately, they require several treatments each week and are not effective on cystic acne, blackheads or milia. They have a good safety record, but long term results are unknown because this treatment is so new.

Other studies have shown acne lesions progressively decrease over a 4-week period of light therapy use and continue to reduce up to 8 weeks after therapy is finished. There is a final average reduction of 69% at 8 weeks after the treatment. Read more in our blog post on LED Light Therapy.

Update 11/14/2018:  New studies are showing that blue light therapy MIGHT cause dark spots in people with dark skin. And it might also cause free radical damage. Learn more in this video about visible light by Michelle from LabMuffin. She's an Australian science educator with a PhD in chemistry.

To be clear (HA!), the information on blue light therapy for skin is fuzzy right now. More studies need to be done.

At this time, I wouldn't recommend blue light therapy for people with dark skin. Instead, you might consider using red light alone. It targets the redness and swelling of acne.

If you have light skin and decide blue light is the way you want to go, you should use antioxidant skincare as well. Phloretin CF #ad is a good one.

How the Clear Rayz by Baby Quasar Works | 17 of the Best Ways to Treat Adult Acne! | Masterpiece Skin Restoration
How the Clear Rayz by Baby Quasar Works

1. Cleanse each morning and evening with a moisturizing salicylic acid cleanser with ingredients like soy. Don't use abrasive cleansers. Salicylic acid exfoliates skin and keeps your pores clear. It penetrates the oily sebum to clear your pores, reduces redness and inflammation, and is safe for people with sensitive skin.

2. Use your fingertips to apply your cleanser. Using a washcloth, mesh sponge or anything else can irritate the skin.

3. Wash as soon as possible after sweating. Perspiration, especially when wearing a hat/helmet, can make acne worse.

4. Be gentle with your skin. Use gentle products, such as those that are alcohol-free. Do not use products that irritate your skin, which may include astringents, toners and exfoliants. Dry, red skin makes acne appear worse.

5. Scrubbing your skin can make acne worse.

6. Rinse with lukewarm water.

7. Shampoo regularly. If you have oily hair, shampoo daily.

8. Let your skin heal naturally. If you pick, pop or squeeze your acne, your skin will take longer to clear and you increase the risk of getting acne scars.

9. Apply a gel or cream containing 2.5% benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that cause acne, but it can be too harsh for people with sensitive skin. A couple of alternatives to benzoyl peroxide are sulfur or resorcinol.

A study published in the International Journal of Dermatology in 1986, compared the effects of 2.5%, 5%, and 10% benzoyl peroxide on acne.

  • The 2.5% was just as effective as the 5% and 10% concentrations at reducing acne.
  • The 2.5% and 5% concentrations created a similar amount of irritation.
  • The 10% benzoyl peroxide created the most irritation.
  • The 2.5% concentration significantly reduced the P. acnes bacteria after 2 weeks of use.

"Too much benzoyl peroxide can actually dry out a zit and stop medicine from penetrating."

- Dr. Jeanette Graf, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City

10. Use a light skin moisturizer and water-based, oil-free makeup.

11. Keep your hands off your face. Touching your skin throughout the day can cause flare-ups.

12. At night, apply a spot cream containing sulfur to the affected areas.

13. If your skin is not too sensitive, use topical retinoids at night. Topical retinoids are a form of vitamin A that clears pores and reduces the frequency and severity of acne outbreaks. Using a retinoid along with topical antibiotic or benzoyl peroxide may work better than either medicine alone. Retinoids should NOT be used as a spot treatment. They prevent acne from forming but do not correct active acne. Differin / adapalene cream is a form of vitamin A that was made specifically to treat acne. It used to be available only by prescription, but the FDA recently made it available over the counter in drug stores.

14. Talk to your doctor about limiting or eliminating dairy from your diet.

15. Stay out of the sun and tanning beds. Tanning damages skin. Some acne medications make skin very sensitive to UV light, which you get from the sun and indoor tanning. Using tanning beds increases your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75%.

16. When the skin clears, treatment should continue. Treatment prevents new breakouts. Your dermatologist can tell you when you should stop your acne treatment.

17. Consider LED blue light therapy, either at a medical office or at home. Some home devices available include the Quasar MD Blue, the Quasar Baby Blue, the Quasar Clear Rayz for Acne, and the Tria Acne Clearing Blue Light. Both Quasar and Tria have a 90 day money back guarantee. Make sure the device you buy has the recommended wavelengths / nm measurements mentioned above. These wavelengths have been proven to be effective on acne. Other wavelengths have not. Learn more in our post, LED Light Therapy | Why You Should Be Using It! | The Best Home Devices!

SkinCeuticals Makes Products to Manage Adult Acne:


1. LHA Cleansing Gel #ad includes glycolic and salicylic acid to unclog pores, smooth irregularities and brighten skin.

2. LHA Toner #ad is an exfoliating low-pH toner that efficiently removes excess residue and surface cells to decongest pores.

3. Phloretin CF #ad or Phloretin CF Gel #ad

  • Phloretin CF is a daytime antioxidant serum that protects skin from UV rays and pollutants while diminishing the appearance of discoloration. Once absorbed, this serum can't be washed or rubbed off. It is effective for a minimum of 72 hours, making it an excellent step in your skincare routine
  • Phloretin CF Gel is very much like Phloretin CF mentioned above, but it has a light texture that is ideal for normal, oily, and combination skin types.

4. Blemish + Age Defense #ad is an oil free serum that reduces sebum production with a combination of 2% dioic acid and an alpha- and beta-hydroxy acid formulation. It fights the formation of acne, minimizes blemishes, and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Use it as a spot treatment for problem areas.

5.  Daily Moisture #ad or Hydrating B5 Gel #ad and / or Phyto Corrective Gel #ad

  • Daily Moisture provides light moisturization without causing more blemishes.
  • Hydrating B5 Gel replenishes nutrients the skin needs to feel smooth and appear younger. This moisture-enhancing gel contains hyaluronic acid to bind moisture to the skin.
  • Phyto Corrective Gel is oil free and provides excellent hydration for people with acne, sensitive, or problem skin. It contains cucumber and thyme to soothe and calm skin. Plant glycosides in this gel minimize discoloration.

6.  SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 #ad or Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50 #ad or Physical Matte UV Defense SPF 50 #ad.

  • Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 is a weightless, 100% physical sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection with transparent titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. It is water-resistant for 40 minutes, paraben-free and non-comedogenic.
  • Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50 is a transparent, mattifying fluid that provides broad spectrum protection for all skin types (even very sensitive) with 100% physical filters - transparent titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. This broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen is paraben-free and non-comedogenic.
  • Physical Matte UV Defense SPF 50 is a daily UVA / UVB oil-absorbing protective sunscreen with a matte finish. It is a 100% physical sunscreen formulated with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that provides broad spectrum UV protection. This weightless mousse dries to a powder finish to optimizing make-up application. It is non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic. Physical Matte is great for oily skin because it has an oil-absorbing protective base.


1. LHA Cleansing Gel #ad includes glycolic and salicylic acid to unclog pores, smooth irregularities and brighten skin.

2.  LHA Toner #ad is an exfoliating, low-pH toner that removes excess residue and surface cells to decongest pores. Learn more about LHA Tone in our blog post, 1 Skin Type Should Always Use a Toner | Is It Yours?

3.  Retinol 0.5 #ad or Retexturing Activator #ad

  • Retinol 0.5 is a highly concentrated night treatment made to diminish the appearance of age spots, uneven tone, fine lines, and wrinkles. Topical retinoids reduce acne and pore size by altering the oil chemistry on the skin. Dense sebum doesn't get stuck within the pores, and without oil deposits, bacteria can’t grow and cause blemishes. Retinoids also decrease fine lines and wrinkles by increasing collagen formation. Learn more about retinol in our post, Want Younger-Looking Skin? 3 Ways Retinoids Make Skin Beautiful.
  • Use Retexturing Activator if your skin is too sensitive to use retinol. Retexturing Activator is a resurfacing and replenishing serum that helps to reinforce the skin’s barrier for healthier, more radiant skin. It creates a noticeably smoother, softer surface texture. It balances skin moisture levels and diminishes surface lines and wrinkles.

4. Daily Moisture #ad or Hydrating B5 Gel #ad and / or Phyto Corrective Gel #ad

  • Daily Moisture provides light moisturization without causing more blemishes.
  • Hydrating B5 Gel replenishes nutrients the skin needs to feel smooth and appear younger. This moisture-enhancing gel contains hyaluronic acid to bind moisture to the skin. Learn more about hyaluronic acid skincare in our post, 4 Reasons You Should Be Using Hyaluronic Acid Skin Care.
  • Phyto Corrective Gel is oil free and provides excellent hydration for people with acne, sensitive, or problem skin. It contains cucumber and thyme that soothe and calm skin. Plant glycosides in the gel minimize discoloration.

You might consider trying a niacinamide or nicotinamide product. They are a form of Vitamin B3 / Niacin.

Oral and topical antibiotics work well in the treatment of acne. Unfortunately, their widespread use is causing resistant strains of bacteria. Niacinamide works as an anti-inflammatory without causing bacterial resistance.

In one 8 week study, the safety and efficacy of topical 4% nicotinamide gel was compared to 1% clindamycin gel, a commonly used antibiotic. 82% of the patients treated with nicotinamide and 68% treated with clindamycin were improved. Both treatments produced similar reductions in acne lesions and severity. The anti-inflammatory activity of niacinamide may have contributed to its effect on acne.

Sebum is the oil that causes facial shine and the formation of pimples and inflammatory acne. Most over the counter acne products work by absorbing sebum from the skin - instead of decreasing sebum production.

A study published in the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy found that topical 2% niacinamide decreases sebum levels.

SkinCeuticals makes Metacell Renewal B3 #ad, a 5% niacinamide product. To learn more about this skin care ingredient, read our blog post on Niacinamide.

If these steps don't clear your acne in 4 - 8 weeks, you should see a dermatologist. They can treat existing acne, prevent new breakouts and reduce your chance of developing scars. With a dermatologist’s help and some patience, almost every case of acne can be controlled. 

See a dermatologist if:

  • your acne makes you feel shy or embarrassed
  • your acne is leaving scars and darkening your skin
  • you have lots of acne, cysts, or nodules
  • medicine you buy without a prescription does not work

*Research has shown that people who have acne have higher rates of suicide. If you have thought about harming yourself, GET HELP!

Suicide hotline:  1 (800) 273-TALK (8255) | 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States | Operators speak Spanish & English

Head shot, Amy Takken, RN & Founder, Masterpiece Skin Restoration

Amy Takken, RN

Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. She's also been quoted on Dermascope.com.

Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.

Masterpiece Skin Restoration is your online resource for all things medical aesthetics, skincare, beauty, and wellness. We keep you up to date on leading edge technology and the services available to help you restore your natural beauty.

We have all the information you need to restore your skin.

If you like this post, you'll love these:







https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18459515  Handheld LED array device in the treatment of acne vulgaris.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4479368/  Light-emitting Diodes | A Brief Review and Clinical Experience

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2948929/  Comparing 2.5%, 5%, and 10% benzoyl peroxide on inflammatory acne vulgaris.



The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!

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