How To Treat Adult Acne

How to Treat Adult Acne

Dermatologists tell us that as much as 25% – 50% of the adult population is affected by acne — the disease associated with puberty has a much greater impact on adults than most people realize. Adult women deal with acne at a much greater rate — as much as 50% of the adult female population deals with acne not just on the face but on the body as well.

Acne during puberty is one thing, and if properly treated at this stage there can be little impact on the rest of a person’s life. Acne in an adult’s life is much more damaging if only because acne is seen as a “teenage problem”.

Adult acne is probably caused by a handful of many factors coming together in a perfect storm — cosmetics, medications, stress, lifestyle, and the presence of certain bacteria all contribute to adult acne. How can it be treated?

Three Basic Courses of Treatment

Just like with acne during puberty, there are several approaches to treating adult acne. The first approach that many people take does more damage than good — there’s never a good reason for picking at pimples, “squeezing” or “popping” blemishes, or scraping at the skin. You’re only going to do more damage — think of how dirty our hands are, even after we wash them with soap? Acne is partially created by bacteria, and adding more bacteria to the mix from your hands is just not a good idea. Treating your acne at home using your hands is simply a bad decision.

Your first real step toward treating adult acne should be seeing a doctor. Your GP or family physician can help you decide if your acne is something that can be properly treated at home using over the counter medicines or requires a visit to a dermatologist.

Over the Counter Medication

The best over the counter treatments for adult acne are identical to the best treatments for acne for teenagers — namely, benzoyl peroxide. A combination of using more skin-friendly cosmetics and lotions, a low-dose benzoyl peroxide product, and diligent face washing may be all that is required to treat adult acne. One problem with over-the-counter treatment is the potential for facial scarring from even the simplest case of adult acne.

If you’re super concerned about long-term scarring, you may need to seek stronger treatment than is available at your local retail pharmacy.

Prescription Treatments for Adult Acne

The latest and greatest weapon in the fight against acne scarring is topical applications of Vitamin A. Vitamin A contains retinoic acid, which is a strong agent against acne scarring. These treatments are only available from a dermatologist or other doctor.

Other prescription treatments your dermatologist may recommend contain alpha-hydroxy acids, topical antibiotics, antibiotic pills, birth control pills (for women), or specific drugs like Accutane, which are targeted medications for acne. Accutane in particular can be a dangerous drug for women — it, and other acne treatments like it, can cause birth defects, so women should be taking a fool proof program of birth control. Talk to your doctor before starting any anti-acne regimen.

Physical Treatment

Not every treatment for adult acne involves medication — occasionally, your dermatologist will suggest using a more physical treatment to get rid of acne and avoid scarring.

To treat a pimple, nodule, or cyst that just won’t go away, your dermatologist may decide to inject a corticosteroid into part of your face to reduce the pain and swelling associated with bad acne — this treatment also lowers the potential for scarring.

You can also have chemical peels and other facial treatments done either in a doctor’s office or in a spa type setting, these treatments have not been proven effective at healing or preventing adult acne.


Dermatologists tell us that a steady course of gentle face washing with mild soap can do more to prevent adult acne than any expensive product. The key here is “gentle” and “mild” — you should avoid rough scrubbing of the face same as you would avoid rough brushing of the teeth. Rough scrubbing irritates the skin and makes acne symptoms worse.

Dermatologists also recommend using daily protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays. These doctors also recommend you only use beauty products labeled “non-comedogenic” or “non-acnegenic.” These are indications that a product will not irritate those of us who are acne prone.

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