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Proven Ways to Cure Adult Acne, Says Dermatologist

It's not just for teenagers.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Acne, that scourge of the teenage years, can follow some people into adulthood. Hormones that affect the production of skin oil is largely the culprit, experts say. Although adult acne can be inconvenient and persistent, several effective treatments are available. Here's what dermatologists say are proven ways to cure adult acne. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What Is Adult Acne?

woman looking at pimple on skin

There are three types of adult acne: Adult-onset acne might appear in people who'd never had acne before; persistent acne occurs in people who had acne as an adolescent, and it's persisted into adulthood; and recurrent acne is acne that's come back after a period of having clear skin.  

Women tend to be more prone to adult acne because of fluctuating hormone levels, says the American Academy of Dermatology. Adult acne tends to appear mostly on the lower one-third of the face, including the jawline, chin and upper lip.


Proven Ways to Cure Adult Acne

Mature woman inspecting her skin in front of the bathroom mirror.

To clear up adult acne, dermatologist Dr. Mary Sheu, M.D., medical director of the Johns Hopkins Dermatology and Cosmetic Center, recommends four things:

  • Washing your face twice a day, to remove oil and makeup.
  • A topical retinoid cream to unclog pores and exfoliate the skin. "Retinoids also have some anti-inflammatory effects, and they increase the rate at which our skin cells divide," says Sheu. "This helps to heal the skin faster."
  • A topical anti-inflammatory (like dapsone gel), or an oral prescription medication called spironolactone (which can reduce the effects of male hormones).
  • Chemical peels and blue light therapies may also help clear up acne more quickly, says Sheu.

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Other Things That Can Help Clear Up Adult Acne

20- or 30-something woman awake at night
Shutterstock / Syda Productions

Eat a low-glycemic diet. The American Academy of Dermatology notes that some studies have found that a high-glycemic diet (one that contains a lot of simple carbs, such as those in refined grains and processed foods, and sugars) has been associated with an increase in acne, and a low-glycemic diet (one that emphasizes complex carbs and whole foods like fruits and vegetables) can help—it's anti-inflammatory. 

Reduce your consumption of (or avoid) cow's milk. Some research has found that consuming dairy milk may worsen acne breakouts, says the AAD. 

Reduce stress. "Researchers have found a relationship between stress and acne flare-ups," says the AAD. "In response to stress, our bodies produce more androgens (a type of hormone). These hormones stimulate the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, which can lead to acne."

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When Should You See a Doctor?

woman consulting with her female doctor

Sheu says that if your acne has persisted for more than a couple of months, it's probably time to consult a doctor.

According to Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Alok Vij, MD, it's a good idea to see a doctor about your adult acne if over-the-counter medications aren't clearing up your acne, if you notice scarring, and if you're bothered by it. "Many people write off acne as just a few pimples, but we know that it has potentially lifelong psychosocial implications," he says.

And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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