What to Do About Adult Acne


It is best to use spot treatments on pimples.

About 85% of all tweens and teens have mild to moderate acne for a year, or maybe two. About 75% of  children and teens who have acne get over it, but 25% continue to have blemishes to age 25, age 35, or even afterward. Adult acne is hard to beat, and the methods that work well for mild to moderate common acne in teens usually don’t work for adults.


  • About 25% of teens who have acne continue to have acne in the 20’s, 30’s, and beyond.
  • The major difference in treating adult acne is that the skin grows more slowly.
  • Adult skin takes longer to heal.
  • Adult skin is more likely to react badly to chemicals.
  • Any cleanser that leaves the skin feeling dry, itchy, or tingly can create skin debris that clogs pores. You don’t need to feel your cleanser working on your skin.
  • The best way to get rid of blackheads is slowly—so they don’t leave an enlarged pore. Loosen blackheads with salicylic acid.
  • Use spot treatments for pimples. Benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil, preferably used together, give the best results.
  • For a systematic approach to adult acne care, consider Exposed Skin Care.

 What’s Different About Adult Acne?

The big difference in adult acne is how fast the skin grows. When children have acne, growing skin opens pores so that a big, embarrassing pimple that creates a cosmetic crisis on Monday may just be a memory by Friday. It is easy to scar young skin with harsh or excessive treatment, but acne in the very young usually resolves on its own.

Acne in teens is a little more persistent. Since the face usually stops growing by about age 15 or 16 (although there may be some changes in facial structure until about age 22), the skin stops expanding. Pores don’t open as automatically as they do for children. Still, teenaged skin is far more forgiving of harsh treatment than adult skin, and acne treatments that make aestheticians and dermatologists cringe, such as popping pimples, squeezing blackheads, and detergent cleansers, don’t always leave lasting skin damage.

Acne in adults tends to stick around. The skin is no longer growing. Pores tend to stay clogged. Trying to pop pimples just drives infection under the skin where it can form cysts. Squeezing blackheads may actually work, but removing the blackhead leaves an enlarged pores. And any kind of harsh treatment of the skin triggers a defensive reaction of the skin. The pigment in the skin is a natural anti-inflammatory. Inflamed acne will leave brown or sometimes black spots that take years to resolve.

Cleansing Is Essential for Treating Adult Acne

If you have acne and you’re not a kid any more, the most important thing to remember is to be gentle to your skin. Things you could get away with when you were a kid can cause real problems now. Adult acne requires a change in daily skin care and it becomes important to follow basic rules:

  • Don’t try to wash, scrub, or rub your blemishes away. Let your cleanser do the work. That means you put cleanser on your face and do not rub it with your fingers or a washcloth. You leave the cleanser on your skin about 30 seconds and simply rinse it away. (Microdermabrasion products are a different matter. You do rub them across your skin.)
  • Don’t put harsh cleansers on your skin. Any detergent cleanser that makes big bubbles is too harsh to put on your skin. You need a foaming cleanser that makes small, flat, nearly invisible bubbles on your skin.
  • Learn to look for results from your cleanser. Don’t try to feel them. It’s reasonable to expect your skin to look different after you cleanse it. But you don’t want to use products that leave your skin feeling cool, hot, or tingly. These sensations on your skin accompany the death of cells in the lining of pores, clogging them and setting you up for more blemishes.
  • When you find a cleanser that works well for you, use it, but don’t use it more than twice a day. Excessive cleansing can dry out your skin, causing accumulation of tiny flakes of dead skin that can clog pores and set you up for new whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.

The right cleanser can make a difference in your skin, fast. Your skin should have deeper color after you do your cleansing. It should not look flaky, and it should not look oily. If your skin takes on an ashen tone a few hours after your morning skin care routine, you need a moisturizer, preferably a product that contains no alcohol and for which the main ingredient is water. If your skin looks shiny a few hours after your morning skin care routine, try nighttime treatment with a clear pore serum with tea  tree oil to slow down the production of oil in your pores.

What to Do About Blackheads

The older you get, the more of your blemishes turn into blackheads. A blackhead is just the tip of a plug of waxy sebum that got stuck in a pore. The sebum oxidizes during contact with the air and turns black. There are treatments that just remove the “black” of the blackhead, and there are treatments that help a blackhead fall out of your skin but leaving an enlarged pore. There is another way to get rid of blackheads without creating enlarged pores.

That treatment method is alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, or both. An alpha-hydroxy acid like glycolic acid breaks up dead skin and opens pores on dry skin. The only beta-hydroxy acid used in skin care, salicylic acid, breaks up the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together in pores on oily skin. Both alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids stimulate the production of collagen beneath the skin that builds up the skin so that it stretches out around pores, opening them without obvious enlargement.

Not every product says it contains alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids actually does. And not every product that actually does contain alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids has them in the right concentration or at the right pH to clear your skin. But you will find many good brands of blackhead removers on this site, including the products offered by Exposed Skin Care.

What to Do About Pimples

It’s almost a bad word, but many people get rid of their pimples with benzoyl peroxide. The problem is that the 5% to 10% prescription-strength products usually irritate the skin. Most people get a better reaction to 2.5% benzoyl peroxide gels that applied directly to the pimple, not all over the face. The benzoyl peroxide kills acne bacteria and stops the release of inflammation, although it can take up to 2 weeks for the skin to heal.

The secret to successful treatment of pimples with benzoyl peroxide is to use benzoyl peroxide at night and a moisturizer in the morning. If benzoyl peroxide is allowed to dry out the skin, new blackheads and whiteheads can break out about as soon as pimples heal. Benzoyl peroxide without a moisturizer can get rid of 60% to 70% of blemishes, but adding a moisturizer to the treatment program brings the clear-up rate closer to 100%.

And what can you do about brown spots or scars left behind when pimples heal? Microdermabrasion cloths are the least expensive remedy. Exposed Skin Care has a microdermabrasion cloth for under $20. And you can also heal minor acne scars and small brown spots with alpha- and hydroxy acids, which will also help you get rid of blackheads.


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