My Best Tips for Dealing With Acne in Your 20s and 30s

Adult acne, which seems to come out of nowhere, can feel like one giant, confusing step backward. I know, I’ve been there.

One minute you’re celebrating a promotion, new apartment, or even your engagement, and the next, you’re in the drugstore checkout line with Oxy pads and wrinkle cream. Life, right? But you’re not alone. 

In fact, adult acne is, according to many dermatologists (including my own), the most common kind of acne and much more common in women than men (thanks, hormones). It’s not impossible to clear up if you know what to do, what not to do, and where to start. 

After seeing a dermatologist and speaking with Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years’ experience, I learned a lot about my own skin. Here’s how I recommend dealing with adult acne.

Step one? Chill out. 


Stress less

For as much as we all talk about self-care and wellness, as a society, we’re still more stressed-out than ever — and it might be giving us a lot of pimples. Stress is a huge factor when it comes to adult acne, and while it may not count as “beauty” in your mind, working less, sleeping more, and adding meditation (or even therapy) to your weekly routine can be counted as a way to manage adult acne. And it works. It doesn’t matter how many $60 creams you buy, your skin won’t be healthy if you’re not taking care of your mental well being. Period.


Don’t jump to conclusions

I’ve seen so many women make huge changes to their diet or lifestyle only to see no difference in their skin. Most doctors recommend starting with the simple stuff — topical treatments and cleaner hair, skin, and makeup products, which are more likely to keep your skin clear than a crash diet or cleanse. According to Dr. Loretta, most acne does respond to topical treatment.

It’s hard; I get it. We’re bombarded with so much information about the food we eat (which is valid, of course). But eliminating things like dairy, meat, wine, or coffee may or may not be the answer to your acne. I’m not saying don’t change your diet, I’m just saying don’t do it in the name of skincare unless your doctor tells you to. They’ll be much better able to tell what might work best for your skin than Google.



Be basic

It’s true that adult acne and teen acne respond differently to over the counter treatments, but a lesson in teen-aimed skincare products might help you get the clear skin you’re after. For instance, Dr. Loretta doesn’t typically recommend benzoyl peroxide for adult acne (it’s too harsh for older skin and can cause redness and irritation),  salicylic acid can work wonders.

I’m personally obsessed with Aveda Outer Peace Acne Relief Pads, which is basically a grown-up version of the Oxy pads you probably used as a teen. For a more traditional spot treatment, I love Alba Botanica Pimple Patches, Clean & Clear Advantage Spot Treatment, and Sailor by Captain Blankenship Liquid Spot Treatment. For a deep cleaning mask with clay, try Klei Supergreen & Lavender Clarify Green Clay Mask.

Another way to simplify your skincare routine is to eliminate acne-causing ingredients like sulfates and fragrances. Start by switching to clean face makeup and simpler shampoo, conditioner, and laundry detergent formulas.

Skip the oils (for the most part)

Heavy oils and acne-prone skin don’t (usually) mix. You don’t want to smother your skin and clog your pores, but you don’t want dry, dehydrated skin either. We’re in love with Herbivore’s Lapis Oil and Plant Apothecary’s Superfacial Oil Moisturizer. Steer clear of Moroccan oil, coconut oil, and anything with the word butter in it – those are pore-cloggers, notes Dr. Loretta.

And when in doubt, get help from the pros

If you can’t shake a bad breakout or keep waking up with new pimples, see a dermatologist. He or she will work with you to find the cause of your adult acne and treat with over the counter products or a prescription if necessary. Sometimes, serious skin issues need serious solutions — and that’s OK. The best way to avoid acne scars is to get professional treatment as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.


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