Article Read Duration 10 min read

Sailed through your teens with clear skin, only to face breakouts in your 20s, 30s or beyond? Welcome to the frustrating world of adult acne. Occurring in up to 15% of women1 (and a smaller percentage of men), post-adolescent acne is a not-uncommon problem that can dent the self-esteem and also potentially scar the skin. 

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, and a little investigating and an anti-acne skincare regime can go a long way towards relegating post-adolescent pimples to the past. For everything you need to know about adult acne, read on.


Acne that occurs in anyone over the age of 20 is classed as ‘adult acne’. Like adolescent acne, it arises when excess sebum, dead skin cells and debris clog pores, bacteria proliferates, and inflammation and swelling occur. However, while the causes of adult and adolescent acne are the same, the underlying drivers of those causes can differ.

Adult acne is more typical in women, and is usually due to hormonal stimulation of the oil or sebaceous gland which triggers acne. Breakouts often occur around the chin and jawline, rather than the T-zone blemishes common in teens. However, adult acne lesions are not limited to these areas and can appear anywhere on the face and, sometimes, the chest, neck and back.



While excess sebum and blocked pores are fundamental causes of all types of acne, there can be different drivers involved. During puberty, excess oil production can be triggered by a surge in androgens (sex hormones)2. For adult women, on the other hand, excess sebum production may stem from hormonal fluctuations around menstruation, pregnancy or menopause.

Lifestyle factors such as diet and alcohol consumption can also contribute to breakouts, particularly in adults. So too can skincare products and makeup that are comedogenic (pore clogging), as well as haircare. As we juggle increasing work, financial and family commitments, stress can also exacerbate adult acne.

Additionally, our cellular turnover slows down as we age, meaning the speed at which we shed dead skin cells decreases. This is another factor that can lead to congested skin and unwanted breakouts outside your teens.


While the odd pimple isn’t cause for alarm, particularly if it coincides with your menstrual cycle, more persistent adult acne requires further investigation.  Seek expert advice from your doctor or dermatologist to review the underlying causes.

In most cases, adult acne can be managed in much the same way as teenage acne – depending on the severity. Acne management should involve reducing excess oil, reducing blocked pores and reducing redness and inflammation. More mature skin has different needs to teenage skin, however, and any acne management plan must also consider these.



Unlike typical teenage breakouts, post-adolescent acne doesn’t always accompany an oily complexion. In fact, it can also occur in those with dry, sensitive skin. Adults experiencing acne may also be concerned with anti-ageing, so it’s important any anti-acne products manage the problem without being harsh or overly drying.

If you’re struggling with adult acne and have ruled out hormonal or medical causes, try the following steps to manage breakouts and (hopefully) reduce their recurrence.


1. Practise good hygiene

With any acne, good hygiene is crucial. This means cleansing your face morning and night, resisting the urge to touch your face and – if doing so – ensuring your hands are clean. Also ensure you replace linens and bedding regularly, and always remove makeup before bed.


2. Don’t pick!

Picking pimples is a bad idea as it can spread bacteria (and breakouts!) and also lead to scarring. Even if no permanent damage is done, consider this – as we age our skin takes significantly longer to heal. So, if you don’t want the results of your squeezing session to linger, keep your hands to yourself.

3. Unclog pores and reduce excess oil with chemical exfoliants

To prevent blackheads and pimples, address overactive sebaceous glands and sluggish skin turnover with chemical exfoliants. Harsh, manual scrubbing of the skin can create microtears, so opt for products containing salicylic or lipohydroxy acid (LHA) instead.

A powerful anti-acne ingredient, salicylic acid not only helps to remove dead skin cells from the skin’s surface, but also cuts through oil and penetrates pores to dissolve breakout-causing blockages. The hero of La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Micro-Peeling Purifying Gel Cleanser, it works alongside purifying zinc and micro-exfoliating LHA to reduce excess oil production, target existing blackheads and pimples, and help prevent future breakouts.

Salicylic acid can also be applied in a leave-on product, such as the anti-acne moisturiser, Effaclar Duo (+).


4. Keep skin hydrated

Even if your skin is oily and acne-prone, keeping it hydrated is vital. Moisture-depleted skin will often overcompensate by creating more oil, so it pays to keep skin balanced with a  moisturiser. Formulated with salicylic acid, LHA and Niacinamide, Efflaclar Duo (+) helps to reduce and prevent breakouts, while reducing congestion, redness and post-acne marks.

On the other hand, dry, sensitive skin that is experiencing adult acne will benefit from a minimalist moisturiser, such as La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Ultra Sensitive Moisturiser. Non-comedogenic and free from fragrance and alcohol, the pared-back formula hydrates and soothes skin without blocking pores.

Oily skin can sometimes feel weakened by anti-acne medications, and for that there is the Effaclar H range. Formulated with Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) to soothe and reduce visible redness and Zinc PCA to reduce oiliness, the Effaclar H Cleansing Cream is a hydrating cleanser scientifically proven to improve skin comfort[PJ1]. Follow with the Effaclar H Moisturiser for additional hydrating, barrier-boosting care.


5. Look for redness-reducing ingredients such as Niacinamide

As well as unclogging pores, a skincare regime for adult acne should include ingredients to soothe and visibly reduce redness. Found in Effaclar Duo (+), Niacinamide is a popular anti-acne skincare ingredient that helps to soothe skin, visibly combat redness, and balance sebum production.

For extra protection against red and brown marks, it is formulated alongside ProceradTM to help reduce the appearance of post-acne pigmentation.


6. Don’t neglect sun protection

Daily broad-spectrum sun protection is always crucial, regardless of your skin type. If experiencing adult acne, consider reaching for a mattifying formula, such as the Anthelios XL Anti-Shine Dry Touch SPF50+.


For sudden, persistent or severe adult acne, we recommend consulting with a dermatologist or healthcare provider for personalised advice and a tailored treatment plan. 

Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Sunscreen is only one part of sun protection so wear protective clothing and seek shade. Avoid prolonged sun exposure. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, towelling and perspiring in accordance with directions.



  1. Dermnet NZ
  2. Mayo Clinic


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