Adult Acne Happens. Let’s Talk About How to Get Rid of It.

A few simple steps to help you banish your blemishes for good

Adult acne
Adult acne sucks but don't stress it. (Getty)
Getty Images

Having acne as a suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying, legal-beer-buying adult can feel like a sick joke. But alas, it happens: according to some estimates, as many as 25% of adult men suffer from the condition.

It could be due to lifestyle choices (like working out or smoking), or because of reasons completely out of your control (thanks, genetics). Regardless, it’s a nuisance, and one the over-the-counter remedies of your youth may not solve.

“Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States,” Dr. Shari Lipner, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian, tells InsideHook. That also means it’s commonly treated: over-the-counter remedies and preventative measures are well-known, and failing those, dermatologists are adept at clearing things up via more rigorous methods. By taking into account the risk factors and remedies below, your handsome punim will be looking shipshape in no time.

Reduce your stress (Ha!)

One of the major causes of adult acne? Stress, which makes our bodies produce more androgen, a hormone that stimulates the oil glands under your skin. Stress can be managed in a number of ways: meditation, therapy, exercise. Stress can also be an immutable fact of life. Don’t worry: there are several other steps you can take to clear things up.

Mind the labels

Sunscreens and moisturizers, while essential, should have the following terms listed on their packaging, according to the AAD: 

  • Non-comedogenic
  • Non-acnegenic
  • Oil-free
  • Won’t clog pores

Without those, there’s no guarantee that the stuff you’re slathering all over your mug every morning isn’t actually the enemy in your battle against acne. This goes for any beard oils and hair styling products as well. “Occlusive or comedogenic hair gels or thick moisturizers can clog pores and make acne worse,” according to Dr. Lipner.

Wash, but not too hard

It hard to stare down the unsightly blemishes in the mirror and resist the urge to squeeze them off your face — many of us have the scars to prove it. But leaving it alone is vital. So is going easy on your skin in general.

“Use your fingertips to wash with a gentle cleanser [but] avoid scrubbing and avoid picking or popping pimples to avoid scarring,” says Dr. Lipner. “Toners and scrubbing too hard can irritate your skin and exacerbate acne. Dermatologists generally recommend against exfoliation because it can irritate the skin [but] if you have a buildup of dead skin cells, limit exfoliation to once or twice a month.”

Sweat IS the small stuff 

If you’re a runner, lifter or generally dewy person, it’s important to make sure you wash your face as soon as you’re able to. The technique and type of product you use matters, too. “It is important to wash your face after working out or excessive sweating,” says Dr. Lipner. “And shampoo regularly, especially if you have oily hair.”

A few products that check all the boxes: Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser, Jack Black Pure Clean Daily Facial Cleanser and Baxter of California’s Sulfate-Free Face Wash. Squeeze a small amount onto your fingertips and gently massage into wet skin in upward, circular motions — just stay away from the delicate skin around your eyes. 

Just like everything else: Watch what you eat 

While experts have gone back and forth over whether they believe a connection even exists, there’s a small chance your diet could be wreaking havoc on your skin. “We are [still] learning about how diet affects acne,” Dr. Lipner says. “There are some small studies showing that low-glycemic diets may cause fewer breakouts. Milk [and dairy] may also have a negative impact on acne.”

The hell’s a low-glycemic diet? Adding carbs that don’t make your blood sugar spike and are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolized. Think whole grains, rolled oats, apples, broccoli and beans. It also means eliminating the carbs that have the adverse effect, like white bread, potatoes and white rice.

If all else fails …

It’s time to turn to medication. First, hit the drugstore aisles. “Over-the-counter treatments include topical medications that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid,” says Dr.Lipner. “[But] these are only appropriate in cases of mild acne or [for] men that have blackheads or very few pimples.”

If your condition is more severe and nothing seems to be working, a dermatologist’s exam and subsequent prescription may be necessary. 

“If your acne is not responding to over-the-counter treatments after a few weeks, or you are getting deep pimples with scarring, it’s important to see a board-certified dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Lipner advises. “Failure to do so can lead to permanent scarring, which is completely preventable with quick and appropriate treatment.”

Remember: acne is common and American doctors know how to take care of it. So stop stressing, heed the preventative measures listed above, and don’t hesitate to call a dermatologist if things persist.

You only get one face. Take care of it accordingly.

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