How do I Treat Adult Acne?

Adult acne is very different from teenage acne, and it’s very frustrating when people recommend products that don’t necessarily work for mature skin. Adult acne is usually balance or barrier-related. It can relate to life hormones, stressors, and other things that are very different from teenage skin. It’s deeply frustrating to try and learn about adult acne from a bunch of articles that are written with teenagers in mind.

All acne is caused by bacteria that live naturally within our skin, but when it takes over, things get bad. When bacteria takes over, it eats oil. And guess what our skin produces naturally? Oil. Bacteria eats that oil, and it creates a waste product. Unfortunately, that waste product gets blocked up in the skin. 

And specifically with adult acne, it clogs or gets plugged, and that little plug keeps everything underneath. Underneath the surface of the skin, that bacteria then grows and more of them are created. Likewise, there’s more oil, there’s more waste, redness, inflammation, and irritation. This is the process of every acne, pimple, or acne breakout. 

However, adult acne is unique because this process is usually associated with things such as stress, hormones, an out-of-balance skin barrier, birth control, menopause, or PCOS. Also, while our skin starts off renewing on a 28-day cycle, it slows down to every 35 or 36 days as we get older, and this is the dynamic we’re looking at with adult acne.

Some ingredients like Retin-A, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur have been medically studied and proven effective for adult acne.  If you’ve exhausted those options, perhaps the formula used did not target adult acne well. Here are some little-known ingredients that are deeply effective for adult acne.


People worry that seaweed breaks your skin out or that it’s like a 5 on the comedogenicity scale. However, the comedogenic scale was inherently flawed in its creation. It was based on a test with a rabbit’s ears. But naturally, our skin reacts very differently than a rabbit’s ear. When it comes to the algae and the biochemistry of how it works within human skin, algae can stop things such as major damage caused by radical oxygen species. It can actually be extraordinarily helpful to the skin. Acne sufferers have been avoiding algae, but it can be very helpful and beneficial.

Algae can be hydrating and impart nutrients into the skin, and most importantly, it greatly stops free radical oxygen species. Because ROS damage the skin, free-radical fighting algae can stop inflammation within pimples, and it can help with dark spots left behind by acne, and it can help with scarring and wound healing. So, if you have a lesion, algae can prevent the overproduction of melanin, and asks are a really great way to calm this inflammation and to hydrate your skin.

Osea White Algae Mask - $48

This mask applies very smoothly to skin, and it’s a very hydrating formula. Acne needs a little more hydration and a bit more barrier protection. It’s very soothing, and it also has peptides. Peptides make up proteins like collagen which is what your skin is built on, and therefore, it can make your skin more resilient, less prone to scarring, and less irritated by adult acne. Masks are great to do once or twice a week.

Salicylic Acid

Although frequently recommended, a benzoyl peroxide cleanser can be a bit harsh and drying for adult acne. For adult acne, Benzoyl peroxide is better as a spot treatment, but for a cleanser, salicylic acid is much more favorable. Salicylic acid is proven to help with acne and soothe inflammation. Phyla Phresh Cleanser is a great option, and it is made with 2% salicylic acid.

Phyla Phresh Gel Cleanser - $25

Phyla Phresh Cleanser has tea tree oil which is amazing because tea tree oil is antimicrobial and antibacterial. Because this cleanser is suspended in different alcohols, they penetrate very deeply into the skin. It also uses probiotic bacteria, and it was created with acne sufferers in mind. 

Retin A 

Retin A was created to fight acne, but it does help with fine lines, wrinkles, and specifically adult acne. However, it’s prescription only.  It’s also very intense so use it with a moisturizer or a serum to help ease the product into your routine. Here are also some additional retinols that are OTC and a bit gentler.



Dermalogica Retinol Clearing Oil - $82




The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalene (More gentle and less drying) - $8.00

These retinol products go into your skin, make your skin less oily and less habitable to bacteria, and therefore there is a lower chance for pimples.



C acnes bacteriophage or Cetobacterium consumes other bacteria living in the skin.

Phortify Phyla Serum has this same probiotic technology. It is also a squalene and glycerin formula that keeps things hydrated, but there’s a little alcohol in it. 

Acne Fighting Phage Serum - $70

However, if you have dry skin, back it up with a moisturizer. Ultimately, it’s best to spot treat with Retin A or an OTC retinol, use Phortify Phyla all over to stop bacteria from growing, and then lock it all in with a moisturizer. 

Phyla Phluff moisturizer - $60

This moisturizer gives the skin barrier protection. It has jojoba, squalene, ceramides, and shea butter, dimethicone, caprylic triglycerides. It soothes and locks in moisture. Plus, kojoba oil mimics what our skin produces, and that helps stop overproduction. Additionally, it doesn’t have cholesterol which can be irritating so it does a better job of rebalancing the skin.

Additionally, here are some wonderful spot treatment products! Enjoy!

Sulfur Spot Treatment Sonya Dakar - $35

Acne responds well to sulfur, and this spot treatment has sulfur, camphor, and alcohol so if you’re super dry you might not want to use it. 

Zitsticka Micro Darts - $29

These gently puncture the pimple, and then the zit reduces in size and color. They are hydrocolloid patches with peptides. They are hydrating, and they do work for pimples under the skin.


Coverphoto cred: istock/kanawa_studios