Won't they ever go away? As an adult, you expect pimples to be a thing of the past. But for many adults, blemishes continue to mar otherwise healthy skin. For some people, acne may be even worse in adulthood than in adolescence. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five adults between the ages of 25 and 44 experience acne.
More than simply a cosmetic problem, acne can greatly affect your quality of life, no matter what your age or the severity of your condition. If you are battling recurring skin breakouts, finding a path to clearer skin can help improve your self-esteem and body image.
There is no single adult-acne cause, and because of this, there is no surefire way to avoid it or control it. Acne is influenced by several factors, many of which are out of your control. But the way you treat your skin does play an important role.
With a little know-how, you can minimize or potentially eliminate occasional acne outbreaks on your face, back, shoulders, neck, chest, limbs or elsewhere merely by changing a few small behaviors.
1. Check your hair and skin products
Hair conditioners, gels, pomades, shaving products, cosmetics, moisturizers, sunscreens and other products that contain oil can clog your pores and cause a breakout. Simply switching to hair and skin products that don't clog pores—called "noncomedogenic"—could make a big difference in the appearance of your skin.
Check the labels on your hair and skin products to see if they are marked oil-free and noncomedogenic. Also, consider whether you truly need every product you use. Even products marked "dermatologist tested" can cause acne for some people. Minimizing the number of products you use may help further reduce outbreaks. And when you exercise, wear as little makeup as possible. Even oil-free and noncomedogenic cosmetics can clog pores if worn during heavy, sweaty exercise.
2. Adopt a hands-off policy
Do you often rest your chin or cheeks in your hands or rub your nose? Doing so can encourage the growth of bacteria and cause infection to the areas most inflamed by adult acne. Adopt a strict hands-off policy that holds for breakouts, too. Picking or squeezing can drive acne bacteria deeper into the skin, leading to more inflammation and possibly to permanent scarring. So, try to resist the temptation to touch.
3. Don't let sweat stick around
Rinse off as soon as possible after you work out. Physical activity heats up the body, causing perspiration to mix with surface skin oils. Together, they trap substances in your pores. If a quick rinse isn't possible, towel off and change into dry clothes as soon as you can. Sitting around in sweaty clothes, especially if they are tight-fitting, can lead to acne on your chest, back, and other parts of the body. Also, avoid wearing tight headbands or hats that rub against your skin. If you wear a helmet or any other safety gear with straps, be sure to wash the straps frequently to reduce bacteria.
4. Avoid overwashing and harsh scrubbing
Adult acne is not caused by dirt, so washing frequently with harsh substances such as alcohol-based products won't solve the problem. In fact, it may make the situation worse by prompting excess oil production and more blemishes. Be good to your skin by washing gently from under the jaw to the hairline with a mild soap once or twice a day. You might find that simply washing with lukewarm water and using clean hands rather than a washcloth works well for you. To avoid irritating or inflaming your skin, pat it dry—rather than rub it—with a soft towel. And be cautious when it comes to cleansing products that claim to be formulated for acne prone skin, as these can leave healthy skin dry and irritated.
5. Lower your stress levels
When you're under stress, your body produces stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can stimulate an overproduction of oil from the sebaceous glands in the skin. But how does stress cause acne? When this excess oil mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria, it can cause acne to develop or become worse. If you regularly suffer from stress, try to take short breaks throughout the day to stretch and practice deep breathing. Exercising regularly is another great way to ease anxiety and reduce stress.
Start with simplicity
While there is no cure for acne, most mild breakouts can be controlled with proper skin and body care. Start by focusing on the basic strategies mentioned here, keeping in mind that when it comes to skin care, simplicity is often the best solution.
Keep up these healthy habits for a month or two, and if you still don't see any results, there may be other factors causing your skin to break out, such as:
- Hormonal changes (e.g., menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or starting or stopping birth control pills)
- Medication side effects
- Allergic reactions to foods or cosmetics
Talk to your healthcare provider or dermatologist about your potential adult-acne causes, as well as treatment options.
Medically reviewed in January 2018. Updated in February 2021.
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