A Grown-Up Guide to Adult Acne Products

Do try this at home.

05.10.16

I’d rather relive my teenage years via emotional music and unnecessary belts than a healthy sprinkling of zits along my chin, but my body clearly — no pun intended — doesn’t give a shit.

Acne is the dark horse of adulthood. And I don’t mean that in a sexy Katy Perry kind of way, I mean it in a freezing-weather-in-May kind of way. As in: it’s annoying even before you consider its untimeliness.

So all of us at Man Repeller brought in our favorite acne-fighting products and reviewed them for your pore-leasure. (Sorry.) (Love you.) (Even your acne.)

Read below and then tell us yours!

Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.

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  • When I first bought the LRP Effeclar Duo I made the serious mistake of applying it all over my face. My face got really red and super sensitive. Turns out that the formula of the “Made in USA” version is very different from the French one. Proceed with caution.

    Adult acne is one of those things that make you think about how being an adult doesn’t actually make things “better”, and instead you’re just dealing with the same problems on a grander scale and paying taxes.

    • Shevaun

      The second part of your response is spot on (hah). Thinking back to when I was a teenager, I’m like, ‘jeez, my mom pretty much bought all my skin care stuff and makeup/clothes, AND bought the groceries/cooked me food’. Now it’s ten years later and i can barely afford groceries, and I still have acne, which is horrible and hilarious.

      Plus side of being a grown-up though is that I can stay up as late as i want and have ice-cream for dinner, so I guess win-some, lose-some (or stay-the-same-some).

  • Camila Restrepo

    I have some what sensitive skin that gets extremely dry if I use harsh acne products.

    I used Clinique’s 3 step line back in high school and apart from the occasional pimple here and there, my skin was fine.

    Fast forward towards the end of college (and birth control) and my skin was flawless. But then came graduation, moving to a foreign country, stress, different weather (from Florida to the Bavarian alps) and coming off birth control and my skin became a wreck- especially my chin. Cystic, painful, red swollen pimples. My mom orderd Proactiv for me but I knew that it would be too harsh for my skin but regardless I used it for 2 1/2 months and it sort of helped a bit but it my skin so dry, I couldn’t help but feel older than my age seeing all those fine lines because my face was dehydrated.

    I went to Sephora and someone gave me a sample of Dr. Dennis Gross Ultra Gentle Daily Peel after telling them that I didn’t exfoliate. (Exfoliate is key to success).

    After that I gradually stopped Proactive and started doing the peels 2-3 a week (they say they are daily but after you see the price tag, you would definitely want to make them last!). I started using the peels and went back to what my German dermatologist recommended for sensitive skin when I lived abroad- using a milk cleanser and then using micellar water as a toner or makeup remover. Thankfully micellar water is now becoming a thing here in the states! After that I use even better serum by Clinique (miracle worker), followed by Clinique’s Moisture surge (I ran out a couple of weeks ago and switch to another moisturizer…BIG MISTAKE…consistency is key as Krista mention) and then for the final miracle worker, I swear by Clarifying Colloidal Sulfur Mask by Dr. Dennis Gross! It’s a miracle mask… you can use it as a mask, as a spot treatment (that’s what I usually do every night) and also as a makeup primer. The little mask that could.

    Voila! My skin hasn’t looked better in ages. Slowly my cystic acne is going away (could be that my hormones are finally getting balance), my skin tone is even and my acne scars are slowly fading. I’ve also stopped using liquid foundation everyday- only on a Friday or Saturday for going out- and use Bare minerals powder foundation every day for the office.

    Didn’t mean to write a short novel but the struggle has been real with acne/skin problems after college and I’m sure a lot of people can relate.

    • Definitely going to try that mask! Also, so glad you brought up exfoliating. For so long I heard that you should only do it once a week, but eff that. For about a year now I’ve been exfoliating 5-7 days a week and it’s helped my skin SO MUCH. If this skin journey has taught me anything, it’s that what works for one person doesn’t always work for another.

      • Camila Restrepo

        Completely agree! For example, for me exfoliating for 5-7 would be too much but it also depends on what type of exfoliating. I can’t do physical exfoliators (scrubs) but a chemical peel like the ones from Dr. Dennis Gross or First Aid Beauty I can.

        I been trying a different product in the past couple of weeks, UFO by Sunday Riley and after 3 weeks I do think it’s been helping especially with the whiteheads in my chin but I still use the sulfur mask especially for those awful, swollen cystic pimples on my jaw. 🙂

  • Maria

    People: nappy rash cream. The zinc dries spots and kills bacteria and the vitamin E or whatever regenerating ingredients they use do just that: regenerate the skin. Bye spot! And guaranteed not to scar, even if you pick it, which I do.

  • Aydan

    YES!!! I use the ren products – clay mask in the morning as cleanser, the serum, followed by day cream (I use glossier milky jelly at night, followed by the REN serum, and the REN day cream) and it WORKS!!! It’s made my terrible hormonal acne I developed at 22 (UGGGGG) at bay for the past four years. Additionally, I’ll use Eradikate as a spot treatment. Seriously REN saves lives, expensive, but so so worth it!!

  • Lauren

    YVONNE – how long were you on Spironolactone before you starting seeing results? I’ve been on it for about two months and I haven’t seen a huge difference. Also, did it give you two periods a month (I hate that part the most)?

    • sugar_magn0lia

      Interested in spirnolactone. Asking my doctor about it tomorrow. Super excited to try as NOTHING else has worked and I have serious hormonal adult acne. Not pretty at all

    • Katie N.

      Ello, if it helps I’ve been on Spironolactone for about a year. It probably took about 3 months to fully see it in my case. I really like it and it has reduced my acne a lot, but it definitely comes with it’s side effects. For example, I get dehydrated very easily and sometimes I have hypotension issues. But if you drink enough water you should be fine. I think it’s also all about finding out what dose is appropriate for you. Initially they started me on 100mg/day(way too strong), then I went down to 50mg/day(started getting more pimples) and now I’m at 75mg/day. Also, my derm suggested I take it in conjunction with TUMERIC, yes the spice, because they helps with inflammation. Hope that helped!

    • Noemie

      I’ve been on it for about two months also and my skin has gotten a little bit worse (though apparently that’s common.) I also have the worlds’ driest lips and eyes at all times!! I think it takes the course of your treatment to get results and if it still doesn’t work you can do a second round and that almost always clears up your skin – so there’s hope (I hope!)

    • Yvonne Dunlevie

      LAUREN! Wow so excited by all this interest in my spirno journey. I am 100% not a medical professional so can only share with you what has happened to me but take it with a grain of salt cause I am just one person! I first started on a low dose (can’t remember how many mgs) and saw some improvement but not a ton. After about 3 months my doc upped the dosage and it has been 2 months since then. I have again seen some additional improvement but not 100% there…but making progress! From everything I’ve read it’s pretty different for everyone and can take time to balance out but so far the improvements I’ve seen have been hopeful so I am sticking with it! Also I have been super lucky with little to no side effects which I understand is not always the case. I also already am already an avid water drinker (I drink water quite literally all day long) so I’ve got that going for me.

      • Madeline

        Re RXes: I remember being on Spiro in my 20s and it made my skin HORRIBLE. Trauma-inducing. However, I switched my birth control to Yasmin (Ocella is the generic, I believe) and that is a straight miracle for anyone who’s “tried everything.” Can make your belly hurt, though. (Blerg.)

        So, there’s this really cool OTC product called IlluMask that is affordable laser-treatment. Totally works. However, looks like it’s no longer on Target shelves (temporarily?): http://www.illumask.com/dimming/

  • Krista Mascia

    Whenever I went (because it’s gotten better now – thank you God/Goddess/ baby jesus) to Sephora I would get looks of pity from staff members, and was automatically recommended certain skin products that never worked for me (like some above). I’m sure they are awesome for most, but they didn’t help my “skin type” – whatever the hell that is. I finally went to a facialist who (a) recommended substituting my sugar scrub exfoliate with an enzyme mask twice-a-week (she emphasized the importance of not using it too much). (b) I also started using Micellar Water – because it’s easier on sensitive skin. I excluded all foaming washes from my routine because they tend to over dry. (c) started using facial mist because it builds up the skin’s natural water barrier, which prevents future skin damage. (d) started using shampoos without chemical irritants, because that can cause breakouts on sensitive skin. Personally, I use (A) Caudalie Vinoperfect Enzyme Peel (B) Garnier – SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water (C) Caudalie Grape Seed Water Mist (D) Giovanni 50:50 Shampoo and Conditioner . For a cleanser I use Ponds Cold Cream Cleanser (although I’m 28 and not 60), and it works well. I’ve been sticking to this routine, and it’s seriously done wonders.

  • Alessandra

    Just wanted to share in others’ misery about cystic acne.

    It is so terribly sucky and I feel your pain. I look for glycolic acid as an active ingredient (there is a line at many drugstores called Nip + Fab that has this as an active ingredient- low-risk price tag, too). While I still suffer from the occasional flare-up, I will say that using their glycolic products and their moisturizer has genuinely balanced my skin.

    It has been said that women hold many of their hormones in their chins, which would explain why we lament over chin breakouts.

    Perhaps this will help some of you as it’s helped me.

  • Jennaea Denhardt Gearhart

    Without a doubt, Rodan & Fields Unblemish regimen! Best stuff ever and works super quickly. I use it in combination with another line of theirs, Soothe if my skin gets too dry but this totally kicks my early-40s hormonal skin!
    https://www.rodanandfields.com/Shop/Unblemish

  • Kirsten Rasmussen

    PSA for all of you that suffer from body acne, keratosis pilaris, or folliculitis try http://www.amazon.com/Salux-Nylon-Japanese-Beauty-Blue/dp/B00AX9Y1FS/ + body wash + http://www.paulaschoice.com/shop/skin-care-categories/body-care/_/Resist-Weightless-Body-Treatment-with-Two-Percent-BHA . I learned about it from the comment section of into the gloss and it has completely changed the skin on my back and shoulders. I no longer fear of spaghetti straps!!

    • I tried a lot of acne-specific body washes, then I gave up for a while. When I started using Dr.Bronner’s all-in-one soap as my bodywash, it totally cleared up my bacne. I wasn’t expecting it at all, but that stuff does miracles.

  • Julia

    I also went on the sprnolact…at about 17. I took half a pill. It was the only thing i could get to work well for me. I have dry skin and bad teen/ adult acne. I think i was over washing my face which was making it worse. Now i only wash with aveno foaming cleanser. Then apply Aragon oil after. And only wash my face with water and micro fiber cloth in the shower. After apply aragon oil. This is my face routine. I never break out anymore and get compliments on how great my skin is.

  • Courtnay

    Never used any of these though they all look so fun. Definitely interested in trying the glossier mask.

    I use Mask of Magnaminty (Self-preserving) from Lush about 3 times a week. Super gentle, and the peppermint oil + extra honey in the self-preserving formula is great for acne prone skin.

  • Aggie

    Along the lines of Eradikate, the drying lotion from Mario Badescu is a miracle! I didn’t think it worked at first but overnight it reduces your cystic acne and its angry redness which makes it easier to conceal if you’re someone who wears make up. Can attest for the Effaclar duo, more gentle than the drying lotion but can be used during the day and been a staple of mine for years!

  • Elif Nimet

    I took minocycline for about 7 years. Recently, I was switched to Actlicate, since I was breaking out in more cysts than usual. It’s working well so far. In conjunction with those pills, I use Ziana and Aczone gels.

    Ziana is my FAVORITE product I’ve ever been prescribed. It’s a Clindamycin / Tretinoin, so it regenerates skin cells and gets rid of scarring. I swear I always wake up less red/happier/am not afraid to look in the mirror.

    As for my skin care routine….I’ve had tons of success with MyChelle. You can get it at Whole Foods! It’s SUPER affordable. I use their fruit enzyme cleanser, sensitive moisturizer (morning) and advanced argan oil (at night after showering). The acne medications dry up my skin, and this routine has really helped to keep it hydrated. Also, I use ExfoliKate 2x per week, since I always have dried up acne remains (ew!).

  • kristina

    There is nothing I love more than skincare. After trying numerous medicated creams and pills, I found out my acne is hormonal. But I also have this great thing going on where whether or not I touch the thing on my face, it will leave a mark that lasts a few weeks. Sometimes longer 🙁 Like Amelia, I keep my cleanser simple. Cetaphil 4 life. Though I’m on the oily side, I moisturize like crazy because I want to age well. I acid tone 1-2 a week with pixi glow tonic, and if my skins looking super dull I’ll dip into the peter thomas roth pumpkin enzyme mask, which smells so good I could eat it. When I get a breakout, I use a sulfur heavy spot treatment (similar to EradiKate) and try not to touch it.

  • Julie

    I’ve been using Differin (www.differin.com, very inventive, i know) and it’s the only thing that works for me! The instructions advise to use it in a thin layer all over my face, but my skin is incredibly sensitive, so I just used it either on the area with a lot of pimples or very locally. Applied after cleansing and moisturising before bed. It’s not exactly a one night wonder, but it does a very very good job.
    Now I’ve got a question to all the gals out there with oily and dehydrated (it is possible) skins: what moisturiser do you use? I’m using Embryolisse lait-créme concentré, and it’s good with moisturising but does clog my pores a bit. Any ideas?

    • meme

      I used Effaclar Mat by La Roche Posay for years and my skin tolerated it really well. Lately, I wanted something a bit more mosturizing because my skin is getting more combination than oily lately, so now I am trying the Vinoperfect day fluid and night cream from Caudalie. I am still not sure if it doesn’t break me out but the day one isn’t heavy. I liked better that the Effaclar one was a gel and it was a great foundation base, so if your oily I would give it a try.

    • witchundertones

      I use the Nivea Mattifying Day Cream and the Ole Henrickson Sheer Transformation at night. Both give great hydration without being oily or breaking me out. I find heavier stuff freaks my skin out any time it’s not the dead of winter.

    • Molly

      Just came across this post, and have literally just orderd Differin in desperation as I’ve started breaking out like crazy at the age of 33. What moisterizer did you use? And did you apply it before or after the Differin?

      • Julie

        Hi there! I use the Lancôme Énergie de Vie liquid glow boosting lotion, it’s a very watery moisturiser which doesn’t clog my pores at all. The only issue for me is that it’s sometimes not enough, so I use a moisturising mask twice a week just to boost the hydration. And first I cleanse my skin, then apply a very very thin layer of differing on the problem areas, and moisturise after that. Also I use it only at night and always wear sunscreen the next day, as it is a retinoid

        • Molly

          Thanks so much for your response!

  • Accutane literally changed my life and drastically improved my self-esteem after 3 years of traumatic and extreme adult acne. I had tried every dermatologist prescribed drug and creams, drugstore, & beauty store face products available. It’s very expensive, but it was worth every penny.

  • Sarah

    My last attempt before asking for the serious stuff from my doctor was to try Dermalogica’s Medibac line. There are lots of products to choose from for your needs but I highly recommend the cleanser and the overnight clearing gel (which I use either as a spot treatment or a full face moisturizer depending on my breakouts).

  • M Niemann

    Stop with the product bullshit, people. Acne comes from within. Mostly from what you eat! Cut out dairy and eat mostly vegetables. Seriously, just try it! If it doesn’t work you at least wont have spent lots of money on the latest crap the loreal empire put out.

    • E.Tay

      I’m going to have to agree with you for sure! When I was eating a high sugar diet my face was a complete disaster!! My diet now consists of mainly veggies and legumes and it’s basically clear aside from a monthly hormone flare up! – megsmeanderings.com

  • Biologique Recherché Lotion P50 is HG from me but so difficult to find in Dublin. At 34, ageing and acne is not the one!

  • amelia
  • Lisa Hardley

    I’m facing acne problem from last 7 years. I’d tried many of the herbal & ayurvedic products as I was thinking that other products may damage my skin more. But then one of my relatives recommended me to go for skin creams. While searching I found your site & similarly I’d find another site & I would like to recommend that to other too. One can visit @ http://www.ratedacnetreatments.com/ .

  • Carol Jul

    I had acne for many years and what i figured out after all these years is that it’s all about what is going inside you. I was following good diet no dairy etc and drink a lot of water what basically everyone is telling you when you have acne but it didn’t go away and i was using acne products. But then i noticed that my hair was falling as well and i had mood swings so i tried birth control and i combined it with probiotics because after research it was suggested for those who suffer acne and it doesnt has any side effects so i gave it a try and it’s the first time that i see so drastic resutls. I don’t even have oily skin anymore.

  • I recently started using the Acne Treatment from Nerd Skincare and I think it’s working. No overnight wonders on cystic acne, but it definitely nips those smaller breakouts in the bud in a hurry.

    Only in the past couple years have I gotten to bask in the glory of adult cystic acne. I tried crying and shouting at myself in the mirror, but it doesn’t really work, so I use Mario B’s drying cream in combination with ice compresses, then hydrogen peroxide and acne patches after it pops.

    Since I have tan skin, what concerns me as much, if not more, than acne is the scars that turn into permanent dark marks afterward. I’m seeing real results with the Rose Serum from Evan Healy — it’s really smoothing out scars on my skin that I thought were immovable. I also use a Green Tea serum from Urb Apothecary (http://www.urbapothecary.com/) that really keeps my skin feeling plump and resilient no matter how dry/oily/angry it gets.

  • Sally

    The thing that finally got rid of my back acne (besides being vegan for a few months which worked but I can’t do permanently because I love cheese too much): I figured out it was my conditioner, so I started using a shampoo that is not too clarifying so it doesn’t strip my hair (I use Aveda Shampure) and conditioning with a leave in conditioner after I get out of the shower. Back acne – vanished!

  • Simone Robert

    You guys are doing god’s work. Thanks for not making me feel like a freak because I’m 21 with the acne of a fourteen year old (oh, plus the premature wrinkles of a 28 year old because university is hard).

  • Mary Melinda Williams

    This is for the postmenopausal crowd…

    Keep up the good work, MR! I may be 57, but I know great style when I see it, and having open discussions about adult acne on this forum is not only wise, it could save someone a lot of money and despair. This article is an oldie but a goodie, and since I have insomnia tonight, I thought I’d reply this time.

    So, you can file this in your Odd Reply or Research files…

    I, too, was a sufferer of this plague. Teen pimples, hormonal breakouts, cystic acne, sensitive skin, contact allergies, and God as my witness I was allergic to my own sweat and birth control of the hormone variety.

    Bacterial breakouts, still happening even without hormones:

    Fast forward to Nov., 2016. I had picked up another facial bacterial infection that was isolated on my forehead. I refused to go on antibiotics again because I’m now allergic to a few of those, too, and that, my friend, is very dangerous. I had tried several products lasted by MR and commenters, but was either allergic or they over-dried my skin by several exponents.

    The product is Sentry Dog Wound Cream. We have a few adopted pets, and I had a variety of wound cleaners and lotions for post vet wound care. I noted that the ingredients on two products, same brand, were edible, (you know, pets) so really safe in small quantities. The key bacteria fighting ingredient is the same as on the towelettes you use before a pelvic exam, or on pre-surgical wipes, benzylkonium chloride (BC), but in a millimicro amount.
    I’m a retired scientist, and a former farmer’s daughter, so I’m not scared of much. I tried the liquid version first – and it worked! IT WORKED! And it worked overnight. Ba-bye infection.
    I’ve also had super dry skin since my oil glands quit, so I started using the lotion version, and it worked too! Add my organic argan oil (serum), and at 57, my skin is the best ever! I can finally say I love my skin without an eye roll. Oh, and I’m not wrinkling yet, if that helps with the research on acne sufferers and wrinkling later. Yessssss. I’ll take that small justice, tyvm.
    I know some human skin products have preservatives more harsh than BC, but I obviously don’t have a problem with it. And this guinea pig has problems with everything, including Clinique, so this is a miracle.
    I get a fresh, 4oz. bottle delivered to my doorstep via Amazon for under $4 every month so PetsMart doesn’t wonder what I’m up to. I use it everywhere. It heals my dry heels, elbows, knees, and hands. It’s a skin cure-all if you read the label, even ringworm.

    This may not be for everyone, certainly not for cystic acne, I wouldn’t think, but it should be in everyone’s medicine cabinet for your dog and you! Don’t forget most human pharmaceuticals began as vet pharmaceuticals, so no one get all judgy. 😉

  • Riley W

    My fav has always been Paula’s Choice 2% BHA gel. Every once in a while, when a bottle runs out, I’m like, “ehhh, I don’t really need this” and then I break out. I swear by this stuff.

  • Ana Angulo

    I have tried many products for the past two years for my hormonal acne, and dermalmd blemish serum is the only product that works. I received this as a sample in a beauty box and am so happy and grateful I did. I use this prior to putting on makeup over blemishes and at night after washing. A thin layer is all that is needed and is like magic- I wake up and the blemishes are gone.