Written by Grace Gallagher
Like unreciprocated crushes and embarrassing moments from third grade, acne is one of those things you expect to magically forget about when you enter adulthood.
But — not-so-spoiler alert — acne doesn’t just go away one day, never to be seen again.
While I vividly remember how I envied the clear-faced girls in my youth, research (and social media laments) shows that those gals may be experiencing breakouts in adulthood. Yep, 61.9% of people seeing doctors for acne are adults around age 25.
Called adult-onset acne, these skin changes may be spurred by clogged pores, bacteria, overproduction of oil and hormones.
Yep, there’s a whole kaleidoscope of possible causes, including pregnancy, progesterone-only birth control, normal monthly hormone fluctuations, dietary changes and even certain medications.
Even if you don’t feel stressed, your skin might be. You might’ve experienced the hell that is acne triggering more acne. And while adult acne tends to appear around the chin and jawline, the true horror plot of this story is that acne can show up anywhere.
So how do you get it back to normal?
Let’s face it: Your teen routine isn’t gonna cut it anymore. There’s a new world of skin care you need an introduction to. And who can help with that better than a professional?
I spoke with four skin care specialists to give you a sneak peek of exactly what they can help with. Peep at what they can do:
Streamline your way to the skin you want
You can take as many online quizzes as you want to determine your skin type or the cause of your acne, but the confidence you’ll gain from speaking with a professional is invaluable.
Fast-tracked, personalized treatment plan
“A professional will analyze your skin, then create a treatment plan for you,” said Dana Murray, a licensed esthetician with more than 15 years of experience. “We take into account your skin type, other skin conditions, if you are taking any medications, if you have any illnesses that could be related to your skin, your lifestyle, diet, and the climate you live in.”
Find the root cause
Licensed esthetician and popular skin care YouTuber Nayamka Roberts-Smith said: “A professional can sift through the madness. There are different types of acne (inflamed versus not inflamed, hormonal, cystic, comedonal), and it’s good to know the exact type you need to treat.”
Not all acne can be treated the same way, and a lot of success depends on the cause. In certain situations, you may also want to get your hormones checked.
Provide evidence via cumulative experience
“I’m always going to advocate for seeing a skin care professional, not only because I’m one but because it’s hard to trust the skin care market,” Roberts-Smith said. “Brands will sell a whole heap of ineffective products with really good marketing. Promises to ‘make pores disappear’ and ‘zap acne’ sound good but are often not trustworthy.”
This is partly because brands formulate their products to work for the majority. Without seeing an expert, you won’t know if that means you. A trained professional can home in on the ingredients your skin is asking for and recommend a specific product.
Can’t see an expert? Let’s help with that
Not everyone has the time or resources to see a specialist for acne. So the pros we spoke to generously offered some bona fide tips.
At the very least, figure out what type of acne you have. That will help narrow your treatment options.
“Salicylic acid (BHA) is a great choice if you have mostly clogged pores, blackheads or the occasional pimple,” Murray said. “It’s also great for people that are sensitive.
“Benzoyl peroxide, on the other hand, is best for inflammatory acne like cystic, whiteheads and oily skin types. Using a piece of ice to calm an inflamed pimple will be your best friend, too!”
Add to your arsenal
Licensed esthetician Ashley White recommends the following additional ingredients to keep acne in check and prevent it from coming back:
Retinoids: Normalize cell turnover, which helps reduce breakouts by preventing dead skin cells from clogging pores
Niacinamide: Powerhouse ingredient that improves epidermal barrier function and reduces sebum excretion rate (though it’s not FDA-approved for treating acne)
Sulfur: Certified acne treatment that absorbs excessive oil (Oral sulfa allergies are fairly common, so if you have any allergies, especially a sulfa allergy, it’s important to talk to your doc before using any products that contain sulfur.)
If you’ve tried these and haven’t seen results, you might want to talk to your doctor about birth control pills, topical or oral antibiotics or spironolactone (off-label). Severe and scarring acne may require oral isotretinoin.
The stress acne can cause is real. Just because topical treatments didn’t solve anything doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Trial and error is part of the process of finding what works.
Treating acne is rarely an overnight success story
None of the stages of acne — forming, purging, or clearing — happens overnight. When you think about it, if acne takes a few days to boil up, chances are it won’t go away in one day.
Ashley Curtis, an aesthetician with 13 years of experience, said, “Taking before and after pictures is a good pro-tip when adding new products into your regimen.”
It will help you notice results, and it can give you a baseline for what’s working and what isn’t.
Looking at your skin every day for immediate progress probably isn’t helping. A skin cycle takes about 28 days. Reaching your skin goals is very likely going to take three to four times that long.
Hormone changes via pills, cleansing through a routine or addressing internal needs through diet … it will all take time.