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Acne can be particularly frustrating for adults. A treatment that worked so well during our teen years can be useless — or make acne worse. If this happens, you may wonder whether those blemishes really are acne. After all, do adults get acne?

Do I have Adult Acne or Rosacea?

Redness and breakouts on your face could mean that you have acne, but not always. A skin condition called rosacea can cause acne-like breakouts and redness. Please consult with your doctor to get a firm diagnosis.

Why Do Adults Get Acne?

Some adults continue to get acne well into their thirties, forties, and even fiftiess. It is even possible to get acne for the first time as an adult. Dermatologists call this “adult-onset acne.” It is most common among women going through menopause.

Women tend to get adult acne more often than men do. If you’re getting acne as an adult, it is likely due to one or more of the following reasons:

Fluctuating hormone levels: An imbalance can lead to breakouts.

Women often experience fluctuating hormones: 

  • Around their periods 
  • During pregnancy, peri-menopause, and menopause
  • After discontinuing (or starting) birth control pills 


Researchers have found a relationship between stress and acne flare-ups. In response to stress, our bodies produce more androgens (a type of hormone). These hormones stimulate the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, which can lead to acne. This explains why acne can be an ongoing problem when we find ourselves under constant stress.

Family history

Does a close blood relative, such as a parent, brother, or sister have acne? Findings from research studies suggest that some people may have a genetic predisposition for acne. People who have this predisposition seem more likely to get adult acne.

Hair and skin care products

If you have adult acne, you should read the labels on your skin care and hair care products. Make sure that you see one of the following terms on every container:

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

You want to make sure your moisturizer, cleanser, sunscreen, and all other products contain one of these terms. These products are least likely to cause acne. Note: Synthetic oils can be the biggest culprit of acne. Natural oils can in fact help reduce it (see treatments section later in this article).

Medication side effect

Acne is a side effect of some medicines. If you suspect that a medicine is triggering your acne or making it worse, continue taking the medicine — but talk with the doctor who prescribed it. Ask if acne is a possible side effect. If acne is a possible side effect, ask if you can take a different medicine. If you cannot take another medicine, you may want to see a dermatologist who can help you control the acne.

Demodex Mites

It is no coincidence that people who suffer from severe acne as teenagers go on to suffer from adult acne when they get older.

The Demodex folliculorum mite is a type of parasite that lives on humans. Most of the time, these mites are harmless and will go unnoticed. However, larger numbers of D. folliculorum mites can cause unwanted symptoms and skin problems. Often these mites die and decompose inside the sebaceous glands and hair follicles leading to bacterial infections and pimples and cysts.

D. folliculorum mites are more common in males than in females, with people aged 20–30 years old the most likely to be affected.

D. folliculorum mites are usually harmless but can cause problems for people with weakened immune systems.

Therefore, people at risk of experiencing symptoms include those who:

  • are taking corticosteroids, such as prednisone
  • have a history of cancer or liver disease
  • are living with HIV

Some other people may be genetically susceptible to D. folliculorum and thus more sensitive to the presence of the mites.

Also, D. folliculorum mites are sometimes present in greater numbers in people with certain skin conditions such as adult acne.

A doctor will start the diagnosis of D. folliculorum by taking a medical history and examining the skin.

The mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye, so the doctor will usually do a skin biopsy. This involves taking a sample of the skin and examining it under a microscope.

It is important to determine the quantity of mites living on the skin. A small number of mites is unlikely to be the cause of an individual’s skin problems.

Effective treatments available for adult acne

Although it’s tempting don’t touch your acne as it can spread to other areas of your skin easily through touch. Also, popping pimples can cause acne scars and pits so it is better to leave them alone as this will be better for your skin in the long term. Treatment for acne depends on how severe it is. It can take several months of treatment before acne symptoms improve.

If you just have a few blackheads, whiteheads and spots, a pharmacist should be able to advise you on how to treat them successfully with over-the-counter gels or creams (topical treatments) that contain benzoyl peroxide.

Treatments from your GP

See your GP if your acne is moderate or severe, or over-the-counter medicine hasn’t worked, as you probably need prescription medication
If your GP feels this is appropriate and a condition they are unable to manage, they will refer you to your local NHS dermatology department. If you have private healthcare, you can also request referral from your GP to a private dermatologist for review of your skin.

Prescription medications that can be used to treat acne include:

If you have severe acne, your GP can refer you to an expert in treating skin conditions (dermatologist).

For example, if you have:

  • a large number of papules and pustules on your chest and back, as well as your face
  • painful nodules
  • scarring, or are at risk of scarring

A combination of antibiotic tablets and topical treatments is usually the first treatment option for severe acne.

If this doesn’t work, a medication called isotretinoin may be prescribed.

Hormonal therapies or the combined oral contraceptive pill can also be effective in women who have acne.

But the progestogen-only pill or contraceptive implant can sometimes make acne worse.

Many of these treatments can take 2 to 3 months before they start to work.

It’s important to be patient and persist with a recommended treatment, even if there’s no immediate effect.

Topical treatments (gels, creams and lotions)

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide works as an antiseptic to reduce the number of bacteria on the surface of the skin.

It also helps to reduce the number of whiteheads and blackheads, and has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Benzoyl peroxide is usually available as a cream or gel. It’s used either once or twice a day.

It should be applied 20 minutes after washing to all of the parts of your face affected by acne.

It should be used sparingly, as too much can irritate your skin. It also makes your face more sensitive to sunlight, so avoid too much sun and ultraviolet (UV) light, or wear sun cream.

Benzoyl peroxide can have a bleaching effect, so avoid getting it on your hair or clothes.

Common side effects of benzoyl peroxide include:

  • dry and tense skin
  • a burning, itching or stinging sensation
  • some redness and peeling of the skin

Side effects are usually mild and should pass once the treatment has finished.

Most people need a 6-week course of treatment to clear most or all of their acne.

You may be advised to continue treatment less frequently to prevent acne returning.

Topical retinoids

Topical retinoids work by removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin (exfoliating), which helps to prevent them building up within hair follicles.

Tretinoin and adapalene are topical retinoids used to treat acne. They’re available in a gel or cream and are usually applied once a day before you go to bed.

Apply to all the parts of your face affected by acne 20 minutes after washing your face.

It’s important to apply topical retinoids sparingly and avoid excessive exposure to sunlight and UV.

Topical retinoids aren’t suitable for use during pregnancy, as there’s a risk they might cause birth defects.

The most common side effects of topical retinoids are mild irritation and stinging of the skin.

A 6-week course is usually required, but you may be advised to continue using the medication less frequently after this.

Topical antibiotics

Topical antibiotics help kill the bacteria on the skin that can infect plugged hair follicles. They’re available as a lotion or gel that’s applied once or twice a day.

A 6- to 8-week course is usually recommended. After this, treatment is usually stopped, as there’s a risk that the bacteria on your face could become resistant to the antibiotics.

This could make your acne worse and cause additional infections.

Side effects are uncommon, but can include:

  • minor irritation of the skin
  • redness and burning of the skin
  • peeling of the skin

Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid is often used as an alternative treatment for acne if the side effects of benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids are particularly irritating or painful.

Azelaic acid works by getting rid of dead skin and killing bacteria. It’s available as a cream or gel and is usually applied twice a day (or once a day if your skin is particularly sensitive).

The medication doesn’t make your skin sensitive to sunlight, so you don’t have to avoid exposure to the sun.

You’ll usually need to use azelaic acid for a month before your acne improves.

The side effects of azelaic acid are usually mild and include:

  • burning or stinging skin
  • itchiness
  • dry skin
  • redness of the skin

Antibiotic tablets

Antibiotic tablets (oral antibiotics) are usually used in combination with a topical treatment to treat more severe acne.

In most cases, a class of antibiotics called tetracyclines is prescribed, unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Pregnant or breastfeeding women are usually advised to take an antibiotic called erythromycin, which is known to be safer to use.

It usually takes about 6 weeks before you notice an improvement in your acne.

Depending on how well you react to the treatment, a course of oral antibiotics can last 4 to 6 months.

Tetracyclines can make your skin sensitive to sunlight and UV light, and can also make the oral contraceptive pill less effective during the first few weeks of treatment.

You’ll need to use an alternative method of contraception, such as condoms, during this time.

Hormonal therapies

Hormonal therapies can often benefit women with acne, especially if the acne flares up around periods or is associated with hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

If you don’t already use it, your GP may recommend the combined oral contraceptive pill, even if you’re not sexually active.

This combined pill can often help improve acne in women, but may take up to a year before the full benefits are seen.


Co-cyprindiol is a hormonal treatment that can be used for more severe acne that doesn’t respond to antibiotics. It helps to reduce the production of sebum.

You’ll probably have to use co-cyprindiol for 2 to 6 months before you notice a significant improvement in your acne.

There’s a small risk that women taking co-cyprindiol may develop breast cancer in later life.

For example, out of a group of 10,000 women who haven’t taken co-cyprindiol, you would expect 16 of them to develop breast cancer by the time they were 35.

This figure rises to 17 or 18 for women who were treated with co-cyprindiol for at least 5 years in their early 20s.

There’s also a very small chance of co-cyprindiol causing a blood clot. The risk is estimated to be around 1 in 2,500 in any given year.

It’s not thought to be safe to take co-cyprindiol if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Women may need to have a pregnancy test before treatment can begin.

Other side effects of co-cyprindiol include:

  • bleeding and spotting between your periods, which can sometimes occur for the first few months
  • headaches
  • sore breasts
  • mood changes
  • loss of interest in sex
  • weight gain or weight loss

Non-pharmaceutical treatments

Several treatments for acne don’t involve medication.

These include:

  • comedone extractor – a small pen-shaped instrument that can be used to clean out blackheads and whiteheads
  • chemical peels – where a chemical solution is applied to the face, causing the skin to peel off and new skin to replace it
  • photodynamic therapy – where light is applied to the skin in an attempt to improve symptoms of acne
  • blue and red lighttherapy kills acne-causing bacteria without damaging the skin

But these treatments may not work and can’t be routinely recommended.

Natural Treatment for Acne


Exfoliation is the most important thing you can do on a regular basis to be fighting acne both in terms of preventing it and treating it. However don’t overdo it as you may cause further irritation.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is the gold standard of acne treatment. It’s also called a beta-hydroxy acid. Salicylic works by exfoliating gently to unclog pores. It’s in a ton of OTC cleansers and spot treatments, and it’s gentle enough to use on your whole face. It is also found naturally in Aloe Vera and White Willow bark.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic Acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid and an exfoliating ingredient that targets both acne and wrinkles at the same time. Lemon Oil contains glycolic acid.


As a topical acne treatment, sulfur works similarly to benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. But unlike these other acne-fighting ingredients, sulfur tends to be gentler on your skin.

Sulfur helps dry out the surface of your skin to help absorb excess oil (sebum) that may contribute to acne breakouts. It also dries out dead skin cells to help unclog your pores.

Sulfur works best for breakouts that are formed with a combination of dead skin cells and excess sebum. These include milder forms of acne, such as whiteheads and blackheads.

Still, it’s important to bear in mind that results can vary between users. It also might work on some breakouts, but not on others. The first step is to determine what type of acne you have. Then you can talk to your dermatologist about whether sulfur is right for you.

There are many face masks on the market that contain sulfur.

Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil is similar to your skins natural oils therefore it tricks your sebaceous glands into producing less oil, thereby regulating oil production.

Furthermore because jojoba oil does not clog your pores it does not cause acne. Jojoba oil also dissolves hardened sebum therefore unclogs blocked pores.

Excess oil production is one of the main causes of acne. Jojoba oil is an excellent moisturiser that is quickly absorbed into the skin without any greasy effect.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil has been scientifically proven to kill the demodex mites that can cause adult acne. Our Teenage Dream Cream and Teenage Dream Treatment contain just the right concentration of tea tree oil to be effective for this purpose.

Natural Trans-retinoic acid 

Natural Trans-retinoic acid – Is a natural form of vitamin A, naturally found in Rosehip oil. This can help reduce and eliminate acne.

Essential Oils

Lavender Oil 

Studies have shown that lavender oil is cytophylactic.

Cytophylactic oils are especially beneficial in skin care and stimulate the generation of new cells, which will aid in preserving the health of the skin.

It is also an astringent which induces contractions in the skin, closing pores, toning and firming the skin, which can squeeze excess oil from the pores.

It is a powerful cicatrisant, so it helps the scars and other spots on the skin to fade and vanish.

Lavender oil kills bacteria associated with acne and also reduces inflammation which causes the redness associated with spots.

East Cape Manuka Oil

Manuka oil contains a high concentration of antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and studies have shown that it inhibits more than 80 species of bacteria.

Bacteria is one of the main causes of acne. Also, because it can reduce inflammation, it can reduce the redness associated with acne.

East Cape manuka oil has 20 to 30 times the anti-bacterial potency of tea tree oil, which in itself is an effective anti-bacterial.

Geranium Oil

On the skin, geranium oil helps to balance the secretion of sebum and clears sluggish and oily skins.

It is also an astringent which shrinks and tightens pores, squeezing excess oil from them.

Chamomile Oil

Studies have shown that chamomile oil is cicatrisant, so it helps the scars and other spots on the skin to fade and vanish.

Chamomile oil is anti-bacterial and is therefore beneficial for acne and it also reduces inflammation which causes the redness associated with spots.

Aloe Vera Extract 

This contains salicylic acid which removes dead skin cells and dissolves them, unblocking pores.

Salicylic acid is one of the best ingredients to get rid of acne. The cells in the lining of the hair follicles of people prone to acne tend to replicate very fast, and stick to each other.

It works by causing the epidermal cells to shed properly. Actually, its main function is to dissolve this cement that holds those cells adhered together in the clogged pores.

Simply put, salicylic acid aids in the process of exfoliation by eliminating surface skin cells and opening up pores. This reduces the number of pore blockages and breakouts on the skin.

Moreover, salicylic acid plays an important role not only in treating acne on the surface of the skin, but also when it penetrated the skin.

The skin produces oil. Salicylic acid has ability to dissolve some of the skin’s natural oils.

Moreover, it has been found to help break down blackheads and whiteheads and promote the skin in expelling waste matter that was previously held inside the follicles.

Salicylic acid also reduces the inflammation and redness associated with acne.

White Willow Bark Extract

In vitro tests have shown Willow Bark Extract to have activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Propionibacterium acnes, the two strains of bacteria implicated in the formation of acne.

Willow bark extract is a source of natural salicylic acid-like ingredients which has been shown to contribute effects similar to those seen from synthetic salicylic acid.

Salicylic acid removes dead skin cells and dissolves them, unblocking pores. Salicylic acid is one of the best ingredients to get rid of acne.

Moreover, salicylic acid plays an important role not only in treating acne on the surface of the skin, but also when it penetrated the skin.

The skin produces oil. Salicylic acid has ability to dissolve some of the skin’s natural oils.

Moreover, it has been found to help break down blackheads and whiteheads and promote the skin in expelling waste matter that was previously held inside the follicles.

Salicylic acid also reduces the inflammation and redness associated with acne.

Lemon Oil

Lemon oil balances over active sebaceous glands, helps clear acne, and encourages the exfoliation of dead skin cells, thereby unclogging blocked pores (one of the main causes of acne).

It is anti-bacterial therefore it is extremely beneficial for getting rid of acne. It is also an astringent which induces contractions in the skin, closing pores and squeezing out excess oil.

Raw Honey

Blackheads, or open comedones, appear when the sebum and dead skin cells in a clogged pore oxidise in air and turn dark.

Perceptible in larger pores, open comedones can also widen small pores permanently.

A natural anti-microbial, the power of honey to promote healthy skin is well documented and scientifically proven.

It is extensively used on the skin in hospitals for its anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties and its anti-acne properties mean it helps to keep pores unblocked.

Therefore, minimising the appearance of enlarged pores.

Honey is also effective at washing away excess oil from your skin. When your skin is less oily, larger pores are less noticeable since oil usually collects around the pores.

Honey also reduces inflammation. Reducing inflammation can visibly reduce the size of pores and make them less noticeable.

It naturally contains acids, which aid in the clearing of old, dead skin cells, again unblocking pores.

Dead Sea Salt

Dead Sea salts have antimicrobial properties that can provide therapeutic benefits to individuals, states the May 2006 issue of the “International Journal of Dermatology.”

Israeli researchers placed soil samples containing Dead Sea salt in petri dishes, along with various bacteria populations.

They found that the mud inhibited the growth of candida and propionibacterium, even after being sterilised with gamma radiation.

They concluded that the chemical make-up of the salts provided microbial protection. Bacteria is one of the main causes of acne.

The magnesium in Dead Sea salt moisturises the skin, according to the February 2005 issue of the “International Journal of Dermatology.”

Swiss researchers exposed volunteers with atopic dry skin to Dead Sea salt baths for six weeks. Bathing significantly improved skin hydration, skin texture and skin tone.

Researchers concluded the magnesium in the salts was responsible, since the chemical is known to bind water to the skin, promote skin cell growth and improve skin permeability.

Therefore dead sea salt can heal acne scars.

Calendula Extract

Several studies have shown that calendula extract has amazing anti-inflammatory properties.

Calendula also balances skin tone by increasing sebum production in dry areas and reducing excessive sebum production in oily areas. It is also anti-bacterial.


A tip found on many websites is that toothpaste can dry up individual spots. While toothpaste does contain antibacterial substances, it also contains substances that can irritate and damage your skin.

The information above is for educational purposes only. We do not advocate the use of any products recommended in this article except our own and we are firmly against products containing artificial ingredients, those which are tested on animals, and those produced by companies who still carry out animal testing outside of the EU. 

Please always seek advice from your doctor before undertaking any new treatment.


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