Thought you were beyond breakouts? Insider tips on dealing with adult acne

Oct 18, 2012 at 3:45 p.m. ET

Adult acne is a horror show, no doubt about it. Hey, having acne at any age really blows. You're thinking to yourself, I already went through puberty and not-so-great skin! Well, guess what? It's back. And, if you have adult acne, you've got company and plenty of it. Can you believe an estimated 17 million U.S. adults are battling breakouts just like you?

Woman touching her face

Adult acne is a systemic issue, and the best approach for systemic skin conditions is a holistic one — and that means taking into account your entire system. While that sounds overwhelming, I promise it's not. There are many healthful, natural ways to help clear and balance (that's the key word here) your skin.


Let's start with lifestyle. Stressed? Of course you are! Do your best to keep it under control (easier said than done, I know!). Stress raises cortisol levels, triggering oil production and inflammation (inflammation is one of the top three causes of acne). With chronic stress comes chronic acne. So do yourself (and your skin) a favor, and find a de-stressing technique that works for you. Other lifestyle tips:

  • Sounds like, duh! But keep up good grooming habits!
  • Don't drink or smoke if you want to get rid of your acne… it's as simple as that.


Nutrition has an enormous impact on the health of your skin. Here is my recommended dietary attack for adult acne:

  • Cut out simple carbs and increase your protein intake — simple carbohydrates are metabolized as sugar and can radically affect hormonal balance, while whole grains and lean proteins can prevent breakouts.
  • Green food supplements — chlorophyll, spirulina and barley greens, not to mention juicing — can help filter out toxins and strengthen your system.
  • I can't stress how important it is to take a daily probiotic supplement to enable your digestive tract to work at its best, which in turn strengthens your immune system and, in turn, then improves your complexion.
  • B1 — Asparagus, brown rice, beans, whole grains and eggs: all greatly help in reducing whiteheads. Also, if you see chronic or numerous whiteheads, you may have a B1 deficiency or absorption problem.
  • Vitamin A — Eggs, spinach, kale and sweet potatoes are all high in this vitamin, which is essential for helping skin repair itself as well as eliminating raised spots and blackheads.
  • Zinc — Sesame seeds, tahini, dark chocolate and peanuts: a deficiency of zinc can promote acne. Zinc also helps reduce bacteria and inflammation, dries out oil glands and reduces blemishes by at least 35 percent over time.

Skin care

Now that you know what's best to put in your body, let's tackle the best skin care options:

  • This is true for all skin types, but I'm talking to you, adult acne sufferers: Don't be afraid of facial oils! Our skin is composed of oil and to balance oil production properly, we need high quality oils in the right quantity. If we avoid oil and use "oil-free" products, our skin will reward us with plentiful blemishes. The body is in a constant fight for balance. And if you cut out the oil, it will overproduce it in response!
  • Exfoliate! If you are irritated or red, you may use a natural "chemical" exfoliant like a peel, if not, use a manual exfoliant, gently and often, to clear pores, even tone and reduce blemishes, especially white and blackheads.
  • Do use a concentrated toner that contains real anti-inflammatory agents, vitamin C and ingredients that work.
  • Do use a moisturizer (not an oil-free one) geared toward balancing the oils of the skin.
  • Look for the following botanicals and cosmeceuticals: retinol, vitamin A, white willow bark (a natural salicylic acid — but look for a high potency product), vitamin C (choose stable, non-irritating liposome/peptide forms of delivery), goldenseal, echinacea and sebum-mimicking jojoba oil.

And, most importantly, as with any systemic or tricky skin care issue, the name of the game is DILIGENCE. Stick to one regimen for at least three months and try to be patient while your skin responds. Very often you will go through a detoxification period, which is good. Blemishes that never come through the skin become bumps, known as "milia," and those will have to be lanced by a pro if you ever want to be rid of them. Best to allow the skin its normal detox process of allowing a blemish to pop out and go bye-bye, forever!


Blemishes are a normal part of the start of new skin regimen that's doing what it's supposed to be doing, but that doesn't mean you have to like them! So here's my tried-and-true blemish covering routine. The first step is to treat your skin (exfoliate, cleanse, tone, use a medicated serum and moisturize). Now you're ready to conceal:

  • Find a concealer with active ingredients that treat your blemishing rather than just cover up the color. You want to know that you aren't clogging your pores, but actually treating your skin while covering up your blemish!
  • Find a concealer with a slightly pinkish tone to first match the tone of your blemish, brighten the area and neutralize any discoloration, sort of fooling any viewer into thinking you have no blemishes!
  • Next, cover the area with a creamy concealer in a yellowish tone that covers up the entire area, blending flawlessly into your own skin tone.
  • Best last step — finish with a makeup "setter" — the best natural form of this being a loose or pressed powder in a translucent color. This will set the whole thing and keep your work looking fresh as long as possible.
  • Of course, it's important to wash your hands and keep your tools clean so you don't unnecessarily spread bacteria. Clean your tools with hot soap and water preferably after each use (keep at least a couple of each brush on hand for just this reason).

Now live your life and don't worry! More often than not, we are the only people that even KNOW we have the blemishes we do! Enjoy!

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