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Adult acne doesn’t need to ruin your life — here’s how to deal with it

Acne is far from a teenage problem. Millions of Brits suffer from this distressing skin condition in their thirties, forties and beyond. In some cases, someone who had clear skin throughout adolescence may develop adult acne much later in life.

More: Adult acne: What to do when your skin still thinks you’re a teen

The good news is that there are several treatment options:

Over-the-counter preparations

For mild acne, a topical treatment from the chemist is usually the first port of call. The wide range of active anti-acne agents include benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics (e.g. erythromycin, tetracycline and clindamycin), retinoids (e.g. tretinoin, isotretinoin and adapalene), azelaic acid and nicotinamide. Ask your pharmacist for advice and see your GP if they irritate your skin.

Contraceptive pill

According to Boots WebMD, oral contraceptives containing oestrogen (commonly known as the combined pill) may be effective treatments for acne, because they counteract the effect of male hormones (such as testosterone) on acne. To keep hormone levels constant take your pill continuously, rather than the typical three-weeks-on, one-week-off pattern. Oral contraceptives containing oestrogen include Yasmin, Dianette and Microgynon. In 2013 a new contraceptive pill, Zoely, became available in the U.K. “[Its] progesterone component has an anti-androgen that blocks testosterone, which can really help women who suffer from acne,” GP Dr. Rosemary Leonard told Yahoo! UK.

Retinol (vitamin A) cream

Retinoid was first approved as an acne treatment in 1971 and continues to be an effective remedy for some sufferers. A topical retinoid cream, such as Differin, applied sparingly at night and gradually built up from once a week (to avoid sensitivity) may be effective in treating adult acne.

Sugar-free diet

It’s unavoidable: if you want to improve your skin you have to sort out your diet. Often what you put into your body is just as — if not more — important than what you apply to your skin. Some experts recommend cutting out added sugars entirely for several months to see a reduction in acne breakouts. While there’s little evidence that a particular food “causes” acne, such as chocolate, there’s no doubt that your skin will benefit from a nutritious, balanced diet with plenty of water, fresh fruit and vegetables.


Zinc and B vitamins are often recommended for sufferers of adult acne. Zinc is believed to be good for skin and hormone health and B vitamins help reduce stress. “In response to stress, our bodies produce more androgens (a type of hormone),” says the American Academy of Dermatology. “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.”

Oral antibiotics

For moderate to severe acne, a course of oral antibiotics may be prescribed. Normally these are erythromycin or a type of tetracycline and may be taken in combination with a suitable topical treatment. Oral antibiotics should be taken for at least two months and are usually taken until there is no further improvement, for a minimum of six months. As with all medication it’s important to adhere to the guidelines.


A powerful and highly effective treatment for severe acne is Isotretinoin. However it has a number of serious potential side effects so it is only prescribed when all other treatment options have been exhausted, under the careful supervision of a consultant dermatologist and in accordance with the strict rules imposed by the government medicine safety agency (MHRA). Because it is so harmful to an unborn child, women being treated with Isotretinoin must enrol in a pregnancy prevention programme and have a negative pregnancy test before starting treatment. Pregnancy tests are repeated once a month during the course of the treatment and five weeks after completion. A typical course of Isotretinoin lasts for four months and the acne may become a little worse for a few weeks before improvement begins.

More: 5 Natural acne remedies that actually work

The most important thing to do when dealing with adult acne is be patient! It can take months for a treatment to improve the condition of your skin, depending on the severity of your acne. While you’re waiting for results, follow these self-care tips from the British Association of Dermatologists:

  • Keep your hands away from your skin. Picking or squeezing your spots is likely to aggravate them and may lead to scarring.
  • Make sure you are using your treatment correctly to get the maximum benefit. Try not to break your routine — consistency is important.
  • Some dryness or irritation when using certain topical treatments is normal. If your skin becomes red and inflamed by a product stop treatment for a few days. Try using it less often then building up use again gradually.
  • Go for makeup products that are oil-free or water-based and labelled as “non-comedogenic” (should not cause blackheads or whiteheads) or “non-acnegenic” (should not cause acne).
  • Be gentle with your skin at all times. Use a very mild soap, a gentle cleanser with water, or an oil-free soap substitute to cleanse and remove makeup. Avoid scrubbing too hard, which could irritate your skin and make your acne even worse.
Always seek the advice of a suitably qualified medical professional before embarking upon any treatment for acne. For more information about adult acne visit Acne Academy.

More: 11 Annoying suggestions acne sufferers don’t want to hear

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