Elizabeth Entenman
August 01, 2019 11:00 am
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

It happens to everyone: You wake up, saunter into the bathroom, and spot a big, angry zit staring back at you in the mirror. We all got pimples in our teens, but isn’t your skin supposed to clear up by your twenties and thirties? Unfortunately, adults can get acne well into their thirties, forties, and fifties—even if they didn’t have acne as a teenager. Le sigh.

The good news is that if you do experience adult acne, there are ways to clear it up and help prevent future breakouts. But first, you should know what causes (and exacerbates) it.

“The root causes of adult-onset acne are similar to teenage-onset acne, including excess oil production, clogged pores, bacteria, and inflammation,” Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, told HelloGiggles. “In adults, hormone fluctuations may have a significant impact on acne. Hormonal acne may be triggered by menstrual periods and menopause due to fluctuations in hormone levels with higher relative levels of androgen. These hormonal fluctuations can stimulate more oil production in the skin, leading to breakouts.”

But hormones aren’t the only things that can trigger or aggravate adult acne. Dr. Chang says that other common triggers can include stress, diet, and even certain types of skin care products you may be using.

Fortunately, adult acne is treatable. Here are some of Dr. Chang’s top product recommendations to fight adult acne—and how each one can help you. She notes that everyone has different types of acne, different causes, and different skin sensitivities, so be sure to tailor your skin care regimen to your own specific needs:

1La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment

La Roche-Posay

“Benzoyl peroxide has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that can help treat the inflammation and kill bacteria-causing acne, thereby improving the red acne bumps.”

2Murad Clarifying Cleanser


“Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that helps remove the top layer of the skin and increase skin cell turnover. It helps clear out the pores, thereby decreasing whiteheads and blackheads. Salicylic acid is effective to treat mild, comedonal acne.”

3Differin Adapalene Gel


“Topical retinoids increase skin cell turnover to de-clog pores and decrease inflammation. Topical retinoids also improve resulting acne scarring by stimulating collagen production and reducing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”

4The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil

The Body Shop

“Tea tree oil is a more ‘natural’ product that is known to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used to help improve mild acne in patients with more sensitive skin.”

5The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

The Ordinary

“Niacinamide is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that can help calm down mild acne.”