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5 Ways to Avoid Adult Acne

Five ways to keep your skin from breaking out.

Woman admiring clear skin in the mirror.

Updated on July 7, 2023

As an adult, you may expect pimples to be a thing of the past. But for many of us, blemishes continue to appear. For some people, acne may be even worse in adulthood than in adolescence.

More than simply a cosmetic issue, acne can greatly affect your quality of life, no matter what your age or the severity of your condition. If you are battling recurring skin breakouts, finding a path to clearer skin can help improve your self-esteem and body image. 

There is no single adult-acne cause, and because of this, there is no surefire way to avoid it or control it. Acne is influenced by several factors, many of which are out of your control. But the way you treat your skin does play an important role. 

With a little know-how and by changing a few small behaviors, you can minimize or potentially eliminate occasional acne outbreaks on your face, back, shoulders, neck, chest, limbs, or elsewhere. 

1. Check your hair and skin products

Hair conditioners, gels, pomades, shaving products, cosmetics, moisturizers, sunscreens, and other products that contain oil can clog your pores and lead to a breakout. Simply switching to hair and skin products that don't clog pores—called "noncomedogenic"—could make a big difference in the appearance of your skin.

Check the labels on your hair and skin products to see if they are marked oil-free and noncomedogenic. Also, consider whether you truly need every product you use. Even products marked "dermatologist tested" can cause acne for some people. Minimizing the number of products you use may help further reduce outbreaks. And when you exercise, wear as little makeup as possible. Even oil-free and noncomedogenic cosmetics can clog pores if worn during heavy, sweaty exercise. 

2. Adopt a hands-off policy

Do you often rest your chin or cheeks in your hands or rub your nose? Doing so can encourage the growth of bacteria and lead to infection in the areas most inflamed by adult acne. Adopt a strict hands-off policy that holds for breakouts, too. Picking or squeezing can drive acne bacteria deeper into the skin, leading to more inflammation and possibly to permanent scarring. So, try to resist the temptation to touch. 

3. Don't let sweat stick around

Rinse off as soon as possible after you work out. Physical activity heats up the body, causing perspiration to mix with surface skin oils. Together, they trap substances in your pores. If a quick rinse isn't possible, towel off and change into dry clothes as soon as you can. Sitting around in sweaty clothes, especially if they are tight-fitting, can lead to acne on your chest, back, and other parts of the body. Also, avoid wearing tight headbands or hats that rub against your skin. If you wear a helmet or any other safety gear with straps, be sure to wash the straps frequently to reduce bacteria. 

4. Avoid overwashing and harsh scrubbing

Adult acne is not caused by dirt, so washing frequently with harsh substances such as alcohol-based products won't take care of the issue. In fact, it may worsen acne by prompting excess oil production and more blemishes. Be good to your skin by washing gently from under the jaw to the hairline with a mild soap once or twice a day. You might find that simply washing with lukewarm water and using clean hands rather than a washcloth works well for you. To avoid irritating or inflaming your skin, pat it dry—rather than rub it—with a soft towel. And be cautious when it comes to cleansing products that claim to be formulated for acne-prone skin, as these can leave skin dry and irritated. 

5. Lower your stress levels

When you're under stress, your body produces stress hormones such as cortisol, which can stimulate an overproduction of oil from the sebaceous glands in the skin. When this excess oil mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria, it can contribute to acne. If you’re regularly stressed, try to take short breaks throughout the day to stretch and practice deep breathing. Exercising regularly is another great way to ease anxiety and reduce stress. 

Start with simplicity

Most mild breakouts can be controlled with proper skin and body care. Start by focusing on the basic strategies mentioned here, keeping in mind that when it comes to skin care, simplicity is often the best solution. 

Keep up these healthy habits for a month or two, and if you still don't see any results, there may be other factors causing your skin to break out, such as: 

  • Hormonal changes (e.g., menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or starting or stopping birth control pills) 
  • Medication side effects 
  • An underlying health condition, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Allergic reactions to foods or cosmetics 
  • Genetics 

Talk to a healthcare provider or dermatologist about your potential adult acne causes, as well as treatment options. 

Article sources open article sources

Rocha MA, Bagatin E. Adult-onset acne: prevalence, impact, and management challenges. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2018 Feb 1;11:59-69. 
Zeichner JA, Baldwin HE, Cook-Bolden FE, et al. Emerging Issues in Adult Female Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017 Jan;10(1):37-46. Epub 2017 Jan 1.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Adult Acne. Accessed July 3, 2023.
Harvard Health Publishing. Adult acne: Understanding underlying causes and banishing breakouts. September 23, 2019.
Mayo Clinic. Acne. October 8, 2022.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. 9 Things to Try When Acne Won’t Clear. Last updated November 30, 2021.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. 10 Skin Care Habits That Can Worsen Acne. Accessed July 3, 2023.
Cleveland Clinic. Acne. Last reviewed January 4, 2023.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Got Adult Acne? Get Answers from an Expert. Accessed July 3, 2023.

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