How To Combat Adult Acne With Age-Appropriate Skincare

By Janetta Mackay
Pesky spots can affect those with mature skins, too. Here's how to combat acne as an adult. Photo / Getty Images

Grown women are increasingly seeking help for a skin condition that is most often associated with teens. They might not even have had bad skin in their younger years, but as adults issues with acne flare up. This can hit anytime from the 20s, through the decades, right up into menopause. The phenomenon is now so common, it is referred to as adult acne, and it needs a different approach to that for teenage skin troubles.

“It’s usually more complex, with ageing, dehydration and discolouration all being issues, not just bacterial breakouts, explains Emma Hobson, director of education for skincare brand Dermalogica across Asia Pacific. Because of this, treatments need to tackle a wider range of concerns, so ingredients differ from those that focus primarily on clearing out oil-clogged younger pores.

One particular worry in mature skin is scarring, says Tracey Pedersen, Clinique’s education manager in New Zealand. Adult skin is slower to heal than younger skin, so marks from acne can take longer to clear and prove harder to budge. This makes using good sun protection doubly relevant. “Sun is the number one ager and skin that is compromised with blemishes is more receptive to damage from the sun,” she says.

Post-inflammatory hyper pigmentation in adult skin makes it look older still, says Emma. “Ageing is as much about tone and colour as it is about wrinkles and texture, and fillers can’t fix that.”

Exactly why adult acne is worsening is hard to pinpoint. “It’s on the rise and a global concern for dermatologists,” says Tracey. Lifestyle factors, stress, even exposure to certain foods, could all be modern-day contributors. Emma says hormones also play a role, including in the sometimes difficult lead-in years to menopause, when skin woes can perplexingly break out and persist, even in women who have had a lifetime of clear complexions. I’m in that category, experiencing for the first time mangy patches on my chin, which previously has been unblemished, the odd “period pimple” excepted.

Women are five times more likely than men to get adult acne, Emma says. It tends to strike on the chin (yes, indeed) and neck and sometimes the chest can show darkening, whereas in teenage girls acne is more common on the T-zone.

The best treatments focus on safeguarding the skin’s condition, so should not be unduly harsh. Don’t resort to some of the “stripping” over-the-counter and online products marketed at younger people. As Emma puts it: “You want to kill bad bacteria, but keep the good, by safeguarding the skin’s microbiome.” This will help preserve skin’s own lipids and peptides and the right age-appropriate ingredients will assist in activating skin’s natural defences


(From left) Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Blemish + Line Correcting Serum; Cane & Austin Glycolic Gelee Mask and Cleanser; Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser. Photos / Supplied
(From left) Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Blemish + Line Correcting Serum; Cane & Austin Glycolic Gelee Mask and Cleanser; Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser. Photos / Supplied

Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Blemish + Line Correcting Serum $76
Developed for those dealing with breakouts along with signs of lines and wrinkles, this hydrating formula helps clear acne while other ingredients support skin plumping. (A separate Clinique range offers the Dark Spot Corrector and Optimizer serum, $128, for adults more concerned with existing marks than with signs of ageing). To use, apply a few drops of the serum onto cleansed, dry skin twice a day. Best supported by a regimen to double cleanse, using a makeup-removing balm first, then your choice of the Anti-Blemish range's foam or gel, followed by its clarifying lotion to exfoliate gently, then the All Over Clearing Treatment lightweight moisturiser, $40. From selected department stores and pharmacies.

Cane & Austin Glycolic Gelee Mask and Cleanser $66
This soothing green algae multi-tasker manages to cleanse without disrupting the skin's moisture barrier while also exfoliating and brightening. Massage in and rinse off daily, or leave it on for five to 10 minutes several times a week for a more intense effect to refine pores and target pigmentation. Another double duty product from this up-to-the-minute American dermatologist developed brand is a retexturising scrub for body and face. From selected department stores, and

Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser $26
This good-value range is renowned for its overnight spot Drying Lotion, $29, but its soothing wash with chamomile and aloe vera extract is well worth a look too, being armed also with skin-clearing salicylic acid. Continue the calming with Cucumber Lotion.

(From left) Dermalogica Active Clearing Age Bright Serum; Bare Minerals Blemish Rescue Anti-Redness Mattifying Primer; Essano Clear Complexion Purifying Gel Cleanser. Photos / Supplied
(From left) Dermalogica Active Clearing Age Bright Serum; Bare Minerals Blemish Rescue Anti-Redness Mattifying Primer; Essano Clear Complexion Purifying Gel Cleanser. Photos / Supplied

Dermalogica Active Clearing Age Bright Serum $130
This new serum and a new targeted spot fader, $90, supplement the existing Active Clearing range, which includes a wash (with skin clarifying salicylic acid) and a sebum clearing mask. The serum has a complex to help clear and brighten skin, which includes vitamin B3 or niacinamide. All four vegan and cruelty free products are designed to dovetail with the wider Dermalogica range, so you can double cleanse, exfoliate and find a choice of moisturisers, including with sun protection. Clear Start is a separate line best suited for teenagers. From Dermalogica skin centres, department stores and Life pharmacies, see

Bare Minerals Blemish Rescue Anti-Redness Mattifying Primer $45
Wearing makeup with troubled skin can be tricky. Best choose carefully and cleanse well. This gel-lotion primer helps heal while also covering imperfections thanks to green mineral pigments to counteract redness. Arnica and chamomile soothe stressed skin while zinc, sulphur and clay refine pores and a plant complex strengthens defences.

Essano Clear Complexion Purifying Gel Cleanser $15
This local acne range stands out in the grocery sector for being both natural and economical. The cleanser is a soap-free gel that will help balance oily, congested skin without stripping it. There's a mist toner, moisturiser and spot gel, with the top-priced item being a serum at $30. From selected supermarkets.

New Logic starter kit. Photo / Supplied
New Logic starter kit. Photo / Supplied

New Logic starter kit $99
This New Zealand developed acne treatment range uses milk proteins to form an invisible scaffold for skincare. Innovative bio-tech with a patent pending sees structurally modified protein fibrils hold active ingredients in place for longer to better target ingredient release. These ingredients include glycolic acid, manuka honey and kawakawa, with the soothing bio-actives helping support repair, so skin condition as well as acne clearing is targeted. The kit of products comprises a foaming cleanser, a spot gel, an overnight serum and an oil-free moisturiser. Items may be bought individually. From selected pharmacies, or see

Asap Clear Complexion Gel $59
This clean cosmeceutical company from Australia does a well-regarded line powered by fruit acids to turnover surface detritus. The soothing gel will help clear congestion and improve tone. Buy it separately or as part of a starter kit with cleanser, scrub and moisturiser.

Ren Clear Calm 3 Replenishing Gel Cream $64
This light moisturiser also eases inflammation and minimises the look of pores. It's also a natural calming choice for those suffering from breakouts and blemishes who want to deter signs of premature ageing.

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