Battling Adult Acne

adult acne

Adult acne is a cruel joke. The term itself implies that it’s different than just plain “acne.” For some reason I thought if I made it through my teen years unscathed, I would be in the clear. I was wrong. I’m not even sure why it started happening. It wasn’t triggered by pregnancy or postpartum hormones, and I never had bad teenage skin. But when I was about 25 years old, I hit a second puberty. I don’t know if it was quitting birth control pills or a combination of stress, anxiety, and a new environment, but my skin turned on me. I had clogged pores and cysts that would stay for months, and my face was a wreck. It hurt to look at me. It literally hurt to be me! My face was sore, and I avoided eye contact just because I was so embarrassed by the state of my skin. I was desperate and began my long search for the holy grail of skin remedies.

From 2006 to 2007, my skin went from glowing to gruesome.
From 2006 to 2007, my skin went from glowing to gruesome.

I tried just about every over-the-counter remedy, and when that didn’t work, I turned to higher-end products, dermabrasion, and facials. I even tried the “Zeno,” the hand-held device that sends an electronic pulse to stop pimples dead in their tracks. It didn’t work for me. Proactiv worked initially but seemed to lose its effect over time. I went to a dermatologist and was prescribed oral antibiotics. Still having issues, I was prescribed topical chemicals like Retin-A, Tazorac, and Duac cream. When those stopped working, I turned to natural remedies. Glam Glow masks, willow bark and others just seemed to make my skin oilier. I tried oil cleansing, lemon juice, and yogurt masks. You pinned it, I tried it. I did a GAPs diet for a month and tried a Clarasonic. I scoured the internet for an answer. I tried birth control pills—again—which backfired. Pills that had once given me glowing skin now made my skin erupt. I was prescribed a blood pressure medication with a side effect of lowered testosterone, but I was too chicken to try it. No, I haven’t tried Accutane. I know it has done wonders for some, but I’m not ready to take that plunge.

Just recently, my skin has become manageable. While my skin is far from perfect, it doesn’t look a topographic map all the time. I now have a multi-faceted approach, which is much like a game of Jenga: if I ignore or forget one step in my routine, everything can topple down. Here are my tips to eliminate cystic acne:

Stop touching your face. Seriously. I don’t know if anything good can come from touching your face. If you have a cyst, I recommend using a hot compress for 15 minutes twice a day, and treating with Mario Badescu Drying Lotion at night. In an attempt to touch my face even less, I love to use an EcoTools Foundation brush that I can wash every day.

Image from
Image from

Get enough sleep. I noticed I started getting little bumps on my forehead after changing my work schedule. I looked up face mapping and discovered that forehead breakouts can be attributed to lack of sleep. A good night’s rest is more important to your skin’s health than you may realize. While you sleep, your skin absorbs whatever you decide to use in your nighttime regimen.

Watch what you eat. I was in denial. I did not want to believe that my diet affected my skin. A few months ago, however, I started a 90-day fitness program that came with a meal plan. Most dairy and processed foods were off limits. (I’ve heard skim milk can wreak havoc on your skin!) I was eating very basic recipes with unprocessed ingredients and lots of protein and vegetables and drinking close to a gallon of water a day. I haven’t had a cyst since.

Maybe it’s your makeup. Some products make my skin break out. I love Revlon Colorstay Foundation for oily skin, but I cannot use the Colorstay blush. If I do, my pores clog, and I have a shiny new cluster of pimples within a week. Don’t try a bunch of new products at the same time; change them out one at at time like an elimination diet.

Maybe it’s not your makeup. A lot of people think that washing your face and not using any makeup will clear up skin problems. I actually notice that when I don’t wear makeup, my skin gets oilier, and I tend to touch my face more. Makeup isn’t always the bad guy.

Keep trying. I found some of my favorite products by trial and error, and they aren’t all part of the same skin care line. For example, I wash my face with Avalon Organics Vitamin C Cleanser, tone with Step 2 from Target Brand Proactiv, treat with Step 3 about every other day, and spot treat with Mario Badescu Drying Lotion. I use Clarasonic’s Non-drying Mask just about every day. I can leave it on for hours, and it doesn’t irritate my skin—it actually works better the longer I leave it on. Don’t feel like you have to use one product line or all of the steps if they don’t work.

Image from

Be consistent. Doing all of these things consistently has really improved my skin. If I skip one step or fall asleep with my makeup on, in about a week’s time I will see the consequences. Just like Katy mentioned in her blog post, invest in your nighttime routine, as your skin repairs a lot while you sleep. And as with a lot of medications, you shouldn’t stop them once you see improvement. Keep following your regimen to see the long-term benefits. Sometimes I think I can pull back on “Step 3” because I don’t need it. I’m usually wrong.

And just remember, skin problems are a lot like kids. I know that sounds really bad, but listen:

Most women my age have kids. And no two kids are the same, so you can’t really compare. You can kind of generalize them, but no two kids are exactly alike. It’s also really hard to give other women advice, because kids can all be so different. The worst thing is when people who don’t even have kids give you advice, because how can they really understand or even know what they’re talking about?! And just because something worked for someone else’s kids, doesn’t mean it will work for yours.

Now replace “kids” with the words “skin problems.”

See what I mean?!

So, even though the things I’ve tried for my skin problems may not necessarily be the answer for you, sometimes it’s good to bounce ideas off of each other—just like in parenting. If I’m being completely honest, I can’t say that I’ve won the war on adult acne. But I’ve experienced some small victories. With skin, as with most parenting issues, sometimes it’s best to just take things one day at a time.

A recent picture of my husband and me, sans makeup (although there may be some beauty filter action going on).

[hr]Do you struggle with adult acne? What things have worked for you? 


Amy was born and raised on the East Coast, but got to Texas as fast as she could! She has been serving in the U.S. Air Force for 18 years, half of which have been in San Antonio. Amy and her husband have two boys, ages 9 and 8, and they love discovering new San Antonio parks and restaurants! She’s still not sure what she wants to be when she grows up, but in her spare time, she's either working out or trying to convince herself not to eat pizza.