You would think that breaking out for the past 10+ years would make getting a pimple easier, but it doesn’t! The feelings remain the same: embarrassed, annoyed, and flustered. I wonder, why do I take the time to care for my skin with an elaborate routine, when my skincare routine isn’t caring for me!? 

Dealing with adult acne is normal. I can assure you, you’re not the only person dealing with it. And as our modern life gets more stressful and we’re spending more time online, it’s normal to deal with physical insecurities when we’re constantly bombarded by images of perfection. 

As an esthetician student, I know how to take care of my skin, my body, and even my soul; yet, I still deal with adult acne too. It’s a cycle, and as a woman, my body is on a clock. 

‌‌‌‌Cortisol and Adult Acne 

As we age and mature, we gain more responsibilities and life takes on a whole new level of busy. Our body handles these tasks and pressures by producing cortisol. Cortisol is our body’s stress hormone and you can think of it as our alarm system. 

Stress causes a series of changes to our bodies. As part of the body’s response to a stressful experience, cortisol is produced, which triggers other hormones like testosterone to be excreted as well. Cortisol, testosterone, and related hormone levels rise to prepare the body for a stressful experience. And as a side effect, these hormones lead to an increase in oil production. Hence, when too much testosterone is produced due to higher levels of cortisol, the sebaceous glands in our skin produce more oil, which has a higher chance of clogging a pore, and bam! Hello acne, my old friend. 

It makes sense, doesn’t it!? As you may have discovered before a big event, whether it’s a date or the morning of prom, the relationship between stress and acne is the real deal. Hence, this is why blemishes tend to park themselves on our faces ahead of major life moments and stick around for the photo ops. 

‌‌‌‌Ingredients to Stay Away From if You Suffer from Adult Acne

You’re about to meet your new best friend: The Comedogenic Scale. The comedogenic rating is a scale that measures how likely skincare ingredients, such as oils and butters, will clog pores. Since most skincare products are made with oils in their formulations, it is important to know these ingredient’s comedogenic rating and what the products may do to your skin. 

The comedogenic scale ranges from zero to five: 

  • 0: Does not clog pores 
  • 1: Low chance of clogging the pores 
  • 2: Moderately low chance of clogging the pores 
  • 3: Moderate chance of clogging the pores 
  • 4: Fairly high chance of clogging the pores 
  • 5: High chance of clogging the pores 

For the most part, anything rated 2 or below will not irritate the majority of peoples’ skin. If a product is labeled “non-comedogenic,” that means it’s rated at 2 or below.

‌‌‌‌Finding a Skincare Routine that Actually Works for Adult Acne 

Now, I know what you’re thinking: how can I stop this madness!? Well, I wish there was an easy answer, but it really comes down to living a balanced life and properly taking care of not just your skin, but your mind and body, too. 

Honestly, for me, my skincare routine provides a form of relaxation and therapy. The therapeutic and calming effects of applying my favorite skincare really helps me feel the best in my skin and body, no matter the state of my skin. 

As I have gotten older, I’ve learned that when I do get my bursts of blemishes, it’s important to have beneficial products in my skincare arsenal to whip out as needed. 

Here are a few of my go-to products for when breakouts hit: 

  • If you're a pimple popper like me, you need pimple stickers, like the Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch! Picking for me is a form of anxiety, and popping on a sticker is a lot more satisfying than waking up with a scar and mark the next day.

  • Okay, so you popped the pimple! Don’t worry. The Hero Cosmetics Rescue Balm helps to fade marks while helping to heal the skin so you can forget about that pimple-popping mishap. 

  • Go oil-free! Most oils are the enemy of anyone acne-prone. Try going oil-free with your moisturizer. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream is great for sensitive skin types since it’s fragrance and dye-free, plus non-comedogenic, which means there's a low chance it will break you out.

  • I know I just said go oil-free but hear me out. Rosehip seed oil is packed with vitamins A and C. Vitamin A helps to clear pores, while vitamin C helps to brighten. I swear by this ingredient and that’s why I prefer to use it after an oil-free moisturizer. If you’re going to use an oil, make sure it’s non-comedogenic, like the Leven Rose 100% Pure and Organic Rosehip Oil, and has the ingredients to suit your skin needs! Also, when the skin is breaking out, it means it’s out of balance and needs hydration. Remember, your skin won’t clear up until it’s balanced at the optimal hydration levels. 

  • Retinoids are one of the strongest forms of vitamin A and when I’m breaking out, it’s time to bring out the heavy-duty products. Previously only available by a prescription, Differin Adapalene Gel is the first dermatologist-developed and FDA-approved over-the-counter topical retinoid for acne treatment. This is best when used once daily at night—simply cover the affected area with a thin layer after cleansing and before moisturizing. You may experience some irritation within the first weeks of use, so start small and use in increments until your skin builds up a tolerance. When I get those pesky breakouts, I like to also use this as a spot treatment and always make sure to use sunscreen in the morning. 

‌‌‌‌My Acne-Busting Skincare Routine

When it comes down to it, a less is more approach typically does the trick for my skin type. On the daily, I keep it simple: cleanser, treatment, moisturizer, and sunscreen (always!) in the morning. When I overdo it with my skincare routine, my skin typically goes a little crazy due to being overwhelmed by ingredients. The following is the skin-first approach I like to take. 

Cleanser

You would think the skin wants to be hyper-cleansed, but actually, the skin’s barrier needs to be restored. Ceramides are an ingredient that helps to restore and strengthen the skin’s barrier and the CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser is what I always reach for during my skin woes. I even use it to double cleanse! After one round of cleansing with this, I go in for round two. It’s also a great makeup remover, but be careful around your eyes! 

Treatment

There is such an emphasis on actives for acne-prone skin and it’s because actives are thought of as a “cure-all,” but not all actives cure all types of acne. From closed comedones to cysts, actives can help you take on these blemishes and crown you as the victor. The one skincare ingredient that I go for, no matter if it’s a papule or a comedone, is beta-hydroxy acid, otherwise known as BHA. 

Beta-hydroxy acids are oil-soluble and can be found in cleansers, toners, scrubs, moisturizers, treatments, peels, and even masks. The purpose of BHAs is to exfoliate the skin, and depending on their concentration level, they may remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin or even the whole outermost layer (hello chemical peel!). Beta-hydroxy acids get deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells and excess sebum. Even though they penetrate deeper into the layers of the epidermis, BHAs are designed for daily use. 

Salicylic acid is the most common beta-hydroxy acid. It is a well-known ingredient for acne treatment, but also can help with calming down skin redness and inflammation. One way I like to incorporate the magic of BHAs into my routine is by using it as a toner after cleansing with the Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid


Moisturizer

Moisturizer is a must! Especially if you're acne-prone. This last but not least step is pivotal when it comes to treating blemishes. You wouldn’t think that hydration is the most important part of a skincare routine for blemish-prone skin, but it is. The only way the skin can heal itself and rebalance in order to clear up, is with the proper hydration levels. I always make sure to use an oil-free moisturizer (to steer clear of comedogenic ingredients) and the Oil-Free Ultra-Moisturizing Lotion by Cosrx is formulated with 70.8% Birch Sap which helps to keep the skin hydrated and calm without the worry of comedogenic ingredients! 

‌‌‌‌What to Do if You Stop Seeing Results

If it’s been a while, and you’re not seeing the same results with your current routine, it may be time to look toward a lifestyle change, as a whole. This type of approach is not a quick fix or a two-week diet: it’s a wellness approach. We all know your breakouts are not due to you not washing your face enough, or that your skin is “dirty.” Since we know stress causes acne, and acne causes stress, slow your routine down, take some time to nourish your mind, body, and soul, and your skin will likely follow suit.