You thought you were done with zits the day you put your awkward high school days behind you, but clearer skin doesn’t always come with age. Plain and simple, pimples pop up when your pores are clogged, so it’s not uncommon to break out during your 20s—and even into your 30s and 40s. What’s more, stress can cause acne flare-ups since it throws hormone levels out of whack. And because ingrown hairs tend to clog pores, shaving also makes guys more pimple-prone.
Your best defense against adult acne: keeping skin clean, healthy, and hydrated. Wash your face twice a day to get rid of poor-clogging dirt and bacteria. Then apply moisturizer—if you skip this step, your skin will crank up oil production, which can lead to breakouts. Once or twice a week, use an exfoliator to slough away the outer layer of skin cells. This lets extra oil escape instead of clogging your pores. (For a run-down of our top face wash, moisturizer, and exfoliator picks, see 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Better Skin)
When zits do fight their way through, try one of these six treatments to knock ‘em out fast.
Battle mild breakouts with a drugstore moisturizer that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These acne-fighting ingredients help dry up excess oil and reduce the inflammation that causes blemishes. Apply at night for best results.
Target more obvious pimples with a spot treatment. The ingredients, like salicylic acid and oil-absorbing alcohols, are similar to those found in OTC acne-fighting moisturizers, but they come in higher concentrations, so they work faster. Dab directly onto a zit.
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Rx Spot Treatments
These spot treatments work similarly to their drugstore counterparts—you apply them directly to zits, but dermatologist-prescribed potions pack a stronger punch. Some, like Acanya or Epiduo, contain antibiotics, which get rid of the bacteria that cause inflammation. Others, like Differin or Atralin, contain an ingredient called tretinoin, which dries up excess oil under the skin to make acne go away.
If you’re not into applying a messy cream every night, ask your dermatologist about an oral medication, like Minocycline, Doryx or Solodyne. Like antibiotic-based spot treatments, these pills clear up skin by knocking out the bacteria that cause acne. The downside: they may also cause headaches or stomach aches.
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If your mug could use some serious exfoliation, ask your doctor to recommend an esthetician who has experience with this in-office procedure. Peels improve skin’s tone and texture—and we promise, they’re not just for middle-aged women. Here’s what goes down during your appointment: A chemical solution is applied to skin with a sponge or brush. Your face may sting a bit, but the goop works in about 10 minutes and is then washed away.
Prefer an au natural approach to battling breakouts? Tea tree oil dries up the excess oil that leads to acne. You can make your own paste by combining tea tree oil (you can find it in a health food store), distilled water, olive oil, and liquid lecithin (also found in health food stores).
What NOT to do: Picking at or popping pimples is not the answer—it actually damages skin cells and can cause even more inflammation or scarring.