Think breakouts have no age? Think again. Here, the best acne face wash products for adults and other pro-approved ways to keep pimples from popping up.

By Ayren Jackson-Cannady
Updated April 07, 2020
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Despite what Katy Perry seems to believe, being a teenager tends to be more of a nightmare than a so-called "dream." The aggressive (and awkward) games of dodgeball in P.E., the pop-quizzes in honor chemistry...the list goes on. Thankfully, you can leave most of these cringe-worthy items in the past. Unfortunately, however, acne isn't one of them.

About half of women in their twenties experience breakouts (and one-third in their 30s), according to research from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. But instead of popping up in the oily T-zone area, as it did in high school, adult acne, which is caused by monthly surges in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, often appears as pink pimples on the lower part of the face in a V shape from the chin up the sides of your jaw. (See: What Is Cystic Acne?)

"If you're prone to hormonal breakouts, avoid spot-treating," says Diane Berson, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Instead, wash your face with the best acne face wash for adults, a salicylic acid cleanser, followed by a salicylic acid toner in oilier areas. (BTW, here’s why salicylic acid is such a miracle ingredient for your skin.) Finally, treat those same zones with a gel that has benzoyl peroxide, like Clean & Clear Persa-Gel10 Acne Medication (Buy It, $5, target.com).

Now that you have your basic plan of attack—and the best acne face wash for adults—to prevent acne before it pops up, keep these other pro tips in mind for healthier, brighter, and clearer skin.

How to Prevent Adult Acne

Two acne fighters are better than one.

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide have been recommended separately by derms for decades. But when used in tandem, these two OTC ingredients are just as effective as benzoyl peroxide plus the prescription antibiotic clindamycin, according to a study from Harvard Medical School. "Salicylic acid unclogs pores so that benzoyl peroxide, which treats the breakouts, can penetrate better," says Dr. Berson. A good combo: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Daily Acne Facial Cleanser (Buy It, $8, target.com) and La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment (Buy It, $30, target.com).

Wash your face every night, even if you don't wear makeup.

Your skin collects pore-clogging oil during the day, and pollution might trigger breakouts as well. Keep oil-free face wipes, such as Clearasil Rapid Rescue Deep Treatment Pads (Buy It, $6, target.com), on your night table for times you're just too exhausted to wash before bed.

Clean your phone on the reg.

A 2017 study found that 93 percent of health-care workers' phones and 58 percent of the general population’s phones contained germs, some of which are known to cause infections. And bacteria plus friction can make you break out. When your phone rubs against your jawline, it can irritate pores, creating inflammation, a cause of acne. Clean your phone with a disinfecting wipe a few times a week. (Here’s a complete step-by-step guide to clean your phone.) "Better yet, use an adapter or earpiece if you plan on chatting for a while," suggests Francesca Fusco, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. 

Consider what hair products you're using.

Acne along the hairline can pop up when heavy ingredients settle into the skin on your forehead. "Hair products are created to coat strands, so on your face they can clog pores and cause nasty breakouts," says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a dermatologist in Boston. Always rinse your face with the best acne face wash for adults mentioned above after washing out conditioner, and if you are breakout prone, apply a thin barrier of skin moisturizer along your forehead before styling your tresses. 

Try to keep a steady weight. 

Your family medical history can have a huge impact on your chances of being plagued with adult acne, but it's not the only contributing factor, says Dr. Fusco. Losing or gaining weight can throw off your levels of hormones, like cortisol and androgen, triggering pimples. "When one hormone increases or decreases, other hormone levels will also change, leading to increased oil production," she explains. (ICYMI, glycerin might be the secret to defeating dry skin.)

Sweat sans-makeup (and shower right after).

Working out is actually good for your skin. Exercise boosts your circulation, which can calm skin inflammation. "It's a myth that sweat itself causes acne, but it can create a bacteria buildup that can lead to breakouts," says Howard Sobel, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. To prevent this, remove all makeup before exercising and, if you're prone to body acne, wear cotton rather than lycra or nylon, which can trap blemish-triggering moisture, says Dr. Sobel. Within 30 minutes of finishing a workout, shower with a wash containing hydrating lipids, such as St. Ives Oatmeal and Shea Butter Plant-Based Natural Body Wash ($4, target.com), which will clean and soothe skin without stripping it. (Up Next: How to Achieve Golden-Hour Skin 24/7)

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