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Why Am I Still Getting Acne?

And do those TikTok pimple patches actually work? Our beauty editor explains all

By Lucy Adams

“Mum…. Where are my pimple patches?”  yelled my daughter from the bathroom.

As beauty editor mum, this wasn’t exactly the beauty journey I’d envisaged we’d be sharing together.

When I waved goodbye to my teenage years, I thought I’d see the back of pimples, too. Sadly not, as I now find myself now with a delightful case of pimples, with a side of wrinkles!

Sadly, I’m not alone: acne is the eighth most common skin condition worldwide, with 25 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men suffering from acne in adulthood. What sets it apart from its teen predecessor is often its appearance, location, causes and treatment.


Acne is the eighth most common skin condition worldwide

What causes adult acne?

“Acne is essentially an issue with the skin, where the skin and pores are not functioning properly, oil is overproduced and the pores aren’t effective in eliminating it,” explains Dr Shreya Andric, Principal Dermatologist at Northern Sydney Dermatology and Laser, and a Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. When it comes to adult acne specifically, a host of other factors are at play, including fluctuating hormone levels, stress, genetics, cosmetic products (often used to cover up unwanted blemishes), some dietary factors and certain medical conditions (including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, aka PCOS).

What we often neglect to mention is that our adult skin is different to teen skin – lines aside! It’s often less resilient, drier and more fragile, whereas our younger skin is oily and less sensitive. We know our skin cell turnover rate slows with age, so this explains why our post-breakout marks stay around longer than they used to.

Adult acne is also linked to hormonal fluctuations and chronic stress, both of which tend to peak in adulthood. Breakouts rear their unfortunate heads (excuse the pun) predominantly around our mouth, chin and jaw line, explains Allies of Skin Founder Nicolas Travis.

6 Acne myths busted

1. Acne skin is a family thing: TRUE
Acne has a strong genetic link. Studies have shown that the chances of acne are higher in people whose parents or siblings have had it, too.

2. Toothpaste zaps zits: FALSE

While it contains drying ingredients, toothpaste is not made for our skin! Using it can lead to over drying and irritation.

3. Popping pimples helps: FALSE

Popping pimples can cause the acne-causing bacteria to travel further into the pore and can also increase the chances of scarring. No matter how tempting, don’t pick or pop. Instead, arm yourself with patches (we like Hydro-Stars) laden with salicylic acid and anti-inflammatory ingredients, or a treatment that includes benzoyl peroxide – your skin will thank you.

4. SPF is important: TRUE

Many acne treatments make your skin highly sensitive to sunlight, so skipping SPF is absolutely not an option (it never is). Always apply a good, fragrance-free, non-comedogenic sunscreen that will protect without clogging your pores.

5. More is more: FALSE

Less is more when it comes to treating acne, explains Travis. It might be tempting to go hard and strong with acids during the day and retinol at night. As adults, we have more resources at our disposal, but patience is the key.

6. Your diet is to blame: TRUE… and FALSE

Thank goodness chocolate doesn’t cause pimples – numerous studies have debunked this. But a diet high in processed and sugary foods isn’t going to help. Wholefoods, plenty of water and exercise are tried-and-true recipes for general wellness, and your skin (the largest organ in your body) will benefit, too. Supplements and vitamins are there to support and enhance your diet. We love The Beauty Chef’s new Clear Skin for its pimple-fighting goodness that works from the inside out.

Many acne treatments make your skin highly sensitive to sunlight, so skipping SPF is absolutely not an option


Treating adult acne is a fine balance, explains Dr Andric, as adults tend to also experience sensitivity, dehydration and pigmentation – all symptoms of premature ageing.

Spot it:
Spot treatments are great for the occasional spot – they’re usually loaded with anti-inflammatory (benzoyl peroxide) and anti-bacterial (azelaic acid) ingredients to help nix the spot stat. We’re big fans of tbh’s Acne Hack Spot Treatment.

Keep it clear:
Chemical exfoliants such as beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid) are effective at entering the pores and clearing them out. Avoid overly drying products (unlike teen acne) by choosing products with hydrating exfoliants like salicylic or glycolic acid, and Thymol and Terpineol, to help control bacteria. These exfoliants are usually applied as wipe-on and wash-off formulas such as lotions, gels or leave-on-treatments. Try: Allies of Skin Multi Acids & Retinoid Brightening Sleeping Facial, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Peeling Gel and Ella Bache’s Intensive Balancing Lotion.

Smooth Operator:
Hands up if you’re combating signs of ageing and acne. Retinol is also gold standard when it comes to blemishes, due to the increased skin cell turnover it provides. Look out, too, for anti-inflammatory and redness-reducing ingredients like niacinamide. Try: Allies of Skin Multi Acids & Retinoid Brightening Sleeping Facial, Sunday Riley B3 Nice 10% Niacinamide Serum and Dermalogica Retinol Clearing Oil.

Light it up:
LED masks are the latest tech in at-home treatment for acne. Used consistently (2-4 days per week) for a minimum of 10 minutes for 6 weeks and you’ll notice a significant improvement. We diligently road tested SAN LUEUR’s Advanced LED Light Therapy Facial Mask. It works by emitting wavelengths of blue (especially for bacteria prevention) or red light (for collagen boosting and repair), which significantly reduce inflammation and fight bacteria. An investment in both money and time, yes, but we did get great results spot wise and our non-acne areas… glowed!

Be Professional:
With 1 in 6 people suffering emotional distress as a result of their skin health – please don’t suffer in silence. A personalised skincare plan (which may include oral medication) can be provided by your doctor or dermal therapist. In-salon chemical peels, IPL and LED treatments are super effective (also costly), and can be performed in conjunction with your skincare.

Avoid microdermabrasion and micro needling – which will both exacerbate inflammation and increase the potential for further infections (not to mention scarring).

Don’t forget to feel beautiful in yourself, spot or not, remembering that our skin knows how to repair itself. It just needs time.



BY Lucy Adams

Lucy is PRIMER's beauty editor, and has spent 20 years working in beauty

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