Adult Acne

Table of Contents
  1. The 3 Types of Adult Acne
  2. What Causes Adult Acne, Exactly?
  3. What are the Best Adult Acne Treatments?
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The Riversol Acne Treatment
Dr. Rivers new acne treatment has shown transformative results with patients.

Adult Acne on face and chest

Just when you thought your awkward teen years were behind you, pesky acne is popping back in, like an unwelcomed guest that can’t take the hint. Blackheads, whiteheads, cystic acne – are all the results of the overproduction of sebum (oil), which sadly, can still affect us well into our adult years. So if life didn’t afford you the good fortune of aging-out of acne, read on.

The good news is, you are not alone. Adult acne is surprisingly common, with 20-30% of Canadian adults aged 20-40 years affected.1 What gives? There are a lot of factors at play here and we’re going to take a closer look at those along with treatment options to help you banish these blemishes. For good.  

The 3 Types of Adult Acne

Cystic Acne

Not your typical run-of-the-mill pimple, cystic acne is a far more serious condition that runs more than skin deep, producing painful breakouts that can linger for years. While it’s most common to go through this type of acne in your teen years, there have been cases reported from as young as 8 years old to as old as 60 (though it’s certainly less common at those extremes).


Created when the perfect storm of oil, dead skin cells and dirt clash with your pores. The pimple emerges and the edges remain enclosed, as to contain that unsightly white or yellowish “head” on the surface of the skin.2  What do you do now? While it’s hard-to-resist, the best thing is to do absolutely nothing. Don’t pinch, don’t pick, don’t pop. Keep your hands away from the whiteheads and let them heal on their own, unless you’re a fan of infections and scarring.3


Blackheads are much like whiteheads in that they are also created as a result of clogged pores. Except this time, the skin around the edge of the pimple is open, so when the oxygen in the air mixes with the melanin in your skin, a grey or black “head” appear.4 Most commonly found in the T-Zone, both blackheads and whiteheads show up on the chest, back, shoulders and arms – anywhere there is an abundance of hair follicles and therefore oil. Again, when you have a blackhead outbreak, the best thing is nothing at all.5

What Causes Adult Acne, Exactly?

Contrary to popular belief, chocolate and greasy foods have little to do with it. But before you start celebrating, there are a lot of other factors at play when it comes to your skin and what it comes into contact with. Some of these factors are internal, like stress, while some are external like your environment, but all are worth mentioning to help prevent acne all together.

  • Hormones - Hormones play a large role in acne. In regards to gender, acne is significantly higher in women than in men at any age.6 Likely because of the hormonal fluctuations that happen to women throughout their lives – PMS, pregnancy, menopause – all of which can wreck havoc on skin.
  • Stress - Stress doesn’t cause acne, but it can definitely make the situation worse. Studies have shown a strong link between severity and stress levels - the higher the stress, the more prevalent the acne.7
  • Pollution - Big city living is nice, until you can see it on your skin, literally. Environmental pollutants in the air, more prevalent in bigger cities, are definitely a contributing factor when it comes acne.8
  • Diet - While no one food causes it, studies have shown a correlation between dairy products and an increase of acne. But it’s not what you think. 75-90% of marketed milk and milk products are bring derived from pregnant cows, hence more hormones.9 And as we now know, hormones play a large part.
  • Over-washing – Scrubbing and washing your face too much can aggravate the skin even more. But don’t put down the washcloth just yet. It’s still recommended to wash your face with mild cleanser, such as the Riversol Hydrating Cream Cleanser, twice daily.10


What are the Best Adult Acne Treatments?

Ok so you need to do something. While touching is still not the answer, there are many acceptable forms of treatment options available to help you get rid of unsightly pimples. Just remember, at the end of the day, we’re all different - what might work for some, may not work for all. Take the time to access your own situation to determine what’s best for you.

  • Salicylic Acid- Some consider this to be the gold standard of topical acne treatment, mostly because of its gentleness. You can find it in many OTC acne cleansers and spot treatments for mild to moderate cases. We recommend a light percentage, you can find 0.6%. in our Acne Treatment.
  • Benzoyl peroxide - Works by actually killing the acne bacteria while exfoliating pores at the same time. It’s a great choice for acne treatment as it offers good efficacy against both inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions.11 In comparison, it is less gentle than salicylic acid and is meant to treat moderate to more severe cases.
  • Retinoids – One of the most effective treatments, but it is also unfortunately one of the harshest. Treatment with retinoids can be frustrating at first, as the skin appears to get worse before it gets better. However, over the course of the treatment, a significant improvement and remission of irritation is typically noted.12

Laser Treatment

Using lasers in the treatment of acne is fairly new practice but it’s already being hailed as a safe, effective option with no or minimal complications when used appropriately.13 It is also still recommended to use this therapy with good skin washing practices.

Blue Light Therapy

Blue Light Therapy uses natural blue light to help treat a variety of skin disorders, including adult acne. It works by killing acne-causing bacteria which can cause inflammation. This can be a very effective treatment for mild to moderate acne with results in as few as two visits.14 But just killing that bad bacteria doesn’t drop production of excess oil or repair. Again, you will need to pay attention to skin care in conjunction to keep it in check.


Antibiotics have always been a widely accepted, safe treatment for all different kinds of acne.15 Taken orally, antibiotics help reduce bacteria while fighting inflammation. There are some studies that have suggested that acne is becoming resistant to certain antibiotics. However, the significance of these patterns are poorly defined, therefore antibiotics still hold their title as an effective cornerstone of acne treatment.16


  1. Canadian Dermatology Association (2017) Acne. Retrieved from:

  2. PubMed Health. Acne. Retrieved from:

  3. Penn State. (2016) SiOWfa16: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy. Retrieved from:

  4. PubMed Health. Acne. Retrieved from:

  5. Penn State. (2016) SiOWfa16: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy. Retrieved from:

  6. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol (2009) Hormonal Treatment of Acne in Women. Retrieved from:

  7. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets (2014) Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging. Retrieved from:

  8. Dermatoendocrinol (2009) Environmental pollution and acne: Chloacne. Retrieved from:

  9. Kaisar Raza, Vaibhav Talwar, Arvind Setia and Om Prakash Katare (2012) Acne: An understanding of the disease and its impact on life. Retrieved from:

  10. Kaisar Raza, Vaibhav Talwar, Arvind Setia and Om Prakash Katare (2012) Acne: An understanding of the disease and its impact on life. Retrieved from:

  11. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol (2009) A Three-Step SCne System Containing Soluilized Benzoyl Peroxide versus Benzoyl Peroxide/Clindamycin in Pediatric Patients with Acne. Retrieved from:

  12. Sheri L Rolewski (2003) Clinical Review: Topical Retinoids. Retrieved from:

  13. Indian Dermatol Online (2015) Light-based therapies in acne treatment. Retrieved from:

  14. Journal of Cosmetic Laser Therapy (2011) Clinical efficacy of home-use blue light therapy for mild-to-moderate acne. Retrieved from:

  15. Toyoda M., Morohashi M. (1998) An Overview of Topical Antibiotics for Acne Treatment. Retrieved from:

  16. T. Simonart, M. Dramaix (2005) Treatment of acne with topical antibiotics: lessons from clinical studies. Retrieved from:

  1. The 3 Types of Adult Acne
  2. What Causes Adult Acne, Exactly?
  3. What are the Best Adult Acne Treatments?