The Best Treatments For Adult & Hormonal Acne, According To Dermatologists

·5 min read

Welcome to Acne Week, a five-day stretch where we get real about pimples, zits, cysts, and every bump or blemish in between. From skin-soothing products R29 editors swear by to exclusive deals on the most breakout-friendly beauty brands, we’re kissing the concept of “bad skin” goodbye and exploring why acne is so much more than skin deep.

If you, like me, had severe acne as a teenager, there was one proverbial light (more like "lie," in my case) at the end of the tunnel: "Your skin will clear up when you're older!" Family and friends repeated this to me in an effort to console my deep-ridden anxiety about the state of my skin.
While everyone's skin is different, I have yet to reach this promised land of acne-free skin at 28. Spoiler alert: "Perfect skin" doesn't exist, which is fine! However, the truth is acne in your teens and acne in your adult years aren't one and the same. In fact, my teenage regimen doesn't resemble my current one at all.

"There are plenty of misconceptions about adult acne," dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, tells Refinery29. "A common one is that adult acne is caused by having a poor diet or not washing your face enough. Above all, it’s mostly caused by hormone changes."

Another major acne myth, which I myself have been guilty of, is doing the most with my routine: "When it comes to treating acne, less is more," advises Joshua Zeichner, MD, Mount Sinai's director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology. "Over-washing or over-scrubbing can lead to dryness and irritation and disrupt the outer skin layer."

To get you on your way, we asked a coterie of dermatologists to share their best acne product recommendations for addressing adult breakouts. Shop their expert-approved picks in the slides to come.

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy or click on something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

<h2>First Aid Beauty FAB Pharma BHA Acne Spot Treatment Gel 2% Salicylic Acid</h2><br>"Salicylic acid is great for those tough pimples that just won’t go away," says Dr. Gohara, who recommends this salicylic- and glycolic-acid <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/acne-spot-treatments" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:spot treatment" class="link ">spot treatment</a>. It's gentle enough for sensitive skin but effective at showing pimples the door.<br><br><strong>First Aid Beauty</strong> FAB Pharma BHA Acne Spot Treatment Gel 2% Salicylic Acid, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.sephora.com%2Fproduct%2Ffirst-aid-beauty-fab-pharma-bha-acne-spot-treatment-gel-2-salicylic-acid-P461161%3F" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sephora" class="link ">Sephora</a>

First Aid Beauty FAB Pharma BHA Acne Spot Treatment Gel 2% Salicylic Acid


"Salicylic acid is great for those tough pimples that just won’t go away," says Dr. Gohara, who recommends this salicylic- and glycolic-acid spot treatment. It's gentle enough for sensitive skin but effective at showing pimples the door.

First Aid Beauty FAB Pharma BHA Acne Spot Treatment Gel 2% Salicylic Acid, $, available at Sephora
<h2>La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment</h2><br>As obvious as it seems, your skin-care products are only as good as you are consistent with using them. "When treating adult acne, routine is key," advises Dr. Gohara, who recommends this adapalene treatment that can be applied all over. "It helps skin cell turnover and helps to prevent acne scarring and marks." <br><br>Another adapalene fave is <a href="https://www.ulta.com/p/acne-treatment-gel-xlsImpprod15791005" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Differin Gel" class="link ">Differin Gel</a>, which also comes highly recommended by dermatologist and MOHS surgeon Dendy Engelman, MD. "Adapalene is a powerful active ingredient that can enhance skin tone and smooth out texture from breakouts — this formula is a great preventive as well."<br><br><strong>La Roche-Posay</strong> Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dermstore.com%2Fla-roche-posay-effaclar-adapalene-gel-0.1-retinoid-acne-treatment-1.6-oz%2F12190079.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:DermStore" class="link ">DermStore</a>

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment


As obvious as it seems, your skin-care products are only as good as you are consistent with using them. "When treating adult acne, routine is key," advises Dr. Gohara, who recommends this adapalene treatment that can be applied all over. "It helps skin cell turnover and helps to prevent acne scarring and marks."

Another adapalene fave is Differin Gel, which also comes highly recommended by dermatologist and MOHS surgeon Dendy Engelman, MD. "Adapalene is a powerful active ingredient that can enhance skin tone and smooth out texture from breakouts — this formula is a great preventive as well."

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, $, available at DermStore
<h2>Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Spot Treatment</h2><br>If your skin responds better to benzoyl peroxide, then Dr. Gohara name-checks this affordable spot treatment for hormonal breakouts. "[It's] great for those period pimples that can pop up each month," she says.<br><br><strong>Neutrogena</strong> On-The-Spot Acne Spot Treatment, $, available at <a href="https://amzn.to/3nc94Tp" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link ">Amazon</a>

Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Spot Treatment


If your skin responds better to benzoyl peroxide, then Dr. Gohara name-checks this affordable spot treatment for hormonal breakouts. "[It's] great for those period pimples that can pop up each month," she says.

Neutrogena On-The-Spot Acne Spot Treatment, $, available at Amazon
<h2>Starface Hydro-Stars</h2><br><a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/best-acne-patch" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hydrocolloid stickers" class="link ">Hydrocolloid stickers</a> have *truly* revolutionized how I take care of my skin. But these ones aren't just <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/cute-acne-pimple-patches" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:cute selfie fodder" class="link ">cute selfie fodder</a>: "Starface pimple patches help pimples heal and prevent picking," Dr. Gohara says. <br><br><strong>Starface</strong> Hydro-Stars, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fsokoglam.com%2Fproducts%2Fstarface-hydro-stars%3Fvariant%3D40065258455109" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Soko Glam" class="link ">Soko Glam</a>

Starface Hydro-Stars


Hydrocolloid stickers have *truly* revolutionized how I take care of my skin. But these ones aren't just cute selfie fodder: "Starface pimple patches help pimples heal and prevent picking," Dr. Gohara says.

Starface Hydro-Stars, $, available at Soko Glam
<h2>Jori Acne & Oil Control Primer</h2><br>"This primer does double duty to prevent and treat breakouts while minimizing shine and blurring the pores," says Dr. Zeichner of his own launch into the adult acne category. "It keeps the complexion clear with 2% salicylic acid in a non-irritating formula that can be applied every morning." Best of all, the stuff can be worn alone or under makeup to extend wear time. "It contains a botanical blend that addresses hormones, diet, and stress, the main contributors to adult breakouts."<br><br><strong>JORI</strong> Acne and Oil Control Primer, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fjoriskincare.com%2Fproducts%2Facne-and-oil-control-primer" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:JORI" class="link ">JORI</a>

Jori Acne & Oil Control Primer


"This primer does double duty to prevent and treat breakouts while minimizing shine and blurring the pores," says Dr. Zeichner of his own launch into the adult acne category. "It keeps the complexion clear with 2% salicylic acid in a non-irritating formula that can be applied every morning." Best of all, the stuff can be worn alone or under makeup to extend wear time. "It contains a botanical blend that addresses hormones, diet, and stress, the main contributors to adult breakouts."

JORI Acne and Oil Control Primer, $, available at JORI
<h2>Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Gel Cleanser <br></h2><br>I've personally <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/acne-skincare-routine-products" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:found a lot of success" class="link ">found a lot of success</a> in using a cleanser with actives every day to constantly clarify my oily complexion. "This cleanser contains salicylic acid to keep the pores clear," explains Dr. Zeichner of this gel formula. "It can be used daily along with other acne treatments." <br><br>A word to the wise when it comes to mixing and matching acne actives: "Retinol and salicylic acid are both excellent acne-fighting ingredients, but using them together can severely dry out your skin," advises Dr. Engelman. "Benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin are also two acne treatments that should not be used together because some studies indicate that benzoyl peroxide may reduce the effectiveness of tretinoin."<br><br><strong>Bliss</strong> Clear Genius Clarifying Gel Cleanser, $, available at <a href="https://amzn.to/3bqeLL1" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link ">Amazon</a>

Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Gel Cleanser


I've personally found a lot of success in using a cleanser with actives every day to constantly clarify my oily complexion. "This cleanser contains salicylic acid to keep the pores clear," explains Dr. Zeichner of this gel formula. "It can be used daily along with other acne treatments."

A word to the wise when it comes to mixing and matching acne actives: "Retinol and salicylic acid are both excellent acne-fighting ingredients, but using them together can severely dry out your skin," advises Dr. Engelman. "Benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin are also two acne treatments that should not be used together because some studies indicate that benzoyl peroxide may reduce the effectiveness of tretinoin."

Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Gel Cleanser, $, available at Amazon
<h2>Glo Skin Beauty Beta-Clarity AHA Clarifying Peel</h2><br>Another Dr. Engelman-approved product is this acne facial set. "Glo Skin Beauty’s Beta-Clarity AHA Clarifying Peel is an at-home detox kit containing a blend of hydroxy acids to exfoliate dead skin cells and reveal a purified, smooth complexion."<br><br><strong>Glo Skin Beauty</strong> Beta-Clarity AHA Clarifying Peel, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dermstore.com%2Fglo-skin-beauty-beta-clarity-aha-clarifying-peel-42ml%2F13644760.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:DermStore" class="link ">DermStore</a>

Glo Skin Beauty Beta-Clarity AHA Clarifying Peel


Another Dr. Engelman-approved product is this acne facial set. "Glo Skin Beauty’s Beta-Clarity AHA Clarifying Peel is an at-home detox kit containing a blend of hydroxy acids to exfoliate dead skin cells and reveal a purified, smooth complexion."

Glo Skin Beauty Beta-Clarity AHA Clarifying Peel, $, available at DermStore
<h2>La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo</h2><br>My twin sister and I both love and repurchase the heck out of La Roche-Posay's iconic spot treatment Effaclar Duo. "It combines 5.5% benzoyl peroxide with an exfoliating acid called LHA," explains Dr. Zeichner. "It can be used as a spot treatment or to the whole area that breaks out to prevent new pimples from developing."<br><br><strong>La Roche-Posay</strong> Effaclar Duo, $, available at <a href="https://amzn.to/3O4KUpP" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link ">Amazon</a>

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo


My twin sister and I both love and repurchase the heck out of La Roche-Posay's iconic spot treatment Effaclar Duo. "It combines 5.5% benzoyl peroxide with an exfoliating acid called LHA," explains Dr. Zeichner. "It can be used as a spot treatment or to the whole area that breaks out to prevent new pimples from developing."

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo, $, available at Amazon
<h2>Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Replenishing Cleansing Oil</h2><br>Between makeup, sunscreen, dirt, and oil, I rely on a cleansing oil (or <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/best-cleansing-balms-reviews" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:balm" class="link ">balm</a>) every night to make sure my skin is truly clean before my face hits the pillow. " Elizabeth Arden’s Ceramide Replenishing Cleansing Oil works to repair the skin’s barrier and nourishes skin with essential lipids and vitamin E while removing dirt, makeup, and impurities from the skin," says Dr. Engelman of this skin-loving formula.<br><br><strong>Elizabeth Arden</strong> Ceramide Replenishing Cleansing Oil, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.elizabetharden.com%2Felizabeth-arden-limited-offers%2Fceramide-replenishing-cleansing-oil-CERN40217.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Elizabeth Arden" class="link ">Elizabeth Arden</a>

Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Replenishing Cleansing Oil


Between makeup, sunscreen, dirt, and oil, I rely on a cleansing oil (or balm) every night to make sure my skin is truly clean before my face hits the pillow. " Elizabeth Arden’s Ceramide Replenishing Cleansing Oil works to repair the skin’s barrier and nourishes skin with essential lipids and vitamin E while removing dirt, makeup, and impurities from the skin," says Dr. Engelman of this skin-loving formula.

Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Replenishing Cleansing Oil, $, available at Elizabeth Arden

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

The Brands Changing How We Look At Acne

12 Under-$25 Skinfluencer-Approved Acne Products

What 5 Beauty Editors Use Everyday To Prevent Acne