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Dermatologist Acne Prevention Tips

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acne on woman's face

Acne isn’t reserved only for teenagers and can come in a variety of forms due to a number of factors in your adult years. Cooper Clinic Dermatologist Kejal R. Shah, MD, FAAD, explains common causes of adult acne as well as acne prevention and scar removal tips.

Common causes of adult acne
Believe it or not, one can actually develop acne for the first time as an adult without a history of breakouts. A few of the more common causes include:

  • Hormones: Adult acne is most commonly seen among women due to the fluctuation of hormone levels which can lead to breakouts during menstruation, pregnancy, peri-menopause and menopause. These hormone fluctuations can also occur after starting or discontinuing birth control.
  • Stress: “In response to stress, our bodies produce more androgen hormones,” explains Shah. “These hormones stimulate the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, which can lead to acne.”
  • Genetics: If a parent or sibling has a history of acne as adults, you are more likely to have breakouts in your adult years as well.
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Use of heavy makeup, hair and skin products, which can clog the pores
  • Certain skin types are more prone to acne than others: “Oily skin is a well-known contributor to breakouts,” explains Shah. “Dry skin can still experience acne whether due to environmental factors or poor skin care routine practices that irritate the skin and clog the pores.”

Prevention and product tips
To prevent breakouts and treat pre-existing adult acne, Shah recommends four practical skin care tips.

  1. Choose makeup products carefully
    Read product labels when selecting new makeup as well as skin and hair care products. Opt for oil-free or noncomedogenic products or products formulated to not clog the pores.
  2. Remove makeup before bedtime
    It is important to remove eye and face makeup before going to sleep in order to allow the skin to renew itself overnight. After removing makeup, wash the face with a gentle cleanser and remember not to scrub!
  3. Clean makeup brushes regularly
    Shah recommends cleaning makeup brushes at least once a week and to avoid sharing makeup and application tools with other people. While acne isn’t contagious, the mix of bacteria, dead skin cells and oil from other people’s skin can stick to your makeup products and applicators, which can cause acne.
  4. Treat acne with non-prescription products
    If you continue to experience breakouts, use over-the-counter products such as benzoyl peroxide wash, salicylic acid wash and adapalene gel or cream, which are found in most drugstores.

“Maskne” prevention and care
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, face mask mandates put in place to prevent the spread of the disease have also caused many to struggle with “maskne,” or acne caused from wearing a face mask for prolonged periods of time. The hot air trapped around the mouth and nose can cause bacterial imbalances therefore making the skin more prone to breakouts. Shah shares several ways to help prevent and treat maskne to allow your skin to adjust to the new normal of mask mandates.

  • Cleanse the skin before wearing a mask
    Washing your face before putting on your mask for the day reduces oil and dirt from getting stuck underneath the mask and prevents breakouts from happening. Make a habit of washing your face every morning and night with a gentle face wash containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to prevent and treat pre-existing maskne.
  • Keep the skin moisturized
    Using a face moisturizer hydrates the skin and reduces friction between the mask and skin, which can irritate acne-prone skin. Look for moisturizers with hyaluronic acid, ceramides and dimethicone for best results.
  • Avoid wearing face makeup.
    Wearing makeup underneath masks can block pores and trigger an acne breakout. If going without makeup is not preferable or possible, choose products with labels that mention non-comedogenic.
  • Wash masks regularly
    Washing non-disposable cloth masks each time they are worn for any lengthy amount of time is recommended. Washing masks helps eliminate oil, dirt and bacteria that can cause acne flare-ups.
  • Use medicated skin care products in moderation
    Skin care products containing medicated ingredients—such as benzoyl peroxide, retinol and salicylic acid—can irritate the skin further when wearing a mask consistently. Use these types of products in moderation when wearing masks for prolonged periods of time to avoid skin irritation.

Acne scarring remedies
Severe persistent acne can result in acne scarring. It is far easier to prevent acne scarring than to treat it. The fewer breakouts one has, the less likely it is for acne scars to develop. “Treating acne is especially important in the prevention of scarring,” explains Shah. “Severe acne is more likely to leave scars. Treating acne early on before it becomes severe reduces the likelihood of it leaving behind scarring.”

Tips to reduce acne scarring:

  • Continue acne treatment
    Shah suggests continuing to use acne treatment products even after the acne clears up. A dermatologist can best determine the appropriate time to stop treatment.
  • Avoid pimple popping
    Avoid picking, squeezing or popping acne as this greatly increases the risk of scarring.
  • Treat skin gently
    Washing the face vigorously by scrubbing the skin can actually worsen pre-existing acne and result in scars. Wash the face daily with a gentle cleanser.
  • Seek treatment from a dermatologist
    In-office dermatology procedures can aid in reducing the visibility of acne scars. The type of treatment often depends on the type and extent of the scarring. Laser resurfacing, chemical peels, microdermabrasion and fillers are several treatment options. A board certified dermatologist can evaluate and determine which treatment options are the best based on the type and location of the scarring.

Adult acne is a common condition that can come and go with the ebb and flow of daily stress, life circumstances and hormone changes. You can avoid and reduce acne scarring and breakouts by taking a preventive approach and using the proper products in your daily skin care regimen.

For more information or to schedule a comprehensive skin exam at Cooper Clinic Dermatology, visit or call 972.367.6000.