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How Experts in Dermatology Treat Adult Acne

Dark skinned model with Unblemish Clarifying Mask applied to her cheek in a plus symbol

It’s, for lack of a better word, rude that many women endure simultaneous zits and wrinkles, isn’t it? The stunning statistic is that a smooth 40%of adults experience acne. And while teenage acne typically lasts five to ten years and goes away in one’s early 20s, adult acne is a chronic condition that can remain for decades.

So it’s not quite a “this too shall pass,” kind of thing. If you’re thinking, “But when does it?” read on. This post is for you. Here, we tapped top dermatologists and Rodan + Fields founders Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields to talk about all things adult acne and their long-researched and tested perspective on how to address it.

The Difference Between Adult & Teenage Acne

The blemishes, the zits, the pimples —whatever you call them, they tend to look the same no matter the age of the person afflicted. But while the acne itself may look similar, adult skin requires a different approach than teen skin. All skin is not created equal.

“While acne is the primary skin concern for teens, adult skin is more compromised,” Rodan + Fields Co-Founders Drs. Rodan and Fields say. Adults who suffer from acne also battle other aging concerns, including slower skin cell turnover, compromised moisture barrier, reduction in collagen and elastin. All of these skin afflictions lead to skin being less resilient—and more sensitive, they add. “These additional skin concerns need to be taken into account when designing the optimal solution for adult acne,” Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields note.

“As practicing dermatologists, product developers and women, we understand the emotional, physical and scientific aspects of acne,” says Dr. Katie Rodan. “Working side-by-side with our team of scientists and innovators we’ve pioneered many skincare firsts, and we’re thrilled to have discovered a game-changing way to treat acne for teens,” says Dr. Kathy Fields.

Key Causes of Adult Acne

It comes down to four things: genetics, diet, stress and hormones. Keep in mind that acne is a chronic, complicated, incurable condition. You cannot cure acne, but you can treat it. Let’s first tackle the types of hormonal acne.

Types of Hormonal Acne

“A common misconception is that acne bacteria causes acne; however, the root cause can be traced to sebum (oil). If no sebum exists, then there will be no acne,” Drs. Rodan and Fields say. A major trigger of sebum production is hormones, which can be found in both teens and adults, they add. Major life moments or changes that cause stress directly impact this change in hormones. There are three types: mild, moderate and severe.

The Physiology of Acne

Here’s a primer on the physiology of acne and how it works. The process starts with clogged pores, which can lead to acne. Clogged pores result from dead skin cells that get trapped in your skin instead of being shed. Pores are the tiny openings in your skin that release both oil and sweat. So when your pores are clogged, this can result in blackheads, whiteheads and/or acne. Rodan+ Fields’ testing found that it’s the lack of oxygen in blocked pores that prompts acne bacteria, called C. acnes, to get out of sorts. This causes an inflammatory response—which is also known as a zit.

Each pore in your skin is its own microbiome, or environment. Your pores boast natural bacteria that keeps your skin in balance. When hormonal changes cause your skin to produce a thick, sticky oil, it clogs up your pores, blocking oxygen’s way into the pore. The once healthy c acne bacteria in the pore, now starved for oxygen, becomes enraged. This also causes inflammation, which leads to breakouts. Ready for some good news? There are over-the-counter solutions for mild to moderate acne, which deliver oxygen to your pores to help eliminate pimples.

The Best Ways to Treat Acne, Per Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields Benzoyl Peroxide

Acne is treated with many ingredients from Salicylic Acid to Retinoids to Benzoyl Peroxide. There are benefits associated with each of these on the list. Benzoyl Peroxide, in particular, helps immensely with adult acne, according to Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields.

Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields believe that Benzoyl Peroxide is the best way to treat mild to moderate acne, “because it attacks acne bacteria without causing resistance.” However, Benzoyl Peroxide is a very potent, oxidizing ingredient that can be irritating and cause skin to age more rapidly.

This is obviously a concern for those dealing with adult acne.The Doctors found a proprietary way to stabilize and solubilize the molecule, allowing them to harness the power of Benzoyl Peroxide and oxygen with minimal potential for irritation. The ingredient is delivered differently in the UNBLEMISH and SPOTLESS formulations in those respective lines.

Benzoyl Peroxide + Salicylic Acid

Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields also recommend treating adult acne with Benzoyl Peroxide in combination with Salicylic Acid. The Rodan + Fields UNBLEMISH range is formulated with both ingredients and was designed specifically for adult acne. The UNBLEMISH Regimen formulas clear current blemishes, help prevent clogged pores and reduce visible redness caused by acne—all while preventing new breakouts.

The range also contains skin-nourishing ingredients to help soothe, condition and brighten adult acne-prone skin, while physical and chemical exfoliators help enhance skin cell renewal to address the visible signs of aging. This multi-tasking approach leaves adults with acne looking and feeling clear and confident.


When addressing adult acne, it’s important to target both acne and the visible signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles. Choose a nightly serum or moisturizer that helps skin firmness and address the loss of elasticity to use alongside a Benzoyl Peroxide-based acne product. At night, you might want to try a retinoid, which refers to a group of Vitamin A derivatives. Dermatologists often prescribe these to use to target acne and aging. Retinoids are also available without a prescription, like those found in REDEFINE Intensive Renewing Serum. It’s a nighttime serum that empowers your skin’s own natural renewing process. The serum’s controlled delivery system releases gradually to maximize potency, while minimizing the potential for skin irritation. It’s great for travel: Each capsule is perfectly sized for single use.

When is a Dermatologist Visit Necessary?

When should you go to a dermatologist? Drs. Rodan and Fields say you should make an appointment when either your acne is severe or over-the-counter products don’t work for you. They advise that you don’t wait and to get help from a dermatologist.

A Consistent Skin Routine to Fight Acne is Key

The most important thing when it comes to acne? Consistency. Stick to your skincare routine —it only works if you follow the directions. When building an acne-targeting skincare routine, make sure to include products for exfoliation and facial cleansing, as well as non-comedogenic moisturizers and sunscreen.