How to Treat Acne in Your 40s vs. Your 20s

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If acne is a pain point for you, then there are a couple things you should know: 1) You’re not alone, and 2) Not all treatments are one-size-fits-all. Think about it—your skin is always changing, so, as you get older, it naturally develops a different set of needs. Here, we’ll break down how to deal with acne in your 20s vs. your 40s, along with product recommendations to get you and your skin on the right track. 

If You’re In Your 20s…

Sadly, acne isn’t just a side effect of being a teenager. Many women in their 20s find themselves breaking out like it’s sophomore year of high school, and there are many factors that can cause your skin to rage: hormones, dietary changes (both good and bad), doing too much skincare, doing too little…the potential reasons are seemingly endless. But there is good news: An effective routine can nip it in the bud, or at the very least, temper angry skin. And if you’re a 20-something looking for effective treatments, there are a few things in particular that’ll make all the difference during this decade.

1. Find a gentle cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin of its natural oils. Your oil glands begin to shrink around this time, so harsh and drying astringents become irritating and can cause redness and flaking, worsening existing acne. We know what you’re thinking, and yes, in this case, oils are good. The natural ones your skin produces keep it hydrated and healthy, so you’re going to want them to stick around.

Shop gentle cleaners: Derma E Very Clear Facial Cleaner ($10); Peet Rivko Gentle Cleanser ($28); Pai Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil ($56)

2. Add in chemical exfoliation. Wipes and toners with salicylic, glycolic, alpha hydroxyl or beta hydroxyl acids will help get rid of dirt and dead skin cells, unclogging pores to prevent future breakouts. 

Shop chemical exfoliators: Neutrogena Rapid Clear 2-In-1 Fight & Fade Acne Toner ($8); Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($30); BeautyCounter Overnight Resurfacing Peel ($63)

3. Introduce spot treatments. It’s important not to over-dry your skin, so targeted treatments like sulfur dips and pimple patches are your friend. They work to aggressively draw out congestion from blemishes and clogged pores without overdoing it in the clear areas.

Shop spot treatments: Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch ($5); Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment ($26); ZitSticka Killa Kit ($29)

4. Get serious about anti-aging. Even if you’re not seeing things like fine lines and dark spots just yet (two things that can happen as a result of too much scrubbing and acne scarring), using serums and moisturizers with restorative and protective ingredients now will help them from forming aggressively in the future. We’re talking vitamin C antioxidants and, of course, SPF—arguably the most important anti-aging ingredient of them all.

Shop anti-aging hydrators: Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF15 ($12); Olehenriksen Truth Serum ($49); SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($165)

If You’re In Your 40s…

Ooph, adult acne is tough, isn’t it? And also a little unfair. Things like high levels of stress, sugar intake and bacteria build up are a few potential offenders, not to mention hormone changes thanks to menopause, which many women start at some point in their 40s. While, yes, it’s just one of those things some women unfortunately have to deal with later in life, there are some promising skincare solutions that can help (in addition to healthy habits like cutting down on sweets and swapping out your pillowcase as often as you can). If you’re in your 40s, take note of the following things in particular.

1. Exfoliate with double-duty cleansers or creams with acids. But pay extra attention to the type you use: Lactic acid is especially effective in your 40s, because it’s a gentle and moisturizing AHA, meaning that while it removes grime and helps your cells turn over, it also stimulates collagen renewal and maintains water content, giving you that youthful elasticity and glow.

Shop lactic acid: Peter Thomas Roth Irish Moor Mud Purifying Cleansing Gel ($24); Freck Cactus Water Cleansing Lactic Acid Toner ($27); Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment ($158)

 2. Think about getting an oil-free cleanser. This doesn’t mean you should skip hydrating and moisturizing—it just means you might want to ease-up on the potentially comedogenic qualities in your face wash (aka unnecessary things that will clog your pores and cause breakouts).

Shop oil-free cleansers: Neutrogena Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Acne Facial Cleanser ($7); Philosophy Clear Days Ahead Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Cleanser ($22); Elta MD Foaming Facial Cleanser ($26)

3. Speaking of moisturizing, look to nighttime-targeted products that work while you sleep. Skin loses the most moisture during the night, so hydrating masks or lotions that are rich in things like ceramides (which restore the protective skin barrier), hyaluronic acid (which helps retains moisturizer) and niacinamide (which calms skin) will help create a healthy, hydrated and balanced environment that keeps acne at bay.

Shop nighttime hydration: CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($13); Origins Drink up Intensive Overnight Hydrating Mask with Avocado & Swiss Glacier Water ($26); Tatcha Dewy Skin Night Concentrate ($110)

4. Get yourself a retinoid. Your 40s are when skin starts to thin and sag from lack of collagen production, and combined with acne, it can start to look worse for wear. If you’ve been waiting for us to mention retinoids, here’s where it happens: Products with retinoids not only clear pimples, blackheads and clogged pores, they also restore the skin’s tone and texture to improve your overall complexion and appearance. Basically, they’re an intense, targeted way to get the young, beautiful, clear skin you want.

Shop retinoids: Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment ($11); Herbivore Botanicals Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Serum ($54); Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream ($74)

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Director, Branded Content

Cristina Polchinski is a director of branded content at Gallery Media Group. She produces sponsored content campaigns across all verticals and platforms, in addition to...