As you’ve aged, your skin has too. But the acne products you are being sold? Not so much. They’re still firmly targeted at those carefree teenage days when blasting your oily skin with stripping products was practically a hobby. So, how are you supposed to know what is still safe and effective for banishing your distinctly grown-up blemishes, if the labels aren’t telling you? Let us do your legwork, with a list of acne treatments to avoid if you’re north of 25, from BalmLabs’ Founding Dermatologist, Dr. Robin Schaffran.
✗ Salicylic Acid
Salicylic Acid is a beta hydroxy acid that works to exfoliate dead skin cells and other debris and oils from both the surface of the skin and deep within the pores. For young, hydrated teenage skin, salicylic acid can be a godsend in treating mild acne. But as your skin ages and becomes dryer and more sensitive, the acid can increase dryness and irritation, doing more harm than good.
✗ Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide is an organic acid in the Peroxide family. Its antimicrobial properties lower the amounts of acne-causing bacteria in pores and on the skin’s surface, but they also cause dryness and excessive irritation that can lead to more breakouts in adult skin. Acne products that can cause acne? Pass, please.
Remember when you were twenty-one and could knock back tequila shots until two, then stroll into work the next morning without so much as a headache? Well, your skin feels the same way about retinoids.
As we age, our skin gets thinner and often more reactive due to dryness and hormones. For many adults using retinol, this means more of the drug is absorbed by the skin than recommended. This overexposure can cause irritation that often comes in the form of itchiness and burning, making—you guessed it—your acne worse.
Both topical and oral antibiotics can be useful in treating acne, but they’re antibiotics. Good for short-term treatment of bacterial infections, bad for your long-term gut health if overused. Beyond the side effects antibiotics can cause for sensitive skin (rashes, itches, swelling), there is a growing body of research that suggests a healthier microbiome leads to healthier skin. So, the drugs that promise to help may actually be harmful long-term.
✗ Hormonal Therapy
While birth control pills and hormones can often work to clear acne in teens, they aren’t recommended for adults with a family history of cancer or heart disease—so, most of us. Even if they are safe, they don’t always work, meaning you’re coping with side effects like headaches, nausea, menstrual irregularities, weight gain, and breast tenderness without any improvement in your skin condition.
We know. That list eliminates pretty much all of the most common traditional remedies for acne-prone skin. The good news? Recent research by companies like BalmLabs has unearthed a fleet of natural ingredients that have been proven to work their magic on adult acne specifically. Instead of reaching for something harsh, look for:
✓ Topical Hemp-Derived CBD
Whether you suffer from acne, inflammation and redness of the skin, or both, topical CBD has something to offer you. CBD boasts the ability to adjust how the body creates sebum, which is an oily substance that protects the skin in correct amounts but clogs the pores and causes acne when overproduced. Ever an overachiever, CBD is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that can reduce redness and even skin tone.
✓ Bixa Orellana Extract
Bixa orellana is a shrub typically found in South America that produces annatto seeds, which are rich in carotenoids (a powerful antioxidant). It has been shown to be a potent purifying and pore-refining agent. “It gives the skin a natural, sunny glow,” says Dr. Schaffran.
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Dermatologist Q+A: What are the fundamentals of a good product?