How to deal with adult acne

The hormonal imbalance of coming off the pill left Fiona Ward plagued with angry breakouts – here's how she worked through it 

Added on

By Fiona Ward on

I’ve always suffered with the odd spot. Like many, my adolescent self was often spackled with a few pubescent pimples – gone within days and forgotten about among a sea of matters needing far more attention, namely nightclubs, A-Levels and driving lessons. 

Now, I look back on my near-perfect teenage skin wistfully – because, today, my skin is far more like a sixth-former's than a grown woman's. And I’m not the only one. A recent study of UK dermatology clinics found a 200 per cent rise in adults seeking specialist acne treatment.

The contraceptive pill has been the trigger of all my skin problems; since going pill-free for over two years now, the hormonal imbalance has left my skin plagued with angry breakouts so deep beneath the surface that they never come to a head (not for lack of trying, of course; I’m of the kind who loves a good spot-popping session). Maddeningly, this is a very common side effect of coming off the pill. 

So, how can we tackle this monster? As I’ve learnt, it’s not just a case of cracking out the Clearasil and waiting for things to clear up

The stubborn zits generally form around my mouth, chin and jawline – which is typical for most adult acne-sufferers, as I’m told by renowned dermatologist Dr Murad. However, my forehead and hairline can be particularly explosive, too. 

The angry, painful and unsightly spots are one thing, but I could never have imagined the impact acne has had on my self-esteem. While I’m a true make-up lover, I’ve never been someone who feels I *have* to wear it. But, now, I find myself rushing to apply foundation if I have an unexpected guest and even feeling ashamed if the postman catches me barefaced. Having always been an advocate for enjoying make-up, rather than needing it, it’s a hard pill to swallow (if you’ll excuse the pun).

The British Skin Foundation recently found that nearly 20 per cent of acne-sufferers have thought about, or attempted, suicide. The long list of statistics makes for a sad read. "Ninety-five per cent of acne sufferers said it had an impact on their daily lives." "Just over a third of people have self-harmed or considered it." "Nearly 40 per cent of acne sufferers have been verbally abused by another member of the public." People are cruel and having acne really is awful.

So, how can we tackle this monster? As I’ve learnt, it’s not just a case of cracking out the Clearasil and waiting for things to clear up. Here’s my action plan: 

1. Research 

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about acne, it’s that it’s individual to the sufferer – you can find yourself in an endless cycle of arguments for and against every treatment option, so it’s a case of trial and error. Your acne is personal to you. A good place to start is the and for plain-speaking advice.

Many believe that removing dairy products from their diet is the cure for acne – something I’ve tried and continue to cut down on, and, though it hasn’t proved an easy fix for me, there are many who’ve seen a dramatic difference. Another popular course of action is supplements. Have a look at the research around upping your zinc, magnesium and omega-3s among others – some studies show they have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and hormone-balancing qualities.

2. Seek advice 

A good dermatologist should be your next port of call if you’re getting nowhere – they may suggest a hormonal treatment, laser therapy or a very specialised skincare regime. Ask your GP for a referral on the NHS; alternatively, allows you to search for private dermatologists in your area. Lloyds pharmacy also offers an online Acne Treatment Assessment – a private, discreet and free service whereby a doctor will assess your condition and offer treatment recommendations.

3. Reassess your products

If you’re not already sticking to a good cleanse morning and night, it might be time to reassess your product stash. So with that in mind, here are my acne-friendly favourites. 


Anyone of any authority on skin will tell you that cleansing is the single best thing you can do for it – morning and night, using a warm flannel or muslin cloth to remove. I’m a big fan of natural brand Odylique – in particular their Silk Touch Cleanser, which, although aimed at drier skins, has never once congested mine. If you’re extra oily, try their Lemon & Tea Tree Purifying Wash, which will leave skin super clean without stripping it.




The trouble with many skincare products aimed at acne-prone skin is that they tend to leave it feeling parched and tight – moisture and hydration is just as important for us oily-skinned folks (as drying skin out can actually lead to an overproduction of oil to compensate, which will exacerbate the problem). Sk:n Clinics makes some brilliant products, including their Anti Blemish Hydrator, designed to go on straight after your cleanser to stop it feeling thirsty. As a day-to-day moisturiser, I love Soap & Glory’s The Fab Pore, which is nourishing without clogging.




Stock up on a few hard-hitting treatments that you can slot into your regime when necessary – a good targeted spot treatment will come in handy, plus an exfoliant. I personally like a physical scrub to use once or twice a week – Lancer’s The Method: Polish, £60, provides just the right amount of grit without being abrasive. If your skin doesn’t agree with a rough polish, a liquid, chemical exfoliant with a BHA ingredient (short for beta hydroxy acid) can be great for oily, congested skins – try the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid, £25.00. For those zits you just know are about to erupt, Murad’s Blemish Spot Treatment will bring them to the surface and reduce the duration of the breakout.





Applying a great mask once a week doesn’t hurt and it’s a nice treat at that. 7th Heaven masks are a great budget option, from £1 each, while the Malin + Goetz Detox Face Mask, £32, is one of the best I’ve tried and so pleasing to use – the unique oxygenating agents bubble away on your skin, lifting dirt and oil away.



If you can’t resist concealing your spots, like me, mineral make-up is probably the better option. I’m a long-time advocate of BareMinerals – buff their Original Foundation over skin for a smooth and even coverage that won’t irritate or block pores. If you can’t bear to part with liquid formulas, ReCover Cosmetics’ Correct & Conceal Red is a high-coverage concealer with yellow-toned pigments to completely counteract redness and blemishes.



Sign up

Love this? Sign up to receive our Today in 3 email, delivering the latest stories straight to your inbox every morning, plus all The Pool has to offer. You can manage your email subscription preferences at My Profile at any time

Tagged in:
beauty advice

Tap below to add to your homescreen

Love The Pool? Support us and sign up to get your favourite stories straight to your inbox