Best Acne Treatments for Adults

best acne treatments for adults
Photo: Deagreez, iStock

Remember your teenage struggles with acne? Maybe you hoped that once the puberty hormones subsided, you wouldn’t be plagued with these red bumps on your face anymore. Unfortunately, adult acne is a very real problem for many people — but there are lots of over-the-counter (OTC) products that work well. Here’s a list of the best ingredients to look for when buying acne treatments for adults.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If your acne problems seem out of control or you feel like it is getting worse, it might be time to go see a dermatologist. These doctors may be able to suggest prescription treatment or other strategies to help with adult acne.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical that kills bacteria, specifically the type that causes acne. One great thing about it is that it doesn’t cause antibiotic resistance. This means it is effective every single time you use it.

You can find different medication brands containing various amounts of benzoyl peroxide, everything from 2.5% up to 10%. Studies have shown that the amount you use doesn’t seem to change the effectiveness, so the best thing to do is to simply find a product that’s in your price range.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid, also known as beta hydroxy acids, don’t directly kill bacteria. Instead, this chemical exfoliates the skin and keeps pores clear. Essentially, it is taking away all the element on your skin that bacteria thrives on and replaces it with an environment that’s too clean for bacteria to grow. No bacteria means no acne!

best acne treatments for adults
Photo: JulyProkopiv, iStock

There are lots of products that contain salicylic acid, such as lotions, gels, creams, and face washes. When you first start using a product, your skin might peel and become dry, so don’t lather it on. You may even find it useful to apply or use the cream or face wash every other day to start. 

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

Alpha hydroxy acids are similar to salicylic acid in that they help exfoliate your skin. These chemicals come from citrus plants and, along with busting acne, they boost collagen production. (Collagen is the protein that gives your skin that nice, youthful bounce.) More collagen means younger-looking skin and possibly even fewer wrinkles!

If you have acne scars or other discoloration on your skin, AHAs can also help diminish their appearance. 


Retinoids are chemicals that are related to Vitamin A. When applied to your skin, retinoids cause cellular change and your skin starts to grow and turnover faster. This, in turn, helps unclog pores and smooth out the skin.

Retinoid creams are usually recommended for people with moderate to severe acne. When you first start using it, retinoid can cause red, itchy irritation and may seem like it’s making your skin worse. However, once you become used to the chemical, you’ll start to see results.

If you really can’t stand the itching, try using the retinoid product every other day when you first start out.

Best Acne Treatments for Adults — Sources

Mayo Clinic
NBC News