How to Get Rid of Acne for Good in Your 20s


It’s a beauty taboo no one likes to talk about – acne past your teenage years. And while there are worse problems (worse #firstworldproblems, that is) this one takes the cake for Most Annoying, and always seems to flare up at the most inopportune time. One thing to keep in mind is that 20-something skin is more complex than younger skin, therefore, requiring a different skin care regimen from your earlier years. So, skip the benzoyl peroxide treatments you used in high school and opt for gentler alternatives that won’t dry out your skin. Whether you have occasional break outs or consistent bouts of blemishes, here is everything you need in your arsenal for preventing and treating acne, as well as removing those unsightly acne scars. Of course, all the products listed below have been tested by yours truly. 


Short of a hormonal imbalance, high stress, or a vitamin deficiency, adult acne can be attributed to lack of hydration, not removing makeup before bed, and harsh ingredients in beauty products. As mentioned, you’ll want to steer clear of drying ingredients such as sodium or ammonium lauryl sulfate, and ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. These ingredients strip skin of natural oils, producing excess sebum (yup, acne). A healthy skin care routine begins with your cleanser, so if yours contains any of the aforementioned ingredients, toss it out and check out the options below from Avène and Yes To.

Named after a village in South France known for its pure spring water, Avène is a must-have for blemish-prone skin. Its soap-free, pH balanced gel cleanser gently cleanses skin without stripping essential oils, necessary for hydration and the prevention of sebum.


Avène Cleanance Soap-Free Gel Cleanser, $20

If you would prefer a cleanser you can find at your local drugstore, Yes To has many options that are free of sulfates and parabens. My favorite is the Yes To Carrots Cream Cleanser, which moisturizes skin and doesn’t strip away essential oils.

It seems counterintuitive to use a face oil on oily skin, but jojoba oil, in particular, helps balance the pH of skin and control excess sebum production. Ever since I started using this hydrating serum from Seventh Generation, I very rarely break out and get frequent compliments on my skin. Last fall, I named it the skin care must-have for every 20-something.

seventh generation jojoba oil

Seventh Generation Hydrating Serum, $13.49


Acne spot-treatments are a dime a dozen (yes, I’ve tried toothpaste; no, it did not work), but there’s only one product that has ever fulfilled its promise and that is tea tree oil. The only thing that bums me out about tea tree oil is that I didn’t discover it sooner. The scent is also less than optimal (it’s smells like a combination of mint and gasoline). But if you’re looking to zap a zit or two on the go, this is it. Dab it on overnight or under makeup. Speaking of makeup…


Tea Tree Oil, $9.50

Let’s face it, if you’re broken out chances are you’re more likely to wear makeup that will hide any imperfections. The makers of Hydroxatone figured this out and promptly released a CC cream with acne-fighting properties and flawless coverage. I use this product any time I have a zit, and it thoroughly conceals while diminishing it. The product can be a bit drying if you have dry or combination skin, so be sure to hydrate beforehand and apply over a primer.

hydroxatone cc cream

Hydroxatone Anti-Acne CC Cream, $39

Post-Acne Treatment

So you’ve eliminated those pesky pimples but now you’re left with dark spots and possibly scarring. Luckily, you have a couple of great options that really work.

First up is a brightening treatment from Dr. Dennis Gross that contains ferulic acid and retinol. I originally sampled this solution for diminishing fine lines but I discovered its true talent lies in completely eliminating hyper pigmentation caused by acne or the sun. After just one use my stubborn dark spots were significantly reduced. I’m still amazed by its magic. I’ve tried dozens of brightening products over the past year, including treatments from Origins and Ole Henrickson, and this one is the best. Because this product contains retinol, it’s best to use it overnight. Dab a small amount over your problem spots and wake up with clearer skin.


Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution, $85

Another product that is worth trying is Murad’s Post-Acne Spot Lighting Gel, which doubles as a blemish-fighter for existing acne. The product can be a bit drying and cause skin to flake, so apply sparingly. Like the Dennis Gross treatment I discussed above, this one works its magic overnight.


Murad Post-Acne Lightening Gel, $60

What acne products have worked for you? Share your tips in the comments.

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Diane Taha

  • This is an awesome article! I discovered the Body Shop Tea Tree Oil a few years ago and it’s been a lifesaver. I think I prefer it a million times over to Benzoyl Peroxide for clearing up pimples. It’s just as effective, less drying, and doesn’t bleach all my towels and sheets.

    • thank you! glad other people are using tea tree oil instead of benzoyl peroxide. i wish i had discovered it growing up haha.

  • Maria

    This post is so useful. I also deal with adult acne, though it is a little better now. Might put some of the products you have mentioned on my to-get list :)

  • Mademoiselle nature


    I would definitely add this fantastic UK natural cleanser made for sensitive/blemish prone skins:


  • Wesley Thomas

    Using Diaper Rash cream as a face mask, I know, odd, but works!
    Dermaroller to fight acne scars and also wrinkles and keeps my skin tight and toned. A little painful at first, but well worth it. For shower I use Aveeno Skin Relief Shower Cream, no fragrance, prevents drying, I rarely breakout now. To battle spots I use neutrogena on-the-spot treatment, does the trick. But I may have to try tea tree oil.