How to Improve Acne Breakouts in Your 20s, 30s and Beyond

Think acne is only an issue for teenagers? Not anymore.

The American Academy of Dermatology says more women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond are experiencing adult-onset acne. Some estimate as many as 50% of those in their 20s are dealing with acne. Men can also be affected, though it seems to be at a lesser degree.

What Causes Adult Acne?

While dermatologists aren't sure what's causing the uptick, there is some agreement that these acne breakouts fall into the general category of "hormonal acne."

Hormonal acne is caused by fluctuations in hormones. There are several factors that can influence hormone levels in women including:

  • Menstrual cycles
  • Pregnancy
  • Peri-menopause and menopause
  • Starting or discontinuing the use of birth control pills

Additionally, lifestyle elements such as stress, medication, diet, and the personal wellness products you use on your hair and skin can all contribute.

From a biological perspective, certain hormones can trigger an increase in the amount of sebum that is produced by our oil glands.

Things like an imbalance in the ratio of estrogen and progesterone in women can impact testosterone, all androgens that can signal an overproduction of oil and alter skin cells in a way that makes them more prone to congestion.

Stress is an important part of the puzzle as well. Our body responds to stress by releasing cortisol, a stress hormone that can also disrupt the oil balance of our skin.

How Do I know If I Have Hormonal Breakouts?

Woman profile of her chin, how to tell if you have hormonal acne

There are three indicators that we consider as tell-tale signs of hormonal acne. The first being you are experiencing breakouts well beyond your teenage years. The next two deal with the location of the acne and frequency.

Do you tend to get breakouts around the same time each month? Before your period comes or during that last week of birth control? If you aren't sure try tracking it for a few months to see if there is a pattern. There are a lot of apps these days that make it easy to save this info for later review.

And finally, are your breakouts localized to the chin or jawline? What about the side of the face or even on your neck?

If the answer to these last few questions is yes, then it's a good indication you are dealing with hormonal acne.  

Treating Hormonal Acne

Hormonal Acne flare-ups can vary from small, red spots to whiteheads and blackheads, to deep and painful cysts.

Our biggest goal for treating hormonal acne is to work on bringing back balance to our skin and into our daily lives. Since hormonal acne can be worsened by things like stress, taking a holistic approach to clearing up the skin is vital.

Red & Inflamed 

When a pimple or spot is red and somewhat painful, that generally means there is some sort of bacterial infection. Professionals categorize this type of acne as papules or pustules. Lovely names, right?

Papules are small raised bumps that are red and inflamed. Often they are associated with dermatitis and allergic reactions - typically not the kind of blemishes we think of as hormonal.

Pustules are what we normally think of as pimples. Red, raised and filled with puss. They are formed by a plugged hair follicle that has been infected with some sort of bacteria.

To get rid of the look of pustule breakouts, you will want to focus on purifying the skin from dirt, grime and bacteria that is getting to the pores and causing the inflammation.

You'll want to avoid any sort of abrasive scrubs until the redness and swelling subside. Avoid popping inflamed pimples as it can open the pores to more bacteria, lead to scarring and create more irritation.

If you are experiencing more papule-type blemishes, have you recently started a new skin care regimen? New laundry detergent? Or, maybe you've used too many harsh skin care products that didn't agree with your skin. 

Try cutting back to the most simple, gentle skin care products for a few days and see if the red bumps start to clear up. You can also spot treat the spots with Tea Tree oil that will help to purify and care for the blemish.

Blackheads and Whiteheads 

These spots are caused by oil and dead skin getting impacted into pores.

Whiteheads are the little bumps with a white head. They are not painful and can usually be easily extracted with a warm compress. But, be careful not to pull at the skin or to attempt this on dirty skin.

Blackheads are impacted pores that have oxidized.

For both of these conditions you will want to adopt a regular cleansing and exfoliation program to cleanse and unclog pores. It's also important to use products with high concentrations of antioxidants, as they prevent the oxidation that leads to the "black" in blackheads.

Cysts and nodules

Truly, the worst kind of acne, as it is deep within the skin and can take days, if not weeks to heal. Cysts happen when oil glands beneath the surface of the skin get blocked and inflamed. They are usually very painful and can feel warm to the touch.

Do not try to press or pop cysts or nodules. The best plan of attack is to properly cleanse the skin and use a topical ice pack to calm the inflammation, and wait it out. In severe circumstances you may need to see a dermatologist for a cortisone shot or other treatment methods.  

Skin Care Routines to Improve the Look of Hormonal Acne

woman washing face with lemon gel cleanser to improve the look of acne

As mentioned above, the key is to soothe and calm. When balance is restored, your skin will let you know! Use these recommendations to help you start the journey back to clear, healthy-looking skin.

1. Cleansing

A good facial cleansing routine is your first line of defense. It will eliminate excess oil and purify the skin from the bacteria and other grime that leads to inflamed breakouts. 

The ideal cleanser will be gentle enough to not disrupt your skin's delicate pH balance while also delivering a clean, purified feel. Steer clear from anything that is too harsh. You don't want to compromise your skin's protective layer - that will only lead to more irritation.

Take the time to wash your face in the morning and night. Start simple and add to your routine as you skin adjusts and you become more comfortable.

For Oily and Congested Skin 

For oily, congested skin we recommend Lemon Gel Cleanser. It gently dissolves dirt, oil and grime without leaving the skin feeling tight or uncomfortable. It has Micellar technology that makes for the efficient removal of makeup and a quick and easy rinse. 

We've also added botanical extracts like Elder Flower, Turmeric and essential oils such as Lemon that condition and soften the skin, and make it safe to use for most skin types as well, since it isn't drying.

For Normal, Sensitive, Dry and Mature Skin

For those who aren't too concerned with oily skin, Geranium Cleanser is a great choice for your morning routine. Geranium Essential Oil contains properties that help to promote harmony for the skin and spirit. Similar to Rose, Geranium also is known for having an affinity for supporting female hormones.

The milky, lotion-like formula is immediately soothing to the skin and smells wonderful.

For ALL Skin Types

For quick and gentle cleansing, you can't beat Micellar Cleansing Water. When the skin is inflamed, all you may need is a few swipes of Micellar on a cotton pad to promote a cleansed and refreshed feeling to the skin.

Micellar Cleansing Water works great as the first step in a double cleansing routine as well. It provides a clean base to then get a deeper, more efficient clean. Men also love Micellar Water. 

2. Exfoliation

In addition to an increase in oil production, hormonal imbalances can also alter cellular turnover, making it harder to shed dead skin cells. Exfoliation is a must to slough away dead skin cells, stimulate healthy cell function and for keeping pores clean.

As with cleansing, being too aggressive with exfoliation can actually worsen your skin issues. More is not better in this case. Aim to exfoliate once or twice a week and look for products that are gentle. 

For all Skin Types

Our Silt Scrub is an excellent exfoliant because it is active but not harsh. With freshwater colloidal silt, super fine cherry seed powder and volcanic ash pumice, this exfoliant gently buffs away dead skin cells and dissolves the glue that prevents the natural shedding of flaky skin. 

For easy application, keep it in the shower and apply it at the beginning of your bathing ritual. This gives time for the humic acids from the silt to go to work. After a few minutes gently massage with light fingers to buff then skin, then easily rinse away all the particles without any messy clean up needed.

For Sensitive and Inflamed Skin 

Aroma Peel is our natural alternative to a chemical peel. Super gentle but effective, our blend of essential oils soften the skin, penetrate deep into the pores and leave the skin glowing. Without any physical grit, Aroma Peel is a great option for those who have red, inflamed "pimples."

For super effective exfoliation switch back-n-forth between these two exfoliants. For those with tougher skin, who want to exfoliate twice a week, this is a great combination. Others with more delicate complexions use Silt Scrub one week and Aroma Peel the next.

3. Mask

Facial masks are a great way to treat specific concerns by giving your skin a hardy dose of ingredients and textures designed to offer immediate and longer-term results.

For Red, Irritated and Sensitive Skin

When you are first starting a new acne regimen, it is a good idea to first work on calming down any inflammation before introducing products that work on a deeper level to target what's causing the breakouts.

Matcha Cool Mask is your go-to for comforting upset skin. 

With a lightweight, gel-like consistency, it won't feel heavy or greasy on the skin or further clog pores. With ingredients like Aloe Vera, Algae extracts, Matcha and Ginseng, the mask will immediately give your skin the feeling of relief. Redness will diminish and healing can begin.

To Balance and Promote Clarity

Once skin isn't as compromised you can start to use more active products that will improve blemished and prevent future flare ups.

Active Silt Mask wasn't initially created to care for hormonal acne, but it's one of the most effective for transforming the health and appearance of the skin.

It's supercharged with all the ingredients you need to address the main concerns of hormonal acne. Activated Charcoal, Bentonite Clay and Freshwater Silt are like a vacuum for clogged pores. They work to purify the skin from toxins and grime that get stuck in pores. Sea Buckthorn, Green Tea and Cucumber are powerful antioxidants and help to protect the skin from damage and inflammation, and Geranium, as we mentioned earlier, supports the body's ability to balance hormones.

As in the name, this mask is quite active. Some may experience some purging with the first couple of uses. It's not uncommon to have a few spots along the jawline of neck a few days after applying Active Silt Mask. This is a result of the skin getting rid of all the bad stuff hanging out deep within.

The results are skin that looks and feels detoxified and balanced. Over time you should notice less visible blemishes and a more harmonious complexion.

If you are the type that gets breakouts around the same time each month, try to schedule your mask date to head off flare ups before they happen.

4. Hydrate

It's logical to think that as you age you need to pile on the moisturizer. The truth is, it depends on your skin's needs. If you are in the middle of acne breakouts, it's likely you need to throttle back until things get under control.

It's not that you need to eliminate the moisturizers, you just need to be careful about the type of moisture you are using. The goal is to not add more congestion but to keep the skin hydrated, in balance.

Look for lightweight lotions and gels, rather than creams. Hyaluronic Acid is a sure fire way to retain moisture in the skin without and sticky, oily residue. It can hold 1,000 times its weight in water! 

Avoid oils that are known to clog pores such as Coconut Oil. Hemp Seed Oil, Grape Seed Oil and Jojoba are great options when you are looking to protect pores from the look of blackheads, whiteheads and other blemishes.

Remember, moisturize when you need to. Don't force it. 

5. Visit an Esthetician

Lastly, hormonal acne can be hard to extract like normal pimples. Visiting an esthetician and getting deep pore cleansing facials and spa treatments like the LED Light Therapy offered at Sanctuary Spa Houston can speed up healing of inflamed skin, reduce redness and diminish the look of pores.

The experience of spending a few hours at the spa is also helpful to manage stress and tension, which if let unchecked can exacerbate skin issues.


Women in 20s or 30s with glowing, beautiful skin

As always, if breakouts persist or become more severe, you will want to visit your doctor or a dermatologist. There could be an underlying medical condition, such as issues with your thyroid, that need to be addressed. 

And lastly, a good rule of thumb when your skin seems to be out of balance is to slowly introduce new treatments. Don't overdo it. Start simple and add to your routine until your complexion gets to a place of harmony.

Yes, there can be happy skin days ahead! If you want personalized recommendations, reach out to us at or give us a call at 800.880.6457

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