Treating Acne In Adult Men

Of all the things you may miss about adolescence, acne probably isn't one of them.

So if you're an adult male who is dealing with breakouts, it's no wonder you may feel frustrated and embarrassed. But consider the bright side: Now that you have the determination and maturity of an adult, you're up to the challenge of following a treatment plan so that your acne can be a short-term problem.

This article cites 10 things you ought to know about adult acne before explaining how dermatologists treat it.


Know That Adults Get Acne, Too

Young man washing face in bathroom sink

Daniel Ingold / Cultura / Getty Images

For most teens, acne is more than a rite of passage; it's an uncomfortable mark of adolescence. About 85% of them deal with acne at some point during the teen years.

For many males, breakouts diminish over time but never completely go away. For others, acne appears for the first time during adulthood. Dermatologists call this “adult-onset acne.” And women are more likely to deal with adult acne than men. Either way, plenty of adults break out long after the high school years are over, sometimes well into their 30s, 40s, and 50s.


Understand the Causes of Acne

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Acne on face

 DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Knowing what causes acne should help you treat it right—and get better results. While women can sometimes blame their fluctuating monthly hormones for acne, men might find other triggers including:

  • Family history
  • Hair or skin products, especially if they contain pore-clogging oil
  • Medication
  • Stress
  • Undiagnosed medical condition

Talk with your healthcare provider to see if you can "connect the dots" between your acne and an underlying cause. It may unfortunate side effect of medication you're taking for a diagnosed medical condition or one that hasn't yet been identified.


Take Care of Your Skin

Acne isn't caused by a dirty face. But a good skincare routine will help get your acne treatments on track. You don't have to spend a lot of time, and you don't need a lot of products.

  • Wash your face once a day, as well as after exercising, with a mild soap.
  • Moisturize after showering or shaving.
  • Apply sunscreen before going outdoors.

Be Careful When You Shave

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.


 DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Acne can make shaving difficult and often painful. So take extra care when shaving. Don't shave off the tops of pimples, and shave carefully over blemishes. If your razor is irritating your skin, try switching to an electric one.

If you have serious acne, or if shaving irritates your skin, try experimenting with a beard trimmer. It will clip the hair short but not completely remove it. It can help save your skin from irritation, at least until your acne starts to clear up

Sometimes what men think is acne is actually ingrown hairs or folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicle). Guys with curly hair in the beard area are more prone to folliculitis because the hair tends to curl under the skin Letting the hair grow a bit longer can help.


Know That Enlarged Pores Can Improve

Some men consider large pores just as annoying as pimples. Large pores are especially common in people with oily skin.

No skin care product can eliminate large pores, but some over-the-counter acne products may help them appear smaller. Some prescription products, like topical retinoids, are also good for large pores. And they can treat acne at the same time.

Keep in mind that while you may see quick results from OTC products, the effect usually doesn't last long. In other words, you should expect your pores to return to their normal size sooner rather than later.


Consider Treatment Options

There are many acne treatment options available today. You might see some improvement after using an over-the-counter product if your acne is mild (meaning some light pimples and blackheads). Stubborn acne will respond better to prescription medication.

Isotretinoin might be an option. You might know this medication by the brand name Accutane. Used properly, this medication can clear up severe cases of acne, even acne that hasn't improved with other treatments.


Treat Body Acne

Acne can show up on other places besides your face. Many men deal with back and body acne, too. Body washes made specifically for body breakouts are available at many drug stores. The most effective ones contain benzoyl peroxide.

Plan For Plan B

If OTC products don't work, consider a prescription medication for body acne. It can be difficult (and messy) to smear cream on your own back, so an oral acne medication might be a better solution.


See a Dermatologist

A dermatologist may be better suited to help you clear up your acne than your regular healthcare provider. A dermatologist is trained to diagnose and treat skin conditions.

Plus, dermatologists' expertise goes more than "skin deep." They understand that acne can shake someone's confidence and make them feel self-conscious. So if you're underwhelmed by one dermatologist, keep looking until you find one who is willing to talk about the emotional issues that acne can trigger. Compassionate ones are out there.


Be Patient

Acne treatments take time to work, so try not to get discouraged or give up. Skin is a resilient organ, but it can also be stubborn. It may take up to three or four months before you notice a difference in your skin. Expect to stick with a treatment for at least that long.

As you set expectations, expect to develop new pimples during the initial weeks of treatment as your skin adapts to change. This doesn't mean your treatment isn't working. Give it time, and direct any questions to your dermatologist.


Don't Let Acne Drag You Down

Although it may be hard to admit, acne can affect your self-confidence. It can make you feel self-conscious, anxious, and depressed. Don't be too hard on yourself; you're not being shallow or vain. Many people feel this way.

There is some good news here: Almost every case of acne can be cleared up with the right treatment. So get on a treatment plan. Just feeling like you have some control over your skin can give you a boost.

Of the hundreds of skin conditions that afflict people, acne is the most common. It affects up to 50 million Americans a year.

Diagnosis First

Even for two people who may have the same type of acne, a treatment plan may differ. This is because a dermatologist will consider the whole picture as they form a diagnosis, including:

  • Age
  • The type of acne you have
  • How long you've had it
  • Where the acne appears
  • The treatments you've already tried
  • How they worked
  • Whether they left any scars behind

Treatment Options

Board-certified dermatologists have many acne "tools" at their disposal. Their challenge is to match the treatment to your specific condition. Although there is no "one-size-fits-all" plan, certain conditions might justify the following tactics:

  • For whiteheads and blackheads: a retinoid; a retinoid along with benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, or salicylic acid; or benzoyl peroxide plus a topical antibiotic
  • For pimples: azelaic acid; benzoyl peroxide by itself; benzoyl peroxide along with a retinoid or a topical antibiotic; or retinoid
  • For acne nodules and cysts: A prescription medication applied to the skin
11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Adult acne.

  3. American College of Osteopathic of Dermatology. Folliculitis..

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  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What can treat large facial pores?

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What Can Clear Severe Acne?

  7. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Accutane.

  8. Yang Z, Zhang Y, Lazic Mosler E, et al. Topical benzoyl peroxide for acneCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020;3(3):CD011154. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011154.pub2

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  11. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: Diagnosis and treatment.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.