Everything You Need To Know About Adult Acne


In proud partnership with La Roche-Posay and L’Oréal New Zealand

As kids, one of the greatest lies we were ever told was that breakouts were for “the youth”. That acne and blemishes were strictly reserved for those between the ages of 13 and 19, give or take. Which, of course, made sense at the time: Adulthood was going to be hard enough already without the complication of acne, and pimples didn’t really align with the aesthetic of a person applying for a bank loan or negotiating a pay rise.

But, as I said, we were lied to. Well, I was, anyway. Because I still get breakouts. So, I decided to ask (read: interrogate) two experts on everything from what causes adult acne, to what factors are within our control, how we can unclog pores, erase dark spots, and prevent future breakouts. Dr. Lisa Connelly is a dermatologist and the founder of integrative dermatology centre iderm, and Marion Kowalski is a medical representative for the Active Cosmetics division at L’Oréal with a Masters in Biology specializing in cosmetics.

I also asked Connelly and Kowalski for product recommendations from one of the most beloved and accessible acne treatment ranges in the world: La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar. Backed by 25 years of dermatological expertise in oily and acne-prone skin, La Roche-Posay developed the Effaclar range specifically to “combat surface impurities and tackle oiliness”. Which is really just a fancy way of saying: they are really, really good at tackling acne and managing breakouts. And I would know: I use their Effaclar Foaming Gel when my skin is particularly “clogged up” and find it to be the only foaming cleanser that doesn’t strip my skin in the way most foaming products do, and I’ve just started using their new Effaclar Micro-Peeling Gel on my back when it needs a little attention.

Okay kids, class is in session.

In a nutshell, what makes adult acne different from the acne we got as teenagers? Why is the myth that “adults don’t get pimples” inaccurate? 

EC: Adults certainly suffer from acne and many women in the 20-40s still suffer from it. For some it’s their first experience with acne. This form seems to be more hormonally driven and less about sebum, excess oil production or clogged pores the way adolescent acne is. 

We know that external factors like pollution can impact our susceptibility to breakouts – what skincare products can help mitigate the effects of something like pollution? 

EC: Products rich in antioxidants help protect the skin from external aggressors such as pollutants. I recommend products such as Redermic Pure Vitamin C10 Serum and the La Roche Posay Thermal Spring Water along with daily application of a broad-spectrum sunscreen. 

MK: I agree with Elizabeth, antioxidants will help to reduce oxidative stress in the skin by neutralising free radicals from pollution. The La Roche Posay Thermal Spring Water naturally contains Selenium which is an antioxidant – and actually all of our products are formulated with this spring water. 

When it comes to antioxidants and acne, we need to understand what has caused the acne and what the symptoms are. Free radicals can cause oxidative damage to sebum which can induce hyperkeratinisation, clogged pores, acne bacteria overgrowth and eventually an inflamed pimple. By using antioxidants (such as vitamins A, B3, C, E…) we can prevent and avoid unstable radicals attaching to the skin and causing oxidative damage to sebum.   

It’s also important to remember that acne also induces a stimulation of melanin that is responsible for excess hyperpigmentation after acne. Using a daily sunscreen can help to reduce these red and brown marks.

If someone has generally good skin but gets the odd breakout, what’s a really gentle way to treat these kinds of pimples without stripping the skin too much? 

EC: The Effaclar or Toleriane range with spot treatment of Effaclar Duo (+) as well as the Redermic Pure Vitamin C10 serum are effective options. 

Mk:  Effaclar Duo (+) can help decongest pores, remove dead skin cells and smooth skin, thanks to a formula that includes salicylic acid and LHA. LHA is a unique ingredient; it’s a derivative of salicylic acid but can be tolerated on a wider range of skins. Salicylic acid works by breaking down any impurities that block the pores while also exfoliating surface layers. 

It’s also important to look after the good bacteria on the skin. Effaclar Duo (+) contains a Microbiome Complex which helps maintain the balance of good bacteria. Prebiotics act as food for the good bacteria to help rebalance your unique microbiome and prevent the proliferation of bad bacteria which can give rise to acne.   

Are there any ingredients (like fragrance, oil or alcohol) that acne-sufferers should avoid when buying skincare products? 

EC: Skincare should always be personalised to address your individual issues, I recommend thinking critically about each and every product you use and determine which one is the best for your skin. Ask yourself and your skin care expert “why does my skin need this product and how will it help me”. My advice is to use products with a specific purpose. If it’s meant to cleanse, then will it also remove your make up well enough? As any buildup of makeup, BB creams, heavy moisturizers may add up over time and lead to skin congestion. If you exfoliate, how often and why? There is such a thing as over exfoliating and cleansing. If you rely on makeup removing wipes, then ensure they are not irritating your skin. Acne treatments will cause a disruption the superficial skin barrier in order to open pores. You can make this worse by not moisturizing, over exfoliating and stripping the skin of its natural protective properties.

MK: Many people with oily skin typically avoid using moisturiser – this is a huge mistake. All skin types, even the oiliest skin, needs hydration and often people get confused between hydration and nourishment. If you have oily skin, you still need to hydrate. Choose an oil-free moisturiser that can help regulate excess oil by using mattifying ingredients such as zinc, an ingredient well known for reducing sebum secretion.  

And lastly, what La-Roche Posay Effaclar products would you recommend for acne sufferers? 

EC: Mild: Effaclar foaming gel for cleansing, Effaclar H for moisturising, Effaclar Mat for oil control, Effaclar duo + for treatment of blackheads and white heads. 

More severe: I’d recommend seeking medical advice to explore prescription products, and then complementing the rest of your skincare routine with caring products such as Toleriane cleanser, sensitive creme or Ultra. Effaclar H cleanser and moisturizer are also good alternatives. 

MK: I’d like to add that for people also suffering from body acne, I’d also recommend Effaclar micro-peeling gel, a new cleanser that contains 2% salicylic acid and lipohydroxy acid. These two ingredients help to decrease pimples and reduce hyperpigmentation acne marks. It is also important to use a sunscreen like Anthelios Xl UltraLight or Anthelios Anti-shine, both of which are non-comedogenic and suited to oily sensitive skin types. 


You can find La Roche-Posay at selected Life Pharmacy, Unichem, Chemist Warehouse and Independent Pharmacies throughout New Zealand, or you can visit La Roche-Posay online to find your nearest retailer.

Header image by The Twenties Club for La Roche-Posay