When Is Adult Acne Just Regular Acne? Here's How to Tell and Exactly How to Treat It

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What's the difference between regular acne and adult acne? After a certain point, we always imagined that the surface acne we suffered as high schoolers would eventually end once we hit our 20s, but even after making strides to become proper grown-ups, our complexion somehow stayed under the impression we were 15—as evidenced by the monster breakouts taking shape on a monthly basis.

To help determine the exact point when teenage acne ends and adult acne begins, we consulted the expert advice of esthetician Renee Rouleau, who offered sage advice on how to treat those spots, and why the Proactiv lineup you swore by back in college may not cut it today. "Generally, any breakouts you get starting at 28 and over would fall into the adult acne category, and what's actually interesting is when you see people who have adult acne, but never struggled with it in their teen years," she tells us. "It's typically hormone-related, and adult acne will show up in the form of cystic breakouts."

Though, that isn't to say that adult acne won't resemble the surface bumps you used to see as a teenager, but because adult acne will pop up around the time you're starting to incorporate more anti-aging products, you'll have to come up with a different plan of attack.

Rouleau recommends steering clear of acne products that are too drying, and instead incorporating more exfoliants into your lineup. "What you want to focus on is not drying out the skin, and increase exfoliation—not so much with a facial scrub, but with a serum that contains salicylic acid," she says, noting her BHA Clarifying Serum ($48; reneerouleau.com) as a quick fix. "The salicylic acid exfoliates while addressing the breakout, and is anti-bacterial, so it prevents oil and bacteria from getting trapped in your skin."

Exfoliating regularly will also help in fading the annoying discoloration associated with post-breakout spots. Before you slather the formula all over your face, determine where most of the activity is, and concentrate the acne products there. "The issue is also that most people with adult acne aren't getting it everywhere," Rouleau adds. "You're best off spot treating an area, or once you do get a blemish, address just the one blemish." The pro recommends applying your skin care routine as usual, then picking up a damp tissue to wipe off the products in the affected area. Follow by layering a spot treatment like her Anti Cyst formula ($42; reneerouleau.com) directly over the top. "It's hard to avoid using products in just a certain area, so it's better to use products for your skin type over your entire face, then treat specific areas with a second routine," she advises.

Using light moisturizers as well as anti-aging products that aren't too metabolically-active are just as important. In lieu of formulas to combat aggressive signs of aging, Rouleau recommends seeking out products rich in antioxidants. "Products with biologically active ingredients, like peptides or collagen-stimulating elements, are meant to restart what's going in slow motion, but if your skin is still active, you don't need to use them," she explains. "It's a good thing. It means your skin is still young, but one problem that arises when you start using those kinds of anti-aging products too young is that it just stimulates activity in your skin, and you'll start getting breakouts from it." Antioxidant-rich products will guard your complexion against the environmental factors that trigger the aging process, but will allow your skin to settle down from the years of breaking out as a teen.

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