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Man’s portrait to represent man's guide to treating adult acne

A man’s guide to treating adult acne

Written by
Chloe James

Are the treatments for men’s acne different to the ones for women? Like most of the beauty industry, the majority of acne treatment tips are typically geared towards women – and while acne is essentially the same for everyone (it’s just blocked pores), there’s enough of a difference to warrant different advice. Because with the wrong advice, treating acne can become even more complicated.

How is acne different for men?

Male or female, acne is uncomfortable for everyone. And regardless of your sex, those angry red marks are caused by oil or dirt blocking the hair follicles. But it’s the reason behind these blockages that differ…

Hormones

A handful of hormones control the function of our skin. Testosterone – AKA the male sex hormone – plays the biggest role with acne, as it triggers heavier oil production. With more oil comes a greater chance of clogged pores, which in turn increases your odds of a breakout. While this is mostly relevant during puberty when testosterone levels first start to skyrocket, fluctuations can mean testosterone still impacts skin well into your adult years.

Excess sweating

Men don’t just tend to be oilier than women but sweatier, too. While both sexes have the same number of sweat glands, men produce more pore-clogging sweat per gland. That’s why men are more prone to acne in sweaty areas such as the back, chest, or arms. Especially when combined with…

Hair

Again, biology is slightly rigged against men in this respect. Higher levels of androgens trigger more hair growth all over the face and body. Not only do these hairs trap oil and dirt against the skin, but they can act as a breeding ground for acne-feeding bacteria.

Shaving

Ever noticed small red bumps after you shave? Technically this is folliculitis and not acne, but the two are easily confused. Follicular pimples are usually the result of inflammation and infection of the hair follicles caused by shaving. There’s an easy way to distinguish these from acne – if you check the centre of each blemish, you should be able to see the hair shaft.

Tackling acne

Real change starts not with a skincare haul, not with a dermatologist, but with you. There are a million possible combinations of products and treatments, and it can take time and patience to find the right one for your skin. Ultimately the best approach is to think about treating the body as a whole rather than fruitlessly trying to reach an unrealistic level of perfection. Once you’ve embraced this attitude, you’re ready to start tweaking your routine to tackle your acne.

Lifestyle and diet

Be mindful of clogged pores

In some ways, sweating is good for our skin. Think of it as natural exfoliation – this is our body’s way of clearing out toxins, dirt, and impurities. But it’s when these oils are left to sit on the skin that they become an issue. Stay on top of clogged pores by showering regularly – especially after exercise and in hot weather – and maintaining a rigorous cleansing routine.

Use a proper shaving technique

Although folliculitis isn’t actually acne, it can have the same impact on your confidence. Using an electric razor, or replacing the blade after each shave, can help minimise the risk of these painful bumps. We also recommend washing the face with warm water pre-shave to open up the pores.

Skincare

Start with the basics

It’s a fact that most skincare is marketed towards women, not men. If this has left you stumped with where to get started, our best advice is to avoid overcomplicating things from the get-go. Wash your face at least once a day, as well as every time you work out. Moisturise morning and night, preferably on wet skin. And (for the sake of your skin’s long-term health) be sure to apply SPF every time you go outdoors.

Cleanse with salicylic acid

When you’re ready, the first step to an anti-acne skincare routine is introducing salicylic acid. It’s a go-to for reducing oil, and digs deep enough into the skin to dissolve debris that triggers breakouts. You’ll most commonly find this in the form of a cleanser, but you may also want to consider sourcing a body wash with a decent SA concentration (ideally somewhere between 0.5 and five per cent) to tackle body blemishes.

Battle bacne with benzoyl peroxide

If your acne takes the form of bacne, benzoyl peroxide might just be your new best friend. It sounds very scientific, but this is essentially just an antiseptic that gets rid of dead skin cells and kills the bacteria behind your breakouts. Used at a low enough concentration, you can even combine it with salicylic acid for maximum impact.

Exfoliate (as much as your skin can handle)

Exfoliation is tricky to perfect, but magical when you do. While physical exfoliation is handy for manually unclogging pores on the body, chemical exfoliation is often the preferred method to avoid accidentally damaging the skin. Start slow, using an AHA or BHA product once a week, and gradually increase your usage as your skin adapts.

Acne treatments

The right skincare can be life-changing, but does have limits. For rapid results, your best port of call is a professional. A dermatologist will not only give you a clearer idea of the root of your skin concerns, but will be able to point you in the direction of the best treatments for an acne-free complexion. In the meantime, here are some of our favourites.

Regular facials

Rest and relaxation are just bonuses when it comes to facials. Regular cleansing, exfoliation, and hydration are an indulgent way of keeping skin clean and clear. While you may initially experience some purging (AKA the influx of acne that comes with new treatments) as the first few sessions unclog your pores, this is totally normal and should resolve itself within four to six weeks.

Laser and LED

Laser and LED play a few different roles in fighting adult acne. While laser skin resurfacing will gradually fade scarring (which we’ll get to later), specific colours of LED light therapy can soothe inflammation, reduce oil gland activity, and kill bacteria.

For some people, laser hair removal is also surprisingly effective. Zapping away hair from the root, this eliminates one of bacteria’s favourite breeding grounds. Less bacteria plus less hair equals fewer opportunities to plug your pores. In short, goodbye acne.

Steroid injections

If you’re looking for short-term relief, steroid injections are the one. Inserting a solution of diluted cortisone directly into your pimples, these can reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation in just 24 hours. This is ideal if you’re prepping for a special event, but shouldn’t be used as a long-term solution as regular use can lead to skin thinning or scarring.

Dealing with the aftermath

The sad truth about acne is that the aftermath is often as troubling as the actual breakout. But whether it’s the red or brown marks of hyperpigmentation, or the pitting of acne scarring, there are still ways to undo the damage.

Chemical peels

Removing the top layer of skin, regular light chemical peels can gradually fade the dark spots left behind by acne. Skin will be more sensitive for the first few days after your session – and you’ll need to layer up on SPF for this very reason – but it can have a huge impact on evening your skin tone.

Microneedling

Acne scars and hyperpigmentation are just two entries on the long list of concerns improved by microneedling. Using multiple small needles to trigger your skin’s healing response, this treatment is a wonder at boosting collagen production and can make a notable impact from day one.

Stick to a routine

The number one rule for treating acne? Consistency. While the right treatment will give you glowing skin for a while, maintenance and prevention are key. Keep up that skincare routine, stock up on sunscreen, and stick to your new habits for happy and healthy skin that lasts.

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