The Best Cruelty-Free Skincare Routine for Adult Acne


I know how it is. You’re out of your teens and well into your 20s, 30s, or even 40s, but you still have breakouts. Nobody wants their fine lines shaking hands with their pimples. So what gives? What in the spotty-skinned hell is going on?

If you’re reading this, then you probably Googled something like “what the hell is wrong with my face?” So grab a cup of tea, settle in, and lemme tell you what might be making your skin freak out before we get to the best things to do for acne-prone skin. Or you can just say “TL;DR” and skip to the end, but stick with me! I promise it won’t hurt. Why you should listen to me? I attended cosmetology school, and I stay up to date on the latest research. I also loved (and aced) chemistry. #sciencenerdforlife

So let’s get on with it! Here are some of the causes of adult acne and the products I’ve been using to manage mine. They’re all cruelty-free, and most of them are vegan!

1.) Your hormones are throwing a rave, and you’re the disco ball. It’s not just teenage hormones that cause acne. Our hormones change as we age, which can lead to massive breakouts that take us back to our high school days of Clearasil and Stridex pads. Not fun. But because our skin changes with age, I don’t recommend Clearasil and Stridex unless you want to run the risk of making the problem worse. Our skin tends to become drier as we get older, plus our ability to produce collagen — that’s what makes our skin look plump and supple — decreases every year.

And, according to Dr. Francesca Fusco, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, adult acne is “deeper and appears as cysts, or ‘under the skin’ pimples, which can’t be drained. Teen acne usually sits on the skin’s surface.”

Another hormonal reason for acne? Birth control. If you’ve noticed a change in your skin after starting a new form of birth control, it could be time for another switch.

2.) Cleanliness is next to spottiness. At least in one area — your laundry detergent. Laundry detergents often leave waxy residue that can clog your pores and lead to breakouts, but two of the worst culprits are fragrance and sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, AKA SLS.  I switched to Method Free + Clear, and my skin immediately improved.


3.) You’re thirsty. Literally. Drink your damn water, people. Please, please, please! I know I sound like a nag — and I totally am when it comes to water and sunscreen — but dehydration is one of the leading causes of acne. It works like this: your skin gets parched as the Sahara and starts screaming “moisturize me!” (why, yes, that was a Doctor Who reference), so your skin produces more oil to compensate, which leads to clogged pores, which leads to acne, which leads to you clutching your hair and asking yourself, “Why didn’t I just drink my damn water?” So… drink it. Go on. I’ll wait while you pour yourself a glass. If you truly loathe water, go for iced or hot teas (try sticking mostly to caffeine-free blends if this is the only thing you enjoy drinking), and make sure you eat lots of fruits and veggies because they are loaded with water.

4.) Life treats you like you’re a stress ball. Whether it’s work-related, kid-related, money-related, relationship-related, or you’re just generally a mess of stress and anxiety (pull up a chair at my table, sis), stress is often to blame for your spots. Which… makes you more stressed, so you break out more, so you stress more, so… You can see where I’m going with this. Try to get some chill. Whatever that looks like for you, look after yourself mentally. Because I am not a mental health professional, I can only suggest CBD oil, seeing a therapist, an antidepressant, or possibly all of the above.

5.) Your diet kind of looks like the poop emoji. No offense, but when we eat shitty foods, we usually know we’re eating shitty foods. Being vegan does not make me immune. I once ate nothing but veggie nuggets and French fries for an entire week. I mean… nothing else. All nuggets. All fries. All the time. And, after consuming my body weight in fried, oily foods, my skin said, “Um, what are you doing?” and went all lumpy and gross. Kind of like an uncooked veggie nugget. Karma is real, y’all. If you notice yourself breaking out like a biiiiiitch after you eat pizza… you gotta cut it out or at least cut it down. Pay attention to how your skin behaves after you eat and drink.

That’s another thing. I hate to say it because I’m drinking a beer as I type this, but… no more nightly beer funnels or multiple Jager shots, mmkay? Nothing will piss off your skin faster than drinking like an undergrad at a party school. (No judgment. I went to University of Georgia.) Drink in moderation.

6.) You’re a beauty guru. Trying out ten zillion new products a month is fantastic for the beauty industry, but for your skin? Not so much. And if you’re dealing with acne, chances are you’re trying a bunch of products geared toward acne-prone skin, which, according to Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, founder and director of Fifth Avenue Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center in New York, “tears the skin apart.” He also says that, at most, you should be using one or two products marketed toward treating acne, and you need to give them four to six weeks to work. That’s how long it takes for enough turnover to spot a noticeable difference. It sucks, but it’s better than constantly battering your skin with abrasive products.

I could be here all night blathering on about the many, many factors that can wreak havoc on our skin (smoking, pollution, hair products, sugar, animal products), but let’s get down to the nitty gritty. We know we have acne. We know we hate acne. So how can we kill it with fire get rid of it? Or at least make it manageable.


1.) Be Bob Ross. No, I don’t mean perm your hair, wear blue button-downs, and paint happy trees. But when he says “make love to the canvas,” you should listen. Your skin is your canvas, and even if you like whips and chains (again, no judgment), your face doesn’t. I recommend using the gentlest cleanser you can find. Anything too harsh (like most foaming cleansers) will strip away essential oils, which will lead to excessive oil production, clogged pores, and more acne. I love bioClarity’s cleanser, which has cucumber, green tea, and chamomile. It’s sulfate and paraben-free, fragrance-free, dermatologist tested, and vegan.

2.) Pick your poison. Unlike cleansers, which are only on the skin for a short period of time — long enough to cause a reaction or strip your skin, but not long enough to act as a treatment — I recommend using a serum with either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. You may need to try both, as one product may be incredibly effective for one person and not work at all for another. I love Murad’s Outsmart Acne Clarifying Treatment. It is pricey, but since those of us with acne, sensitive skin, or a lovely combination of the two should simplify our beauty routines, it’s definitely worth the investment.

3.) Listen to Sebastian the crab. Remember in The Little Mermaid when Sebastian tells Ariel, “Darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter?” That’s true for the skin, too. Having oily skin does not mean you don’t need a moisturizer. Say it with me: having oily skin does not mean you don’t need a moisturizer! You do need a moisturizer, but if you’re incredibly oily and/or acne-prone, your best bet is to try out an oil-free moisturizer like this one from Humane.


4.) Become a clean freak. Never go to bed without washing your face, not even once, no matter how tired you are. Pollution, dirt, and oil build up on your skin during the day, and you need to wash it off. That guy in line in front of you sneezing his head off? Yeah, it’s on your face now. So always wash your face before bed. Wash your makeup brushes every week with fragrance-free, oil-free brush cleaner. And never touch your face with dirty hands!

5.) Soak up the sun… carefully. Sun damage is the leading cause of premature aging, not to mention skin cancer. If you take nothing else away from this, please wear sunscreen. Please, please, please wear sunscreen. Please. My aunt just had surgery for melanoma, and not a minor operation, either. Wear your damn sunscreen, or I will hunt you down and apply it for you. That being said, I’ll be honest: it is damn near impossible to find a good cruelty-free sunscreen with a high SPF that doesn’t turn you into an oil slick within an hour of application, but I’ve finally done it. It’s Kate Somerville’s Daily Deflector Waterlight Broad Spectrum SPF 50. It’s expensive, which sucks. But it doesn’t cause breakouts and doesn’t make me oily, so it’s worth it. A less expensive option for my oilier skinned peeps is DERMA E Sun Protection Mineral Powder SPF 30. It’s translucent and mattifying, and you can carry it around in your purse to reapply throughout the day.

6.) Get your grease on. I know, I know. After I banged on about oil-free this and oil-free that, I sound like a hypocrite. Bear with me here. Some oils are good for your skin, and because you’re applying an oil, your skin can actually produce less of it because it’s receiving adequate moisture. This cult favorite from SUNDAY RILEY is amazing. Ah-may-zing.

7.) Shine a spotlight on it. Spot treatments are awesome. The Mario Badescu Drying Lotion is probably the product I recommend the most. One little dot of this stuff, and your pimples will shrink overnight. Oh, because it is a weird, pasty pink color, this is definitely only a nighttime treatment. Unless you like freckling yourself with spot treatment, which is fine.

8.) Treat. Yo. Self. Seriously, self-care is skincare. Make sure you get enough sleep (ha! I suck at this one), eat healthfully (I’m pretty good at this one… barring Nugget And Fries Week and those odd occasions where I eat an entire bag of vegan jerky as a meal), don’t smoke (I used to smoke, so I know quitting is hellish), destress as much as you can (a constant struggle for me, too), drink your water (always), and wear your sunscreen (ditto). Just look after yourself as best you can, and your skin will benefit.

Always patch test new products, and keep in mind that what works for me may not work for all of you. If you’re suffering from severe acne — or if you just want a professional opinion — go see a dermatologist.

If you’re still reading, I love you. Thanks for sticking with me this far. Leave any of your favorite products in the comments!