Olivia Munn’s Secret Struggle with Acne—and What Finally Worked for Her

When it comes to such a drop-dead-gorgeous natural beauty like Olivia Munn, it's hard to imagine she's dealt with any of the same skin troubles we have. But the actress has actually been fighting a secret battle with acne for years, both as a young adult and well into her years as a rising Hollywood star. We sat down with the brunette bombshell to understand her issues with acne and learn how she finally got the gorgeous, clear complexion she has today.

Olivia_MunnsJim Smeal/REX/ShutterstockHer history with acne

“I never really had to deal with acne until I was 16 years old and moved from Japan to Oklahoma,” says Olivia Munn. “The weather and geography change did something to my skin.” Like many teens dealing with pesky breakouts, she turned to Proactiv, which cleared her skin up for years. “I didn’t deal with acne again until I was an adult when my skin reacted terribly to a medication I was on.” This time it was cystic acne, large, red and painful breakouts that go deep in the skin and often require a visit to the dermatologist’s office for cortisone shots, which is just what Munn did. “It was brutal—the hardest acne I’ve ever experienced. It was really painful on my neck, my chin, my cheeks, my forehead.” When the cortisone shots, coupled with acupuncture didn’t seem to work, she tried spironolactone, which is a much more intense acne treatment similar to Accutane. Here’s how you can get rid of cystic acne.

Her embarrassing moment

“I remember meeting Eric Bana for the first time inside a hotel lobby—we had to do a movie together,” Munn recalls. “This was during the time I had cystic acne and I had breakouts on my forehead, my jaw, and my neck. I remember I kept moving my hair so that it would cover it and he wouldn’t see it. Then he started walking outside the hotel. I started sort of panicking and was like, ‘I’m just gonna go and stay back,’ and they were like ‘But this isn’t your hotel.’ I just couldn’t bear him seeing my breakouts—they were so painful looking. It really tears your self-confidence down a lot.” These are the acne treatments dermatologists use on themselves.

The turning point

Her agent set her up with Proactiv’s newest formula, then Proactiv+, to try and her skin cleared up within weeks. And a few months later she was in talks with the brand to serve as their celebrity ambassador. “I think that anyone who is suffering from acne should definitely try it because it truly changed my life—especially the new version [ProactivMD], because the ingredient they have in there, adapalene, is the first time it’s been in an over-the-counter system,” she said. “I remember they were telling me they couldn’t tell me about it because it was FDA-pending, but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.” After 30 years as a prescription-only acne fighter, adapalene is now FDA-approved for over-the-counter use.

The acne-busting ingredient

Adapalene is a synthetic, prescription-grade retinoid that doctors have been using for over 20 years. It just became available for over-the-counter use, however, in January 2017. “Topical retinoids are the best ingredients for unclogging pores and helping bring new skin cells to the surface, while shedding old ones,” explains Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, Beverly Hills-based dermatologist. “These over-the-counter retinols are not as strong and regular use can help with skin texture, acne, and the appearance of scars.” Though adapalene is a new first-defense to treating acne, now that it is so widely available, it’s not the only solution—it’s just one that happens to work very, very well.

These are the dermatologist-approved ways to treat breakouts.

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Jenn Sinrich
Jenn Sinrich is an experienced digital and social editor in New York City. She's written for several publications including SELF, Women's Health, Fitness, Parents, American Baby, Ladies' Home Journal, and more. She covers topics from health, fitness, and food to pregnancy and parenting. In addition to writing, Jenn volunteers with Ed2010, serving as the deputy director to Ed's Buddy System, a program that pairs recent graduates with young editors to give them a guide to the publishing industry and to navigating New York. When she's not busy writing, editing, or reading, she's enjoying and discovering the city she's always dreamed of living in with her fiancé, Dan, and two feline friends, Janis and Jimi.