4 Causes of Adult Acne and How to Treat It

Woman feeling her face 4 Causes of Adult Acne and How to Treat It

Noticing and Treating Adult Acne

Acne is an embarrassing, often frustrating skin condition we usually associate with our teen years—but acne can last into adulthood (or even start then). Adult acne usually has an explanation, and making sense of your condition can help you find the right treatment.

Hormonal Changes/Imbalance

Hormonal changes are the leading cause of acne. When certain hormone levels shift and move toward extreme highs and lows, acne can result. As hormones control a number of bodily functions, these can trigger the overproduction of sebum, oil which is naturally produced by the skin and necessary for its protection. But when too much sebum is produced at once, it can back up the sebaceous glands that produce it, which leads to acne. While our teenage years are the most common time for hormonal shifts, adults (and especially women) undergo hormonal changes during a number of life events. Menstruation can contribute to acne, as the hormones produced during periods can make the sebaceous glands produce too much oil. Similarly, acne is common in adult women during and even after pregnancy. If you begin taking or stop taking birth control, acne can occur. As the drugs and other birth control products’ main goal is to change the levels of hormones in the body, acne is fairly common. Finally, menopause can cause adult acne well into a woman’s life, as hormones yet again change and surge.

Men can experience hormonal changes as well; however there are not too many specific events in their lives that these changes can be attributed to. Ultimately, as we are all affected by hormones, they can impact our skin in a variety of ways.

Skincare and Haircare Products

Whenever you’re exposing your skin to anything new, you have to carefully consider whether it can cause any major problems. Many topical products like makeup, lotions and shampoos can be comedogenic. That means they contain certain compounds that can clog pores. When pores are backed up, acne often occurs. Make sure you’re buying products that are labeled as non-comedogenic, oil-free, non-acnegenic, and are also guaranteed not to clog pores. While there is no simple guide to what products out there can cause acne, looking for these details on the labels of makeup, soaps and other products is your best bet.


While it sounds trivial, being stressed or anxious can certainly produce extra androgen, a protein known to cause acne. Androgen and other hormones can make skin extra-oily, and that is a recipe for an acne breakout. Controlling your stress levels by practicing good mental hygiene is a good way to keep acne at bay. Meditation, therapy, and avoiding high-pressure situations at home and work are all excellent ways to avoid stress.

History of Acne

For some people, acne can run in the family. If your older relatives have had adult acne, you are far more likely to develop it yourself. Not much is understood about why adult acne could be hereditary, but oily skin itself can be passed down, and that is sometimes all it takes for adult acne to happen. If you had severe acne in your teen years, you’re also more likely to have adult acne. Sometimes, medicine that has worked for years suddenly stops working as you age. When that happens, it might just take a new medication to fix your adult acne.

Treating Adult Acne

Treating your adult acne can be a complex proposition for your dermatologist. Sometimes, when it’s caused by a temporary life event, the acne itself is temporary too. When you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, certain medications and other treatments might not be right for you. However, if you have adult acne for reasons beyond hormonal changes, or the acne sticks around after your hormones change, there are a number of treatments that your dermatologist can offer.

Laser therapy, which uses concentrated beams of light, can be used to treat acne. The laser works by targeting the actual pimples and nodules, and exposing them to an intense light. The skin in these areas is damaged, allowing new, healthy skin to grow in its place. With some laser treatments, the heat from the laser can actually disinfect the pimple.

If you’re dealing with severe adult acne, oral medications and topical medications might be your best bet. The most effective topical medications employ salicylic acid or other chemical compounds that treat inflammation and prevent the overproduction of sebum. Antibiotics and other drugs can reduce the extreme inflammation and potential for infection that particularly harsh acne can cause. For the most difficult acne, isotretinoin, an oral medication, is recommended. This drug is considered a retinoid, which helps to reduce the amount of sebum produced by the sebaceous glands.

Adult acne is more common than you think. If you’re struggling with adult acne, reach out to a dermatologist at Northeast Dermatology Associates.

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