What Causes Adult Acne?

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  • Originally Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Revised By: Bott
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2019
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Being a teenager may have been a fun time, but few adults miss certain “teen” conditions like persistent acne. Unfortunately, both women and men may suffer from adult acne long after they’ve bid goodbye to their teen years. The condition known as adult acne is recognized by the persistence of pimples, blackheads, or whiteheads that may appear on the face, chest, or neck during adulthood. It plagues primarily adult women; about one in five women are known to have acne in their later years, while it is a less common condition for men.


One thing that should be understood is that adult acne is rarely caused by poor hygiene—some women try to address the issue by really scrubbing the face. This seldom works, and may even exacerbate the problem. There are, however, several causes of acne in adults including clogged pores, weight issues, and hormone levels.

Once common cause of acne during adulthood is persistent blockage of the pores. Often, clogged pores are caused by the use of heavy makeup or moisturizers that are comedogenic, which means the product may cause clogged pores, depending on skin type. People with oily skin, in particular, should generally avoid using comedogenic products. Also, removing makeup each night helps to unclog pores and allow the skin to breathe.


People who are overweight may have more difficulties with this condition as well. Typically this is more a result of the types of food a person consumes than how much a person weighs. For example, oily foods, such as fries and pizza, not only cause people to gain weight, but the high amounts of oil can create oily skin, resulting in break outs. Also, high amounts of sugar and carbohydrates can result in obesity or acne for some people.

Most commonly though, hormonal imbalance is the primary cause of adult acne, and stress may be one of the number one cause for hormonal imbalance. Adult acne tends to result from the overproduction of hormones called androgens, which can overstimulate the sebaceous glands that produce oil on the skin. Androgen production levels may be boosted if a person is under stress, but high androgen levels may also be associated with non-stress related health conditions as well.

Another fluctuating hormone cause includes a woman's menstrual cycle. Sometimes women note that acne flares up right before their menstrual cycle begins due to the change in hormone levels. Women who are prone to getting cysts on their ovaries, and those who have excessive facial hair due to hormones may especially note more adult acne.


Identifying the cause of the condition can help determine which treatment will be most beneficial, and some treatments for adult acne are quite similar to those for teen acne. Gentle face washing with a mild soap is recommended; sometimes certain topical medications that contain salicylic acid, retinol, or peroxide may be more effective than soap. Some adults suffering from acne have both acne and dry skin, in which case it is recommended to speak with a dermatologist in order to find the right balance of treatments for acne and dry skin. Most people will need a light moisturizer in addition to using over-the-counter acne treatments.

Certain types of acne can be reduced by using prescription medications, which are generally prescribed by a health care specialist. When acne forms large cysts and causes scars, antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce incidence. If the acne is caused by fluctuating hormones, certain medications such as birth control can be prescribed to help regulate hormone production. Some antibiotics and other oral medications may pose danger to an unborn child and need to be avoided if one is sexually active or planning to become pregnant. It is best to notify a doctor when these situations apply.

Lowering stress levels can reduce the incidence of adult cases of acne because stress levels are known to boost androgen production, which may cause breakouts. One suggestion to reduce stress is to participate in an activity that keeps the mind balanced; a balanced mind helps a person manage stress more effectively, as situations can be seen from a clear perspective. Some examples include prayer, meditation, and exercise disciplines like tai chi and yoga, all of which may help clear up the skin as much as any other treatment. Daily exercise has also been shown to reduce acne for some people as it may help lower stress levels.


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Discuss this Article

Post 5

@dill1971: Yes, poor eating habits can increase the risk of acne for not only teens but also adults. High-fat meats, such as pork, the excess of milk, sugar, white flour and other refined, processed food are foods to avoid. These foods will put you at risk for acne problems. Foods such as milk products, cookies, margarine, chocolate and any food that contains trans-fatty acids are damaging for your skin as well. Food allergies are the main cause of the worst cases of adult acne.

Post 4

Can an unhealthy diet affect acne at all?

Post 2

Mutsy- I have never used Accutane, but I was once prescribed Retina-A. The Retina-A was a while cream that came in a tube that I had to apply to my skin twice a day.

It burned a little, but was really effective. I was just told to stay out of the sun while I was taking Retina-A. This was also available by prescription only, but it did not cause any side effects.

My adult acne was not too severe, but it bothered me nonetheless. I was happy with my results.

Post 1

Great article- I just wanted to add that Accutane is an effective prescription drug for the treatment of adult acne. Accutane is a form of vitamin D that is used to treat nodular acne.

It is usually offered for severe acne cases. Before a dermatologist can prescribe Accutane to a patient of child- bearing age, a blood to test is administered to check to see if the patient is pregnant.

This is done because Accutane causes severe birth defects and is not recommended for women that might be pregnant. I have used it and it worked really well for me.

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