Adult Acne: A Common Problem
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Adult Acne: A Common Problem

Written by
Dr. Sreelakshmi. S
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Jul 21, 2018 and last reviewed on Sep 16, 2023   -  4 min read


Adult acne is more common nowadays with changes in lifestyle and the use of various cosmetic products. The treatment of adult acne is a challenge for many dermatologists, and it is also frustrating for the patients. Understanding the cause of adult acne helps establish a better strategy for preventing and treating adult acne.

Adult Acne: A Common Problem


Acne starts when oil and dead skin cells clog up your pores. Some people call it blackheads, blemishes, whiteheads, pimples, or cysts. However, acne breakout is usually considered to result from clogged pores, a buildup of sebum, and, most commonly, a bacterial infection.

What Are the Symptoms of Acne?

Blackheads will open at the surface of the skin, which gives it a black appearance due to the oxygen in the air. Whiteheads are closed just under the surface of the skin, which gives them a white appearance. Whiteheads and blackheads are the most common lesions seen in acne, but the other types can also occur. Inflammatory lesions can cause scarring of the skin. They include:

Acne is a common problem seen in teenagers. But, when it occurs in an adult, it is very frustrating. The Acne treatment, which worked in adolescence, can be useless or even worsen the condition. Many people may wonder, like do adults get acne?'. Yes, adults can get acne. Some continue to get acne in their 30s and 40s. Some may get acne for the first time in their 30s' or even during the menopausal age. Women are more prone to get adult acne than men.

Where Does Acne Usually Occur on the Face?

Adult acne commonly appears on the lower half of the face. But standard acne can occur anywhere on your face or body, whereas hormonal acne tends to show up in the same spots like pimples in your T-zone, plugged pores throughout your cheeks and forehead, and painful bumps that linger for weeks on your chin.

What Are the Various Reasons for Adult Acne?

  • Hormonal Fluctuations: This is usually seen in women. This type of acne tends to flare up around menstruation, during pregnancy, perimenopausal, or after starting or discontinuing oral contraceptive pills. In addition, certain diseases like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) can cause hormonal imbalance and can cause acne because your hormones will naturally fluctuate at certain points in life. The hormone-related acne is most likely to pop up:

  1. At the time of the period.

  2. During or after pregnancy.

  3. During perimenopause and menopause.

  4. While using hormonal birth control pills.

  • Stress: Chronic stress can play a major role in skin issues like acne, and it is strongly suspected that the hormone cortisol may be responsible for it. Cortisol can cause problems with those bodily processes, along with messing with your skin, because it will contribute to acne by creating a favorable environment for bacteria-driven inflammatory acne. Stress can also produce androgens, which can stimulate the sebaceous glands.

  • A Family History: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to acne. So, if they have close relatives with acne, they also can develop adult acne.

  • Cosmetic Products: Most cosmetic products contain comedogenic ingredients like lanolin, petrolatum, and vegetable oils, which can cause clogging of pores and acne. If a person has acne-prone skin that is oily or a combination skin type, you are more prone to breakouts. Therefore, you should make sure that the daily cosmetic products you use are non-comedogenic skin-care products labeled as oil-free or water-based products.

  • Medication: Topical medicine containing steroids can produce acne. In addition, certain oral medicines like antiepileptics and psychiatric medicines can also cause acne. Online acne prescription services have revolutionized access to treatment for individuals dealing with acne. With these services, individuals can conveniently connect with healthcare professionals through secure online platforms.

  • Pollution: You may not have considered your environment's effect on your skin, especially the dirt and UV radiation outside. Excess dirt on your face can increase your possibilities of getting clogged pores. So removing it with a consistent cleansing routine is helpful. It is also essential to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF every day. It will help prevent adult acne and help protect your face in general.

  • Cleansing Too Often or Intensely: Over-washing your face can make acne worse. Although some people with particularly dry or sensitive skin find that they only need to wash it once a day, most of us should be cleansing twice a day with a mild cleanser. Cleansing too much can dry out skin, which can cause it to produce more oil to overcompensate. Additionally, exfoliating too often with products that are too harsh can damage skin and exacerbate acne. Experts also recommend not to exfoliate more than three times per week for most people.

  • Certain Food: Foods like chocolate, fried foods, pizza, caffeine, or dairy can cause acne. Some people do notice that their skin reacts badly after they eat certain foods.

How Is Adult Acne Managed?

A detailed clinical evaluation including history, medication, cosmetic products, menstrual history, and family history is important. Also, assess any evidence of cutaneous hyperandrogenism like hirsutism, acanthosis nigricans, androgenic alopecia, and for any signs of virilization like clitoromegaly.

The investigations include a hormonal profile - FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), LH (luteinizing hormone), testosterone, blood sugar, lipids, and abdomen ultrasound to rule out PCOS.

What Are the Treatment Options of Adult Acne?

  1. Topical Therapy - Topical retinoid alone or combined with topical antibiotics.

  2. Systemic Antibiotics - Second-generation Tetracycline, or Macrolides.

  3. Oral Retinoids - Isotretinoin 0.25 mg/kg/day for six months, with adequate contraception to prevent pregnancy.

  4. Hormonal Therapy: It includes oral contraceptive pills, androgen-blocking agents like Cyproterone acetate.

  5. Blue Light Therapy: This is a good method to prevent bacterial colonization, especially in pregnant, lactating, or want to conceive.


Maintaining good facial hygiene, eating healthy, exercising daily, and avoiding comedogenic cosmetics can help prevent the development of acne in adult life.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Reason For Adulthood Acne?

Adult acne is the type of acne that develops after the age of 25. The reasons for adult acne are attributed to many factors like hormonal changes, clogged pores, inflammatory conditions, bacteria, or excessive oil production.


Does Adult Acne Resolve on its Own?

It depends on the cause of the acne breakout. Adult acne due to inflammatory conditions or bacteria will go away when the underlying conditions are treated. Acne that arises due to clogging of pores or due to excessive oil production can be controlled by proper skin care measures. Acne, due to hormonal variations, is usually treated using medications.


How to Differentiate Hormonal and Bacterial Acne Types?

Hormonal acne is acne that is presented as pustules, cysts, or nodules that are generally deeper and usually present for long durations. This acne may be spread over the face and the back. 
Bacterial acne is presented as elevated red spots with a white center and usually resolves within one to two weeks.


Does Acne Worsen With Age?

For most people, access does resolve with time. However, it may worsen in individuals due to underlying conditions.


How do I know If My Acne Is Caused by Stress?

Stress acne is a result of excess oil production. Acne caused by stress looks like a combination of pus pimples, whiteheads, red bumps, and blackheads.


Can Lack of Sleep Lead to Acne?

Sleep deprivation is often linked to other factors like stress, anxiety, and altered emotional states. These are underlying factors for developing acne. Hence, lack of sleep can result in acne.


Can Changes in Food Habits Lead to Adult Acne?

Consuming food high in sugar content (food with a high glycemic index) has been reported to cause acne. Intake of these foods can facilitate the release of insulin in the body that, in turn, affects other hormones that can lead to acne.


Can Pillows Give Acne?

Yes, pillows, when used for a few days, can result in the buildup of dead cells, oil, bacteria, etc., that can lead to acne breakouts.


What Is the Treatment for Adult Acne?

The dermatologist may prescribe topical or oral medications to treat acne. Follow the instructions carefully. Inform the doctor if the acne persists or worsens after the treatment starts.

Last reviewed at:
16 Sep 2023  -  4 min read




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