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Adult Acne: A Common Problem

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Adult Acne: A Common Problem

4 min read


Adult acne is prevalent nowadays with changes in lifestyle and the use of various cosmetic products. This article explores the causes and management.

Medically reviewed by

iCliniq medical review team

Published At July 21, 2018
Reviewed AtJanuary 12, 2024


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

What Are the Symptoms of Acne?

Blackheads will open at the skin's surface, giving 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:

  • Papules: Small, red, raised bumps caused by inflamed or infected hair follicles.

  • Pustules: Small red pimples that have pus at their tips.

  • Nodules: Solid, often painful lumps beneath the surface of the skin.

  • Cysts: Large lumps found beneath the skin that contain pus and are usually painful.

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 the face or body, whereas hormonal acne tends to show up in the same spots, like pimples in the T-zone, plugged pores throughout the cheeks and forehead, and painful bumps that linger for weeks on the chin.

What Is a Stress Pimple?

“Stress pimples" refers to acne outbreaks that are thought to be brought on or made worse by stress. Stress causes the body to release hormones like cortisol, which can encourage the sebaceous glands to secrete more oil. This extra oil and the buildup of dead skin cells can cause pores to become clogged, which makes the environment favorable for the formation of acne lesions or pimples.

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 the 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 the 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 are more prone to breakouts. Make sure that the daily cosmetic products used 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: Some may not have considered the environment's effect on the skin, especially the dirt and UV radiation outside. Excess dirt on the face can increase the possibility 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 (Sun Protection Factor) every day. It will help prevent adult acne and help protect the face in general.

  • Cleansing Too Often or Intensely: Overwashing the 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 Foods: 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 (excessive hair growth seen in certain parts of the body), acanthosis nigricans (dark thick velvety appearance of the skin in folds and creases), androgenic alopecia (excessive hair loss in both men and women due to the androgens), and any signs of virilization (female developing the characters associated with androgens) like clitoromegaly(enlarged clitoris).

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

How to Prevent Acne Breakouts?

  • Cleanse the face regularly to remove dirt, oil, and Makeup.

  • Adopt a Consistent skincare routine.

  • Avoid touching the face with bare hands, which may reduce the breakouts.

  • Overexposure to the sun can cause breakouts.

  • Use a Broad Spectrum Sunscreen to prevent acne and breakouts.

  • Use Moisturizer regularly. In the case of Oily skin, use a lightweight moisturizer.

  • Opt for oil-free and Non-comedogenic makeup products.

  • Stay hydrated. Eat a balanced diet.

  • Manage stress.

  • Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep.

What Are the Treatment Options for Adult Acne?

  • Topical Therapy: Topical retinoid alone or combined with topical antibiotics.

  • Systemic Antibiotics: Second-generation Tetracycline or Macrolides.

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

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

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


Acne can occur due to various reasons such as hormonal fluctuations, cosmetic products, genetics, stress, pollution, and certain medications or foods. 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.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Sreelakshmi. S
Dr. Sreelakshmi. S



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