Acne is more than a disease that affects adolescents and teens. It can also be a persistent problem for some adults. Long after you’ve earned your high-school degree, college diploma and entered the job world, acne can still dot your face with pimples and blackheads. It’s not uncommon for adults in their 30s and 40s to have annoying acne outbreaks and even scarring. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, some cases of acne first show up during adulthood.
Adults with acne can experience the same signs and symptoms as teens and adolescents:
Why Do Some Adults Get Acne?
The cause of acne is the same whether you’re an adolescent or a 40-year-old adult. Acne outbreaks occur when pores become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. These blockages are referred to as “microcomedones.” If you ignore them, microcomedones can develop into inflamed whiteheads or blackheads. In some cases, the follicle wall breaks down, a pimple will form. If the pore is deep enough, it will become infected and inflamed, leading to scarring.
Hormones play a significant role in acne outbreaks since they affect the inflammation and amount of oil your skin produces. Hormones, like testosterone and estrogen, fluctuate during adolescence and the teen years, and this affects the risk of acne outbreaks. Hormonal fluctuations also trigger adult acne. Adult acne often flares during certain times in a woman’s menstrual cycle and may be affected by birth-control pills and hormonal therapy.
Acne affects people of all skin types but afflicts people with oily skin more often than those with dry or normal skin. Acne usually appears on the face, neck, chest, and shoulders, though it can also show up on other parts of the body. Other factors that play some role in adult acne are diet and stress level since they can affect hormones. Genetics is also a factor. You’re more likely to develop acne if other members of your family had it.
Dealing with Adult Acne
Treatments are available for adult acne, and it’s just a matter of finding the right one for you. Medical treatments include prescription medications and over-the-counter products such as anti-bacterial face washes, creams, and lotions that contain ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to help unclog pores and reduce bacteria. These products are formulated to treat mild to moderate cases of adult acne. If your condition is more severe, you may need to see a dermatologist.
If you have persistent acne that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter products, and you’re developing lots of red, swollen, and inflamed pimples, you may need medications such as prescription-strength retinoids, antibiotics, or birth-control pills that normalize hormones. Acne can leave scars in its wake, so it’s not something to ignore or hope it will go away on its own.
Here are some general guidelines for reducing acne outbreaks:
- Wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser. Avoid scrubbing your face with a washcloth. Cleanse gently.
- Choose a light moisturizer made for oily or acne-prone skin and apply lightly. Drying your skin out too much can increase oil production and lead to outbreaks.
- When choosing an over-the-counter product, look for something with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide as an active ingredient. Often, you’ll find these ingredients in combination with others such as glycolic acid or tea tree oil.
- Don’t pick, squeeze, or pop your blemishes. This increases the risk of scarring and could leave you with permanent discoloration and/or numbness in the area because you’ve damaged nerve endings in your skin.
- If you wear makeup, look for non-comedogenic make-up that won’t clog your pores.
If you have persistent outbreaks that don’t respond to home measures, see a dermatologist. Research shows that adult acne tends to have more inflammatory lesions and red, swollen pimples, so it may be less responsive and need more intensive therapy. Adult acne often resolves over time as oil production drops with age but the age at which this happens is unpredictable.
- Adult Acne. (2022). Www.Aad.Org. Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/really-acne/adult-acne
- Adult acne: Understanding underlying causes and banishing breakouts. (2019, September 23). Https://Www.Health.Harvard.Edu/. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/adult-acne-understanding-underlying-causes-and-banishing-breakouts-2019092117816
- Rocha, M. A., & Bagatin, E. (2018). Adult-onset acne: prevalence, impact, and management challenges. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, Volume 11, 59–69. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5798558/
- Penso, L., Touvier, M., Deschasaux, M., Szabo De Edelenyi, F., Hercberg, S., Ezzedine, K., & Sbidian, E. (2020). Association Between Adult Acne and Dietary Behaviors. JAMA Dermatology, 156(8), 854. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32520303/