Adult Acne: Not Just for Teenagers

Raise your hand if you had acne in your teens, and really looked forward to your adult years because your acne woes would finally be at an end. Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case for some of us. For many, acne will develop during puberty, and can continue on into their adult years. However, as adult skin is very different from teenage skin (in case you were wondering why your skin used to “bounce back” easier than it does now), the causes of adult acne vary from those of teenage acne.

According to a study in the journal of Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, the prevalence of acne in youth is on the rise across the globe, and while it’s not sure what exactly is causing this increase, there are a few triggers that could be responsible. These causes aren’t just for teens, and can be applied to adult acne as well.

As part of our educational series on acne, we’re focusing on adult acne and its causes, so read on for more information that could change your skin for the better.

Who can get acne as an adult?

The long and short of it is that anyone can get adult acne. It doesn’t matter how old you are when it comes to acne. Some people’s acne goes away when they’re in their early 20s, some see their acne continue into their 50s. No, it’s not fair, but unfortunately, it happens.

But with a little TLC, you may be able to get a handle on your acne so that your breakouts aren’t as severe, don’t last as long, and you can enjoy clear, beautiful skin more often.

Before we get into that too much, though, let’s take a look at some of the causes of adult acne:

What causes adult acne?

While everyone knows what acne is, and is aware of some of the causes, acne isn’t as well understood as we might think it is. Scientists are still researching some of the causes of acne (especially adult acne), and why some people have it and others don’t.

What we do know though, is that acne is caused by the bacteria P. acnes, sebum (skin oil), and dead skin cells building up on your skin, clogging your pores, and causing an infection. There are a few other factors that can be involved, so here are some to be aware of:

#1. Your hormones

Hormones aren’t just for moody teenagers. Hormone fluctuations can trigger acne in adults, too. This happens in women more often than men, usually around menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. For more on hormonal acne and its causes, read more here(link).

#2. Stress

Stress can affect you more than just causing you to lose sleep. When you’re stressed out, no matter whether it’s because of work or your private life, your adrenal gland will pump out adrenaline, including some testosterone (see our article on hormonal acne), which can cause your skin to produce more oil, and therefore more acne.

#3. Too much cleansing

There can definitely be too much of a good thing! No matter what you may have heard as a teenager, acne doesn’t come from dirty skin, so but the cleanser down and back away slowly.

A good rule of thumb is to clean your face twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. Overcleansing can be just as bad as not cleansing at all, as if you clean your skin too much, it will encourage the production of oil to compensate for the oil being removed. And more oil on your face increases the likelihood of new acne developing.

#4. You are what you eat

While it hasn’t been completely proven that certain foods = acne breakouts, don’t completely discount them, either. If you notice that you break out after eating something specific, like dairy or chocolate, try cutting those out of your diet and see what happens. If you keep breaking out even after you’ve cut a certain food from your diet, there are most likely other factors involved than what you’re eating.

The “Western diet” of sugary desserts, refined grain, high-fat dairy, and high amounts of protein could be triggering the advance of acne as well (according to the study mentioned above), in addition to obesity. You are what you eat, so why not make sure you’re fueling your body in the best possible way? Not only could it help improve your skin, but you’ll feel great from the inside out!

There’s no guarantee that certain foods are causing your acne, but one of the best formulas for healthy skin is eating a balanced, nutritious diet and staying well hydrated.

#5. Smoking

We all know smoking is bad for you, but if you have acne and need another reason to quit, this may be it.

There seems to be a dose-dependent correlation between nicotine intake and acne, and that nicotine also inhibits healing time in regards to wounds. If you quit smoking, you’re not just doing your lungs good, but your skin as well! This information doesn’t just apply to regular cigarettes, but to e-cigs as well. Really, there is no healthy way to ingest nicotine, so if you want a real change in your health and your skin, this could be the sign you were looking for to help you quit for good.

In summary…

Adult acne

Don’t freak out if you’re well into your 20s, 30s or 40s and still have acne! It’s completely normal for adults to have acne, too, even though it’s usually seen as a “teenager thing.” There are certain things that can trigger your acne, from your hormones, to stress, to even cleaning your face too much. Try shaking up your routine and your diet to see what makes your acne better, stay away from cleaning your face too much, and most off, try to quit smoking, as this can also make your acne worse.

While we tend to know what causes acne, scientists are still trying to figure out what exactly causes it and how it can be treated, so always be open to new advice! The medical field changes often, so what may be correct one day may not be so the next. Be open to new advice, and find what works for you and your skin.


Mentioned literature:

Lynn et al. (2016): The epidemiology of acne vulgaris in late adolescence, in: Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics, 7, p. 13 - 25.