Understanding Adult Acne

Acne is often associated with the teenage years, but many adults in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond get this skin condition too. While adolescent acne is typically thought to be caused partly by genetics and partially by hormones, the causes of adult acne aren’t as clear. Possible causes for adult acne could be hormones and genetics as well, but also cosmetics, medical conditions and medications.

Hormones and Genetics

Adults experience fluctuating hormones as well. Androgen hormones released from the testes, the ovaries and adrenal glands stimulate the sebaceous glands in the skin to increase oil production. More skin oil increases the chances of the skin pores from becoming clogged and infected.

Men can experience adult acne, but the condition is more common in women partially due to more hormonal changes. Women experience drastic changes in hormonal levels during ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy, just before menopause and during menopause. Some oral contraceptives can also affect hormone levels and can make adult acne worse or better in women.

A woman’s acne during her adult years can fluctuate in the level of severity depending on the time of the month or the stage of her life. Men who have adult acne tend to have it more severe and longer lasting due to a steady and higher level of testosterone. Untreated acne in men can last 10 years or more.

Genetics play a major role in adult acne. If adult acne runs in your family, the chances that you’ll have it are higher.


The body’s natural oils can block pores, but so can anything with an oil base added to the skin. Some make-up, moisturizers, cleaners and even hair care products have an oil base that can block the pores. The body then tries to get rid of the blockage in a way that shows up as a pimple.

Medical Conditions and Medication

Some diseases increase oil production and skin sensitivity which can trigger adult acne. Polycystic ovary disease is one example. Women with this disease also have increased hair growth, weight gain and lower fertility or infertility.

Any medication that alters the hormone levels in your body like steroids and birth control pills can also cause acne breakouts. It’s important to let your doctor know if you suspect prescribed medications are causing you to breakout. He or she can see if another medication is a better option.

Adult Acne Treatments

Treatments for adult acne aren’t much different than those for teenage acne. Prescription topicals work by increasing skin cell turnover that reduces the chance of cell build-up and pore blockages. Some prescription creams can reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles in adults, but they also make the skin more sensitive to the sun.

Oral medications are often prescribed for those with severe acne and not everyone is a candidate for this type of medication. They’re typically used with topical treatments and are only used for a short period of time. Post-menopausal women may get hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat acne breakouts and other symptoms like thinning hair and mood swings. HRT is rarely used to exclusively treat acne.

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