Why Do Adults Get Acne?

Why Do Adults Get Acne?

Nearly everyone struggles with acne during their teen years. Then, they breathe a sigh of relief when they reach young adulthood and can finally bid farewell to breakouts. At least, that’s how it works for some people.

Unfortunately, many adults still have acne into their 30s, 40s, and 50s. You may even get acne for the first time in your adult years, a condition called adult-onset acne.

Why do adults still get acne? Here, Theresa Durchhalter, DO, FAAD, at Allure Dermatology tackles that question, explaining the causes of adult acne, offering some self-care tips, and recommending when you should seek her care.

Causes of adult acne

Adults tend to get acne for many of the same reasons as teens. Your acne may be caused by the following:

Excessive oil

Acne begins when hair follicles get clogged with excess oil (sebum). The extra oil combines with dead skin cells and bacteria that naturally live on your skin, plugging the opening to the follicle. As a result, inflammation develops in the follicle, and a pimple develops.

Oil production skyrockets during puberty, peaks in your 20s, and then keeps declining as you get older. However, adults can take medication or have a health condition that boosts sebum and heralds the return of acne. For example, pituitary, adrenal, ovarian, and testicular disorders often increase oil production.

Changing hormones

The hormonal changes that occur in puberty are the top cause of teen acne. Adults also struggle with fluctuating hormones that trigger acne. Though acne in men may develop as a result of hormonal changes, women are more likely to deal with this challenge.

Androgen levels increase during menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause. High androgens (male hormones) boost oil production and result in acne.

The same problem affects women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). However, if PCOS causes your acne, you’ll have other symptoms, such as irregular periods, missed periods, and excessive, dark hair growth on your face and body.

Corticosteroid treatment

Taking corticosteroids for an extended time or in high doses can cause acne. Many people have this problem when they take corticosteroids for health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma, and allergies. Though we know “steroid acne” is a real problem, no one has discovered exactly why it happens.


Stress increases many hormones, including those that stimulate oil production. While stress alone may not cause acne, it often worsens a current acne breakout.

Hair and skin products

Many hair and skin products contain ingredients that irritate your skin and cause acne. You’re more likely to have this problem if you’re sensitive to the ingredients.

When buying products, look for labels saying that the product is oil-free, non-comedogenic, or won’t clog pores. If your acne still seems related to skin care products, we can recommend brands known to be safe for sensitive skin.

Self-care for adult acne

Getting rid of adult acne requires diligent attention to your skin care regimen. Be sure to:

Follow a daily routine

Wash your face twice daily, always using warm water (not hot) and gentle products. Don’t scrub your skin, or you may irritate it and end up with acne.

Combine over-the-counter acne products

When using over-the-counter acne medications, use one product for 4-6 weeks before giving up and trying a different one. It takes at least four weeks to see an improvement, and your acne won’t completely clear up for about three months.

The active ingredients in acne treatments include: 

Each product usually has one active ingredient. If the first one you use doesn’t work after six weeks, try adding a second one with a different ingredient. If your acne doesn’t improve by mixing several ingredients, we can examine your skin and prescribe treatment.

If your acne is inflamed and doesn’t improve quickly with an over-the-counter product, don’t wait to schedule an appointment. Inflammatory acne causes scarring if you don’t get prompt treatment.

Call Allure Dermatology or request an appointment online today to get help for adult acne.

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