Acne and adolescence typically go hand in hand. But while most of us expect to break out during our teen years, finding a zit during adulthood can raise a red flag. Many of us have been conditioned to think that adults don’t struggle with acne, but this simply isn’t the case. In fact, in 2019, The International Dermal Institute found that approximately 40-55% of adults between the ages of 20 and 40 have some form of minor yet persistent acne and oily skin. In other words, about half the population of young to middle-aged adults still deal with pimples on a regular basis. While most causes of adult acne and adult onset acne (acne that initially shows up during adulthood) don’t indicate any major health concerns, they can severely harm one’s self-esteem and interfere with daily life.
Knowing what’s causing your acne can help you treat it, prevent future breakouts and mitigate acne scars. So, if you’re beyond your teen years but are still getting acne, here are some potential causes.
Generally speaking, the factors that cause acne in teenagers are the same as those that cause acne in adults, being excess oil production, clogged pores (usually from dead or “sticky” skin cells), bacteria, and inflammation. If you’re struggling with adult acne, then it’s most likely due to one or more of these components. Due to genetics, your skin might be naturally oily, making it more prone to breakouts. Your environment, habits, and internal health can also contribute to these acne-producing factors, which we’ll discuss next.
Teenagers get acne more than other demographics of people for a reason -- the hormonal changes that occur during puberty are the primary contributors to these occurrences. It follows logically, then, that other hormonal fluctuations (i.e. pregnancy, menstruation, menopause) would potentially cause acne as well, and this is indeed the case. While many experts think that hormones aren’t a major factor in adult acne, it does seem that these imbalances in hormonal activity can contribute to adult acne in those with underlying issues.
Speaking of hormonal imbalances, stressful circumstances can cause a spike in stress hormones (namely cortisol), which in turn may stimulate your skin’s oil production, leading to breakouts. Considering how stressful adult life can be, it’s no wonder so many adults suffer from stress-related acne.
Some of the products you use on your skin and hair (i.e. makeup, moisturizers, and shampoos) can also contribute to adult acne, especially for those with sensitive skin. Different types of products/ingredients may affect one person differently from another, of course. For the most part, though, products that contain oils and other fatty substances are more likely to clog your pores and lead to breakouts than their less oily counterparts.
While the direct connection between diet and adult acne remains inconclusive, research indicates that high-glycemic foods (which increase blood sugar levels) can lead to inflammation and stimulate sebum production, which can trigger and/or worsen outbreaks. These foods include items such as white bread, potato chips, milkshakes, french fries, and more.
Your adult acne may also result from certain medications you’re currently taking. Some common acne-inducing drugs include anabolic steroids, corticosteroids, and lithium.
Lastly, adult acne is sometimes a symptom of a more serious and systemic problem. In most cases such as these, acne breakouts coincide with other symptoms, such as hair loss, rapid weight fluctuations, irregular menstrual cycles, and more. Endocrine disorders, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and other hormonal diseases/disorders may be to blame if you’re struggling with rapid onset severe acne alongside other symptoms like the ones mentioned above.
As you can see, there is a whole host of reasons why you might still be getting acne as an adult (or getting it for the first time). Your doctor and dermatologist can help you determine exactly what’s causing your breakouts so you can find the right adult acne treatment for you. Mild and moderate adult acne can often be treated with over-the-counter topical medications that open pores and dry up pimples. More aggressive acne might require a stronger treatment, such as prescription creams (containing Benzoyl peroxide, Salicylic acid, Alpha-hydroxy acid, and/or Vitamin A/Retinoids), oral retinoids, antibiotics to fight infection, androgen blockers, or birth control drugs.
On top of your acne treatment regimen, you can avoid and mitigate breakouts by getting more sleep, reducing stress levels, and taking good care of your skin overall (i.e. washing it twice a day with a gentle cleanser, exfoliating, moisturizing with the right products, etc.).
No matter your age or skin type, it’s important to take care of your skin, and that’s precisely what Premier Dermatology Partners is here to help you do. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.