Causes of Adult Acne

The causes of adult acne are numerous and the underlying triggers can vary for each person. But by understanding the main contributing factors, you can clear your adult acne much quicker.

Acne can affect anyone at pretty much any age and adults are no exception to that rule.

Adult acne is more common in woman (ages 30 to 50) than in men mainly due to the sharp hormonal fluctuations that often occur during ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. However, men are not immune to acne.

In fact, men tend to have have more severe and longer lasting acne than women, because of the higher levels of testosterone within the body, and it is often aggravated by shaving.

The causes of adult acne can be both internal and external, so a proper treatment plan should address both factors.

Main Causes of Adult Acne

  • Excess Hormones and Hormone Sensitivity
    There is a direct relationship between hormones and acne. Even as an adult, fluctuating hormones can cause acne flare ups. Androgens are hormones released from the adrenal glands, the ovaries, and the testes. These hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands, increasing oil production and creating a skin that is more prone to comedones, or breakouts.

    During puberty androgens (like testosterone) trigger the sebaceous glands to enlarge, which is a natural part of the development process of the human body.But for people with adult acne, the sebaceous glands are overstimulated with either too many androgens or the sebaceous glands are more sensitive than normal.

    Adult onset acne most commonly affects women because of the hormonal fluctuations that accompany the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. Women may see their acne suddenly develop, or worsen, during these periods of life.

    But men have higher levels of testosterone than women, which can result in more severe and longer lasting adult acne than their female counterparts. It is not uncommon for acne in men to last 10 years or more, if left untreated.

  • Cosmetics
    If you suffer from adult onset acne you may want to take a look at your cosmetics, including cleansers, moisturizers, makeup, and hair care products. Certain products, especially those with an oil-base, can block pores and create an impaction within the follicle. Avoid oily products, and use only those marked as noncomedogenic. If you wear makeup regularly, you should follow these guidelines on the Best Makeup for Acne Prone Skin.

  • Improper diet
    Consuming a lot of foods that are high on the glycemic index can make acne worse. This includes food like sugar and white breads. If you eat a poor diet, it could be the reason your acne has stuck around as an adult. Additionally, diets high in dairy have been show to aggravate acne. Excessive consumption of carbohydrates such as sweets, pastas, processed foods, etc increase insulin production, resulting in acne eruptions. For more information, check out my article on Foods that Cause Acne .

  • Medications and Conditions
    Certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovary disease, may trigger acne in adults. If you have other symptoms such as increased hair growth, weight gain, etc., in addition to acne, you should talk to your doctor.

    The use of steroids, certain birth control treatments, hormone therapies and other medications like lithium and barbiturates can also cause acne breakouts. Additionally, some people have reported worse breakouts due to medications such as adderall and ritalin, which can increase anxiety and stress levels and thus affect the skin.

    Again, talk to your doctor is you believe your prescription medications are triggering or worsening your acne.

  • Stress
    When you're under stress, your body produces stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can stimulate an overproduction of oil from the sebaceous glands in the skin. When this excess oil mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria, it can cause acne to develop or become worse. If you regularly suffer from stress, try to take short breaks throughout the day to stretch and practice deep breathing. Exercising regularly is another great way to ease anxiety and reduce stress. For more information, check out my article on Stress and Acne .

  • Heredity
    Acne tends to run in families. If one of your parents had acne at any point in their lives, your risk of adult onset acne is higher. Also, adults with oily skin types are more prone to acne breakouts. Skin type is hereditary as well.

Adult onset acne can be frustrating, but don't give up hope. Acne treatments have improved tremendously, and clearing adult acne is now much easier than ever before. By understanding the underlying causes of adult acne, you can successfully control it with the right treatment.

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Adult Acne Product Picks


Dr. Michelle Copeland - AHA Face Cream

Helps skin look smoother and feel softer. Stimulates cell renewal. Helps reduce the appearance of fine lines. 


Jan Marini Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5% Facial Wash  

Reduces the presence of P acne bacteria. Leaves skin feeling clean without stripping or excessive dryness.


Md Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel 2 Step System  

Evens skin tone, minimizing areas of discoloration and enhances skin's radiance and clarity.


Replenix Power of Three Cream

Ideal for those who are concerned with aging, post-procedure healing and blemish-prone skin. Gentle enough for sensitive skin. A rich-emollient texture.