People may associate acne with the teenage years, but it can also occur in adulthood. Hormonal changes, stress, and certain medications can all contribute to adult acne. However, there are many options available to help individuals treat and prevent this skin condition.
This article explores what acne is, what causes it, and how it presents. It will also look at some treatment options, including natural remedies and prevention strategies.
Acne is a common inflammatory skin condition that affects roughly 50 million Americans annually. It usually begins in puberty but can occur at any stage in life and may continue into adulthood. Doctors may also refer to adult acne as adult-onset acne or postadolescent acne.
It typically develops when oil and dead skin cells plug pores on the skin, resulting in the development of lesions commonly referred to as zits or pimples.
While acne is more common during adolescence, it is possible for acne to continue into a person’s 30s, 40s, and 50s. Some people may even develop acne for the first time as an adult. Research also notes that adult acne is more common in females.
The American Academy of Dermatology says that the most common causes of adult acne include the below.
Changes in hormones
Similar to the leading cause of acne in teenagers, a hormonal imbalance can result in acne. Many factors can alter hormone levels, including:
- perimenopause, which refers to the time leading up to and directly after menopause
- starting or stopping birth control pills or other hormonal contraception
When experiencing stress, some people may have an acne flare-up, which is possibly due to the body producing more androgen hormones in response. These hormones can stimulate the oil glands in the skin, resulting in acne.
Some evidence suggests that some people may have a genetic predisposition for acne. This means that if a close blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, has acne, then a person may be more likely to develop adult acne.
Some hair and skin care products may contain substances that can aggravate acne-prone skin. Using them can result in acne breakouts. Therefore, people may wish to consider only using products labeled as:
- oil free
- will not clog pores
Medication side effects
Some medications can cause acne as a side effect. If a person suspects their medication is triggering their acne, they should continue taking the medicine but consider discussing alternative treatment options with their doctor.
Medications that may cause acne can include hormonal medicines, antidepressants, B vitamins, halogens, and antiepileptics.
Undiagnosed medical conditions
In some cases, adult acne may result from an underlying medical condition, so treating the condition can often cause acne to clear. For example, people with polycystic ovary syndrome typically develop adult acne due to fluctuations in their hormone levels.
The symptoms of adult acne will typically be similar to those of acne at any age. When experiencing an acne flare-up, people may notice:
- papules, pustules, or both
- nodules, cysts, or both
Treatment for adult acne is likely to be similar to treatments for acne in younger individuals. They may involve topical anti-acne medications and reviewing potential causes such as underlying conditions, certain medications, stress, and any skin care or beauty products a person uses.
A dermatologist may recommend using over-the-counter (OTC) products containing the following ingredients:
- benzoyl peroxide
- retinoids, such as adapalene gel
- salicylic acid
If OTC products do not work, doctors can prescribe stronger treatments. These can include:
- prescription-strength retinoids, such as topical tretinoin or oral isotretinoin
- antibiotics, such as tetracyclines
- antiandrogens, such as oral contraceptives or spironolactone
However, it is worth noting that it can take anything from 4–6 weeks to start noticing an effect with acne treatments. In some cases, it may take between 2–3 months for the acne to clear completely.
Currently, there is not much scientific evidence to indicate natural remedies can ease adult acne. However, proponents suggest that remedies with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and wound healing properties
For example, a
A 2020 review also suggests that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may improve acne.
To try and prevent any potential adult acne breakouts, people can attempt to avoid any possible triggers for acne and follow a skin care routine. For example, this can involve avoiding certain skin or wash products, such as those not labeled as noncomedogenic. People can also attempt to manage their stress levels by practicing yoga, mindfulness, or breathing exercises.
Additionally, individuals should also follow their dermatologist’s advice and continue using products or medications as their doctor suggests.
People with acne-prone skin may want to consider the following tips:
- washing twice a day and after sweating
- using gentle products on the skin
- using fingertips to apply a non-abrasive cleanser gently
- avoiding or reducing scrubbing the skin
- rinsing with lukewarm water
- avoiding popping pimples — let the skin heal naturally
- avoid touching the face
Adult acne can be very frustrating to manage. If a person finds that OTC medications are not working, they can speak to a doctor about stronger treatments. Note that it can take up to 6 weeks to notice the potential benefits of OTC anti-acne treatments.
If underlying conditions are causing acne, following a diagnosis and treatment, acne will usually subside. If a person suspects that any medication they are currently taking may be triggering their acne, they should not stop taking it. Instead, they may consider discussing their concerns with their doctor and asking about alternative medications.
Acne is a common skin disorder in teenagers, but it can also affect adults. While it can happen at any age, it appears to affect females more often than males. Acne usually occurs when oil and dead skin plugs pores, leading to pimples. Common causes of adult acne include hormone fluctuations, stress, and certain skin or beauty products.
Using a combination of OTC anti-acne treatments, natural products, and a good skin care routine may help clear acne. However, it can take up to 6 weeks to see any benefits. If acne is not improving, people can consult with their doctor, who can prescribe stronger treatment options.