Most people think that getting through puberty will help improve skin and lead the way to clear and healthy skin. The truth is that many adults still have acne in their 30s and 40s. Even though most of us think we have gotten past our teenage acne, it may surprise you that adult acne is very common.
While acne is thought of as a problem for teenagers, it can occur in people of all ages. For most people, acne does go away when you're older, but sometimes it becomes hard to get rid of. If you don’t treat it properly when it first appears, it can become more severe and make your skin more prone to future breakouts.
Though adult acne is not considered harmful or dangerous, it can lead to scarring. Therefore, it’s important to treat it properly.
Factors that Lead to Adult Acne
Most of the time, the same factors that cause acne in the adolescent years can do the same for adult acne. The leading causes of adult acne are excess oil production, pore-clogging, bacteria build-up, and inflammation. Below are several things that contribute to adult acne:
Oily Skin - For people with oily skin, acne can be a lifelong problem. Sometimes, adult acne results from oil glands being blocked by dead skin cells or bacteria build-up. The oil glands can remain open, but if it remains clogged, it will produce excess sebum. The excess oil is pushed into the hair follicles and causes clogged pores, causing pimples and blackheads.
Stress - Stress does more than just make you feel low and anxious; it can make your skin break out. It can cause hormonal imbalance, and this can negatively impact skin health. Stress may cause huge amounts of cortisol to be released into the bloodstream.¹ The more cortisol, the more oil the sebaceous glands produce, which can trigger adult acne.
Diet - Another factor that can contribute to adult acne is diet. For example, you can breakout if you have a diet high in sugar and saturated fats. Overeating sugary and processed foods can lead to oily skin and clogged pores. Sugary foods can clog your pores and make them appear inflamed, worsening acne. In addition, milk and foods with high sugar and carbohydrate content can increase insulin levels, which changes the effects of other hormones in the body.
Genetics - Some people could have a genetic predisposition. This means that they are more prone to getting adult acne. Acne may run in your family. If one of your parents had acne, it increases the possibility that you'll also develop it. Specific genes could make your skin more susceptible to acne. But even if you don't inherit the gene, you might have an underlying skin condition.
Hormonal changes - Hormones play a very important role in the regulation of sebum production. When a woman's menstrual cycle is over, she is likely to experience hormonal fluctuations. This can cause the sebaceous glands to produce too much sebum. When you’re pregnant, your body produces more hormones than usual. These hormones can cause acne-like bumps. Likewise, when estrogen levels drop during menopause, it can cause your hormones to fluctuate, making your skin more likely to break out.
Skincare products - To keep your skin healthy, it’s important to use the right skincare products. A good skincare routine doesn’t need tons of products. A common mistake most people make is using too many products; overuse of harsh chemicals to cleanse the skin can irritate and inflame the skin. Also, not removing makeup properly can lead to more breakouts by clogging the pores and making your skin secrete more oil and sebum.
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Side effects of medication - Various medications can cause acne. This can happen because the medications interact with the hormones produced naturally by the body. Some medications that can trigger acne include:
- Birth control pills
- Steroid injections
- Thyroid medications
If you are taking a medication and suffering from acne simultaneously, be sure to talk to your doctor about its risks. They may be able to recommend another treatment that is safer for you.
How to Get Rid of Adult Acne?
Depending on the severity, there are treatments available that can help get rid of acne. Standard acne treatments may include topical medication or laser treatments to help reduce skin breakouts. However, when acne keeps coming back, you should consult a dermatologist, who will prescribe an appropriate medication. When acne is mild, topical prescription and OTC treatments are usually enough.
Topical acne agents target clogged pores, which helps clear up the acne. They also help the clogged pores to shed dead skin cells. They reduce the number of acne-causing bacteria in your pores. Topical products can help to reduce acne by inhibiting sebum production and reducing inflammation. The most common acne-fighting compounds used in acne products are:
- Salicylic Acid: sloughs away dead skin cells, which leads to clogged pores.
- Azelaic Acid: fights bacteria on the skin and reduces inflammation and swelling.
- Retinoids (Vitamin A derivative): exfoliates the skin to remove dirt, oil and dead skin cells from the surface and reduce the appearance of acne scars over time.
- Benzoyl Peroxide: kills surface bacteria, which often triggers acne. It works great for existing and new breakouts and can even help prevent new acne.
How to Prevent Adult Acne?
When it comes to acne, prevention is key. Adult acne isn’t entirely in your control but can be improved by implementing a good skincare regime that works well for different skin types and with a few lifestyle adjustments that can help keep the skin healthy.
- Remove Makeup: To avoid breakouts, do not go to bed with makeup on. Always remove the makeup and skin products properly when you are done with the day, wash your face with a mild oil-free cleanser or makeup remover, and get rid of all the dirt and impurities.
- Pay Attention to Labels: when buying cosmetics and skincare products, go for oil-free products that won't clog the pores.
- Protect the Skin from UV Rays: It is vital to use sunblock and protect your skin from harmful effects of the sun. Use water-based SPF of at least 30+ every day, whether the sun is shining or not.
- Slough off Dead Skin: Exfoliate once or twice a week using a mild exfoliator. This will help you to remove grime, debris, and excess oil from your pores. BHA exfoliators are perfect for clogged pores.
- Ditch Harsh Products: To keep adult acne at bay, avoiding using abrasive skincare products that can cause inflammation and skin damage is crucial. Avoid alcohol-based scrubs and alcohol in general.
- Keep Your Skin Moisturized: Remember to apply a moisturizer. If you have oily skin or acne-prone skin, don’t skip slathering on a moisturizing product. You can use a lightweight, non-greasy formula.
- Avoid Touching Your Skin: You should resist touching, picking, and popping your pimples. Picking or popping your pimples can make them worse and cause your skin to get inflamed.
- Give up Junk Food: If you want to prevent adult acne, it is good to avoid junk foods and drink lots of water. When you eat junk food and high-fat diets, you are likely to develop adult acne. Consuming too much dairy, sugary, and greasy foods can also make your skin oily.
- Eat Healthy: There are lots of foods that are beneficial for your health. Include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats in your diet. Eat foods rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene since they have anti-inflammatory properties.
Acne has mainly been associated with teenagers. But as we know some of us are not immune from it even in our adult years. Adult acne results from similar internal and external elements that cause it during adolescence, such as oily skin, stress, improper diet, wrong skincare products, hormonal disruptions, medication, and other factors. To help treat your acne, its recommended to adjust your daily skincare regimen, diet, and habits and use specific ingredients to help treat and prevent acne.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2022). ‘Stress management’, Mayo Clinic, Accessed November 23, 2022. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
- Dutfield, Scott & Szalazy, Jessie. (2022). ‘What are carbohydrates’, Live Science, Accessed November 23, 2022. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/51976-carbohydrates.html
- Dresden, Danielle. (2020). ‘What to know about corticosteroids’, Medical News Today, Accessed November 23, 2022. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/corticosteroids