Blog, Skin Conditions

Acne Causes in Adults and How to Treat It 

As it is the case with most adults, you probably thought that after getting through puberty you could avoid the anxiety of waking up to new pimples. However, battling acne causes in adults still plagues the everyday lives of a large number of people.

What you’re probably missing is that acne isn’t strictly a teenage plague. A considerable number of adults in the U.S and across the globe are battling with adult acne. This piece seeks to dig deeper into acne causes in adults and the available treatment options. 

What is acne? 

Acne is the most prevalent skin disorder and most commonly occurs during the second and third decades of life. Overactive sebaceous glands are one of many causes of the inflammatory skin condition during puberty. The oil glands in the skin produce sebum (an oily material), discharged to the skin surface. 

Sometimes, excess sebum blocks the skin pores causes blackheads, pimples, whiteheads, and cysts. Acne usually occurs on the face, the chest, and the back. 

Acne During Puberty

At puberty, hormonal changes stimulate oil glands under the skin to produce sebum, a natural substance that protects and lubricates the skin. During this time, the skin cells mature at a fast rate, and they may block the pores of your skin. As sebum pushes through the blocked skin pore, it forms a white head. If part gets exposed to the air, it forms blackheads. 

As sebum continues to accumulate inside the skin pore, it may rupture, allowing bacteria and other substances to penetrate the skin, which leads to inflammation. If the inflammation occurs near the skin surface, it results in a pustule. If the bacteria penetrate deep into the skin, it can cause a cyst. 

What causes adult acne? 

As highlighted earlier, adults in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s can get acne as well (far past puberty.) Research by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) shows that women are more likely to have adult acne than men

There are also some people who don’t get acne during puberty but instead develop acne for the first time as adults. This is known as adult onset acne. It can start in the early 20s, but can also occur at any age to adults who have never had acne before.

Studies show that adult onset acne affects more women than men. If you are battling with acne, here are some of the possible acne causes in adults. 


An imbalance in hormones, especially androgens such as testosterone, can lead to breakouts. A slight change in either male or female hormones causes significant changes in the entire body. Some of these changes include differences in circulation, pH imbalance, and excessive production of sebum by oil glands. In women, hormonal changes occur during:

  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy period 
  • Postpartum period
  • Breastfeeding

Hormonal acne usually shows its ugly side in the form of deep and painful cysts around the neck, chin, jawline and the back. 


Stress causes a host of health problems, and adult acne is one of them. When your body is under too much pressure or anxiety, it produces a hormone known as cortisol that helps the body to cope with stress.

As the body produces cortisol, small amounts of testosterone also leak out. For women, the male hormone causes hyperactivity of the oil glands situated under the skin.

It is also essential to note that stress comes in various forms. Physical stress, such as lack of sleep, dehydration, extreme weather, and illness, can also trigger hormonal changes. 

Family history 

You would be surprised to know that adult acne can be inherited. Find out whether you have close blood relatives who had acne as adults. There is evidence pointing out that some people are genetically predisposed to adult acne. 


A bacterium known as cutibacterium acnes, formerly known as Propionibacterium acnes, can also cause adult acne. The bacteria grows slowly, and it can trigger acne if allowed to build up on the skin. Practicing proper hygiene can help to remove bacteria from the skin.

Food Sensitivities

In some cases, certain foods such as sugar and low fat dairy, may be the cause of acne. If the root of your acne isn’t known, consider your diet and keep a food journal to monitor outbreaks and inflammation. 

Consumption of excess sugars spikes insulin levels in the body, and there is evidence that insulin can trigger the production of the oil-triggering male hormones. Low fat dairy products are thought to cause acne because they contain higher levels of the hormones that are given to the cows. 

Hair and skincare products 

Some of the hair and skincare products you’re using on a regular basis could be the main cause of your acne. Unfortunately, most people don’t take time to read the labels of the products they use on their skin and hair. Look for products that are labeled as: 

  • Oil-free
  • Non-comedogenic 

Side effects of certain medications

Sometimes, adult acne can be a side effect of certain medications. Some of these medications include antidepressants, corticosteroids, and epilepsy treatments. Certain contraceptive formulations can also cause adult acne. 

Treatment options for adult acne 

Treatment options for adult acne aim at preventing or minimizing pimples and scarring. The earlier you begin acne treatment, the better. The treatment option selected for adult acne depends on the type of acne and its severity.

Over-the-counter products

There are a host of topical over-the-counter products that your dermatologist can recommend for mild-to-moderate cases of adult acne. Self-treatment is suitable for mild-to-moderate cases of adult acne by following a simple skincare regimen and employing preventative measures to help in preventing acne flare-ups. 

For mild-to-moderate cases of adult acne, you can use non-prescription skin care products such as medicated cleansing bars, creams, lotions, liquids, and gels. These topical products may contain ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulphur, which work in different ways to get rid of acne. 

Prescription medications

Individuals with moderate-to-severe acne should visit a dermatologist to prevent further complications. Your doctor will prescribe either oral and/or topical medication to treat your acne. 


If you have a lot of blackheads, an esthetician may use a technique known as extraction to remove them. 

When to see a dermatologist 

You should see a dermatologist if your acne doesn’t go away in a couple of months after using over-the-counter medication. But acne can be a source of insecurity. Even in mild cases, if acne is affecting your everyday life you should seek treatment. 

At times, acne isn’t taken seriously enough. And in serious cases when left untreated, acne can cause scarring, which is even harder to reverse. If you have painful and persistent acne, you should see a dermatologist. 

How to prevent scarring 

The following preventative measures can help to prevent or reduce acne flare-ups and scarring. They include:

  • Avoiding squeezing or picking acne lesions since it can easily cause scarring.
  • Establishing an appropriate daily skin-care regimen such as cleansing the skin with warm water, a soft washcloth, and a suitable, oil-free soap. 
  • Avoiding scrubbing the skin when washing. It can irritate the skin.
  • Using appropriate skin and hair care products.
  • Cleansing your skin after sweating
  • Use of oil-free makeup that won’t irritate your skin 
  • Wearing daily sun protection

Adult acne can be controlled by following a proper skin care regimen and using the correct medication. But, don’t expect to see results overnight. Topical medicines may take up to two months to show results.

Acne, like other skin conditions, is treated on a case by case basis. The best way to get the best treatment for your skin, is to seek out your dermatologist and begin on a path to clearer skin. Reach out to us at the Dermatology Center of Acadiana today and schedule a consultation!