6 Surprising Causes of Adult Acne

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Are those annoying little blemishes really acne? Why do we still get those zits and blemishes well beyond our teenage years ― and how can we get rid of them for good? 
 
Acne is frustrating no matter what age it happens, but it can be particularly embarrassing for adults. Unfortunately, adult acne can sometimes develop well into your 30s, 40s, and 50s. It’s even possible to not have acne as a teenager but develop it later in life. 

What causes adult acne?

The reasons for adult acne are numerous but rest assured, it’s not likely from eating chocolate or greasy food. In men, the causes of adult acne are normally the same factors that cause teenage acne. However, in women the causes are more complicated. Most of the time adult acne is due to one of the following factors: 
 
Fluctuating hormones. Hormonal factors related to estrogen and progesterone are common in female acne, including changes in hormones due to pregnancy and menopause. Circumstances such as starting, stopping, or changing a birth control pill or IUD can cause or worsen acne. Acne can even occur months after this change. Female adult acne often has “flares” or breakouts that can be traced back to certain times of the menstrual period.  
 
Stress. Research shows a relationship between acne and stress. When we experience stress, the level of acne-causing hormones called androgens increases, stimulating oil glands and hair follicles that contribute to acne.  
 
Skin and hair products. Not all skin care products are created equal. Read the labels and look for words like oil-free, non-comedogenic, or non-acnegenic. These terms mean the products won’t clog pores or stimulate excess oil production. Make sure your face wash, moisturizer and sun block contain these phrases.  
 
An underlying medical condition. In a small percentage of patients, acne could be caused by an undiagnosed medical condition. In women, a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) often underlies chronic or difficult-to-control acne. A dermatologist will take a careful history and perform an exam, including a possible blood test, to better identify underlying causes.  
 
Family history. That’s right, another thing we can blame on our genetics. If a close relative or family member has had acne, your acne may be genetically predisposed. The good news is that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated.  
 
Medications. Some medications have acne as a side effect that can either cause it or make it worse. A dermatologist will be able to determine if your medications are causing or contributing to breakouts. Common factors include steroid inhalers, birth control, and testosterone to name a few.

Is effective treatment available?

Yes. The most effective treatments for adult acne are prescription medications. Your dermatologist can recommend the most effective medicine. Treatments may include a combination of topical medications, cleansers, moisturizers, and oral pills.
 
Remember, acne is a medical condition ― do not hesitate to seek medical attention just as you would for any other health condition ― and when you do, find a skin care professional that is a board-certified dermatologist. With some professional help and a little bit of patience, nearly every case of acne can be treated and controlled at any age.  
 
Find a dermatologist near you