Causes of Acne in Older Women

If you're frustrated by blemishes you thought you had left behind in your teenage years, you're not alone. Many women have acne breakouts in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.

This article explores the causes of adult acne, as well as what you can do to prevent it. It will also explain when it's best to reach out to your doctor.

Woman receiving a beauty treatment in medical practice - stock photo

Westend61 / Getty Images

What Causes Acne?

The main factors that lead to acne for both teens and adults may include:

  • Over-production of a type of oil, known as sebum, by the skin
  • An excess of dead skin cells that block the pores
  • A large amount of acne-causing bacteria within the blocked pores
  • Inflammation of the skin

Adult acne is more common in women than in men. Acne can impact women even after menopause, which is a time when your periods stop.

Acne Causes in Women

Several factors that may cause acne in women include:

  • Hormone changes: Hormonal shifts can affect the skin's oil production and how well skin cells are shed. These shifts can occur during menstruation, pregnancy, stopping or starting birth control pills, and menopause. Conditions that affect hormones, such as ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome, may also lead to acne.
  • Family history: If you have brothers or sisters with acne, you may be more likely to develop it as an adult.
  • Stress: While under stress, the body produces more hormones that increase the skin's oil production. This may lead to acne. Stress-related habits such as having more caffeine and sleeping less can also worsen acne.
  • Cosmetics: Anti-aging creams, sunscreens, oil-based hair products, and perfumes may clog pores and cause acne. This type of acne can occur later in life and is sometimes called acne cosmetica.
  • Smoking: Acne breakouts are more common in smokers than nonsmokers. The more an individual smokes, the worse acne can become.
  • Diet: Research has shown that a diet high in sugar, cow's milk, saturated fats, and trans fats may cause more sebum production and lead to acne.

Recap

Acne in women may be caused by hormonal changes, stress, and certain cosmetic products. Smoking cigarettes, diet, and family history may also play a role in acne.

How Do You Prevent Adult Acne?

There are a few things you can do to help prevent adult acne and keep it from getting worse.

  • Wash your skin twice a day with a non-drying and non-comedogenic cleanser. Non-comedogenic means the ingredients won't clog your pores.
  • Look for cosmetic products labeled oil-free, non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic. Non-acnegenic means it most likely won't cause acne.
  • Avoid heavy skin creams or hair products that may clog your pores.

When to See a Dermatologist

Whether you have had acne since your teenage years, or it is a new skin problem, consider seeing a dermatologist, a hair, skin, and nails specialist, for treatment options.

A dermatologist can help you understand what may be causing your acne. They may prescribe medications or offer topical treatments applied directly to the skin.

Summary

In general, acne is caused by an overproduction of sebum, high amounts of acne-causing bacteria, and dead skin cells blocking pores. Adult women may experience acne because of:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Certain diets
  • Certain cosmetics
  • Stress
  • Family history of acne

To help prevent acne, use cleansers and cosmetics that won't clog your pores. Be sure to also wash your face twice a day.

If your acne isn't clearing, consider reaching out to a dermatologist for treatment options. They may prescribe medications or recommend over-the-counter products to help treat your acne.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is adult acne for women?

    In one study, 50% of women 20 to 29 years old, 35% of women 30 to 39 years old, 26% of women 40 to 49 years old, and 15% of women 50 or older had acne.

  • How do you treat adult acne?

    Your dermatologist can work with you to find a treatment that's right for your skin type and the severity of your acne. They may suggest:

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Adult acne.

  2. Bhate K, Williams HC. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris: epidemiology of acne vulgarisBritish Journal of Dermatology. 2013;168(3):474-485. doi:10.1111/bjd.12149

  3. Perkins AC, Maglione J, Hillebrand GG, Miyamoto K, Kimball AB. Acne vulgaris in women: prevalence across the life spanJ Womens Health. 2012;21(2):223-30. doi:10.1089/jwh.2010.2722

  4. American Academy of Dermatology. Acne: who gets and causes.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Can the right diet get rid of acne?

  6. Skroza N, Tolino E, Mambrin A, et al. Adult acne versus adolescent acne: a retrospective study of 1,167 patientsJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018;11(1):21-25.

  7. Leung AK, Barankin B, Lam JM, Leong KF, Hon KL. Dermatology: how to manage acne vulgarisDIC. 2021;10:1-18. doi:10.7573/dic.2021-8-6