Guide to Adult Acne

I Have Adult Acne... Now What?

Acne is frustrating at any age, but maybe even more so during adulthood. Get the facts about adult acne, its causes, and treatments, and get your breakouts under control.

Why Do I Have Acne as an Adult?

Woman examining face in mirror
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Once you've graduated from high school, you would think you'd be acne-free. But that isn't always the case, and many people don't understand why they haven't outgrown their pimples. In fact, some adults start to get acne for the first time during adulthood—this is described as adult-onset acne.

Actually, adult acne is a fairly common condition and has the same underlying cause as teenage acne—an overabundance of sebum, skin cells becoming trapped within the pores and causing blockages (comedones), and a proliferation of the Propioni bacterium.

Your skin changes during adulthood, and you could have acne triggers as an adult that you might not have had when you were younger—medications for a medical condition, oral contraceptives, cosmetics, exposure to skin irritants, stress, and more.

Adult Acne or Rosacea?

Before you turn to over-the-counter acne solutions, be sure what you are experiencing is really acne, especially if you have never had acne before. You may be surprised to learn that what you have is really rosacea or another skin condition altogether.

If you suddenly develop an acne-like rash or begin getting pimples for the first time in your life, you should see your doctor or a dermatologist. Certain skin conditions can look just like acne. Getting the correct diagnosis is an important first step in successfully treating your skin.

The Prevalence of Adult Acne

Acne is not uncommon, even during adulthood. You can have acne for years, or it may come and go at different stages in your adult life.

Men and women are both susceptible to adult acne, but women are more likely to develop adult acne than men. Sometimes women can have deep-seated cysts under the skin, most commonly around the jawline.

Treatments for acne can be a little different for women than men. And strategies for covering up acne, such as makeup or growing a beard, can differ too.

Be sure to pay attention to whether things like cosmetics and facial hair are helping or exacerbating your acne. And when you talk to your doctor about the best ways to treat your acne, make sure to mention these aspects of how you like to present your facial appearance.

Hormones and Acne

Acne breakouts often occur when major hormonal changes are going on in the body, for example during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. These hormonal shifts often trigger acne breakouts for both teens and adults. Certain hormonal health conditions, like polycystic ovarian syndrome, can also trigger acne breakouts.

What Can Be Done for Adult Acne?

Don't give up hope. With a good treatment regimen consisting of acne medications and daily skin care, you can get considerable improvement. But the acne treatments you used as a teen may not be the best choice for your adult skin.

While teenage skin tends to be super oily, chances are your skin today is less oily. Products geared toward teen acne may be too drying. And you may have other skin issues you'd like to manage too, like sun damage or aging. Tailoring your skin care routine and acne treatments for your skin as it is today will give you the results you're looking for.

Understanding Acne Scars

No one wants to develop scars. First and foremost, don't pop your pimples. Squeezing, picking, or poking at your blemishes can increase your chances of developing scars.

Even with careful care, you may develop some sort of scarring. This is especially true if you get severe inflamed breakouts or cystic acne. Talk to your dermatologist for advice on how to best treat your acne scars.

Your Self-Esteem

Acne affects self-esteem, and adults can be just as susceptible to acne-induced anxiety as teenagers. It's important to get help for your acne. Having an acne-treatment plan in place can help you feel less anxious about your skin.

If you have acne or another skin condition, rest assured—there are excellent treatment options. Take care of your skin by seeing your doctor.

6 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.
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  4. Rocha MA, Bagatin E. Adult-onset acne: prevalence, impact, and management challengesClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2018;11:59-69. doi:10.2147/CCID.S137794

  5. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of Acne Vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016 May;74(5):945-973.

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By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.