Treatments for Women With Adult Acne

You thought that once you entered adulthood acne would be just a memory, right? Think again! Adult acne is very common, especially for women.

The acne that you have as an adult woman is very different from the acne you may have had as a teen.

Those old standby treatments probably won't work now, at least not very well. But there are other weapons in the acne treatment arsenal that can effectively clear adult acne.

These 10 must-know facts will help you treat your adult acne.


Acne Is Common, Even for Adults

Woman examining face in mirror
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The acne you had during your teen years may have hung on into adulthood. It's also common to find yourself breaking out for the very first time as an adult.

There are several reasons why acne rears its head post-puberty. Certain medications can trigger breakouts, as well as conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

The most common reason for adult acne in women, though, is normal hormonal fluctuations (more about this later).


Women Are More Likely to Get Acne Than Men

Acne doesn't discriminate. It affects both males and females, about equally during the teen years.

During adulthood, it's a different story. Adult acne strikes one of the sexes with much greater frequency than the other. Can you guess which one?

Yes, ladies, you're more likely than a man to get acne. It's those hormones again.

The predisposition for acne is genetic. So, if your parents had acne (either as teens or adults) you're more likely to get it too.


Rosacea Can Look Like Adult Acne

We all tend to think that any red bumps that are on the face are pimples and that all pimples are acne. That's not necessarily true.

Rosacea is a skin problem that also causes red, acne-like pimples on the face. It most commonly appears for the first time during adulthood, so it's often given the misnomer "adult acne."

Acne and rosacea aren't the only skin conditions that cause pimples. A trip to the practitioner might be a good idea if you aren't 100% positive that acne is what you're seeing.


Hormones Have a Big Impact on Your Skin

Just as teen acne is triggered by the major hormonal changes that happen during puberty, hormones also play a huge part in the development of acne in adulthood.

Many women find themselves breaking out more right before their period. Menopause and perimenopause are also common times in a woman's life when acne suddenly appears.

Any changes that cause major hormonal shifts in the body can trigger acne.


Pregnancy Can Play a Role in Acne Development

Arguably one of the most "hormonal" times of any woman's life is pregnancy. The changes that occur in your body during pregnancy can also change your skin, for better or for worse.

For some women, their skin never looks better than during pregnancy. Others break out like crazy.

And after you have your little one, you may not be in the clear, either. For some women, postpartum acne is also an issue.

If you do choose to treat your acne during your pregnancy, you have to take into account your growing baby. Ask your OB/GYN or your dermatologist for acne treatments that are safe for mommies-to-be.


You Have Many Treatment Options

Acne in adult women is overwhelmingly inflammatory and most often confined to the bottom third of the face (like the lower cheeks, jawline, chin, and neck.). Adult acne tends to be mild to moderate, but it is also stubborn.

There are many adult acne treatments available today. To treat it successfully, you will probably need a combination of treatments.

Options include:

Topical retinoids - Not only do they help by reducing breakouts, but some can also slow down signs of aging, too.

Birth control pills - If you need a contraceptive anyway, birth control pills may be a good addition to your acne treatment routine. They help regulate hormonal fluctuations that contribute to breakouts.

Spironolactone - An anti-androgen that's used to treat hormonal acne. It's not right for every woman, though, so your healthcare provider will work with you to decide if this is a good fit.

These are just a select few of the many treatments available. There are many more, at least one of which will be right for you.


Isotretinoin Is an Option for Severe, Stubborn Acne

Isotretinoin, also commonly known as Accutane, is reserved for severe or persistent cases of adult acne. This medication is taken orally, and while it's not the right treatment choice for everyone, can work really well even after other acne treatments have failed.

Most people only need to take one or two courses of isotretinoin to get acne under control. Your dermatologist may suggest this medication if you have very severe acne, or you can't get acne under control with other medications.


You Need a Good Skin Care Routine

A good skin care routine goes hand-in-hand with acne treatment medications.

If your skin is oily, foaming cleansers and astringent products can help keep oily shine and blackheads under control.

But not all acne-prone skin is oily. In fact, your skin may be rather dry. So, instead choose non-foaming washes and toners versus astringents.

If you're using prescription acne medications, forgo OTC acne products altogether. Instead, choose gentle, hydrating skin care products to keep acne medications from drying out your skin.

If you need help choosing your skin care products, employ the help of an esthetician or your dermatologist.


Don't Wait to See a Healthcare Provider

Over-the-counter acne treatments typically best for minor breakouts. If you can't get your acne under control with them after about eight weeks, or if your acne is fairly severe, give your practitioner a call.

If you wait, your acne may get worse and could possibly cause scarring. This is especially true if you have large, inflamed breakouts or if you are prone to hyperpigmentation and scarring anyway.

Think of it this way, no one ever regrets seeing a healthcare provider too soon, but many people regret waiting too long.


Take the Time to Treat Yourself Well

You're busy living your life, taking care of your family and working hard at your career. Acne is just one more stress you don't need.

But in the midst of treating acne, and patiently waiting for it to clear, don't forget to give yourself some much-needed attention and care. It will help you feel better and protect against the eroding of self-confidence that sometimes comes with acne. Remember, you deserve it!

A Word from Verywell

Adult acne is very common among women, so you're definitely not alone. It can be treated, even if you've had it for a long time. The key is to get professional help in the form of a skilled dermatologist. With your healthcare provider's help, you can get a treatment plan that will improve your skin.

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

  2. Legro RS, Arslanian SA, Ehrmann DA, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98(12):4565-92. doi:10.1210/jc.2013-2350.

  3. Buddenkotte J, Steinhoff M. Recent advances in understanding and managing rosacea. F1000Res. 2018;7. doi:10.12688/f1000research.16537.1.

  4. Tan AU, Schlosser BJ, Paller AS. A review of diagnosis and treatment of acne in adult female patients. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018;4(2):56-71. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.10.006.

  5. Canavan TN, Chen E, Elewski BE. Optimizing non-antibiotic treatments for patients with acne: A Review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2016;6(4):555-578. doi:10.1007/s13555-016-0138-1.

Additional Reading
  • Ramos-e-Silva M, Ramos-e-Silva S, Carneiro S. "Acne in Women." The British Journal of Dermatology. 2015 Jul;172 Suppl 1:20-6.

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