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All You Need To Know About Adult Acne

Updated: Jul 3


Just when you think you got rid of a pimple, another one pops up again. Many people struggle with acne from a very young age, while others start having them once they become much older. Adult acne will have similar stages and symptoms to adolescent acne, but it is said they have different causes.

What is adult acne?

Adult acne refers to acne that mainly appears after the age of 25, and they tend to appear on the chin and the mouth area (a.k.a the u-zone). People who have not had acne during their adolescent years can also experience adult acne.

So how is it different from adolescent acne?

The difference between adult and adolescent acne is not only in the areas where it tends to occur. Adolescent acne is so-called physiological acne and usually disappears after three to ten years. Excessive sebum build-up is one of the main causes of adolescent acne, as it can clog pores and cause inflammation.

Adult acne, on the other hand, can have more complex causes and is thought to be closely related to lifestyle.

A man with facial acne touching his chin area

The types of adult acne

Adult acne can be divided into the following types according to its symptoms. It is important to approach the problem early in the whitehead acne stage to prevent worsening.

These usually do not have any inflammation. They are formed when the excess secretion of sebum and dead skin cells clog the pores and builds up.

Also called blackheads, these are pimples with a blackened tip. The blackened tip is caused by oxidation of the contents of the whitehead peeking out from the surface of the skin. There is usually no redness or inflammation.

Papules are inflamed acne without pus formation. As acne increases, bacteria load increases, resulting in inflammation. It is easily visible and can be painful when touched.

Pustules are yellowish pus-filled lesions that have formed from infected pimples. When the inflammation becomes severe, the walls around the pores break down, forming red bumps on the skin.

Further irritation and severe inflammation can result in the formation of acne that affects deeper within the skin. Nodules are larger, painful lumps formed from clogged and swollen pores. These can progress into cystic acne, which often scar.

What are the causes of adult acne?

The mechanism of adult and adolescent acne is almost the same; acne is formed from excess sebum production and inflammation due to the clogging of pores by dead skin cells, bacteria, and dirt. Compared to adolescent acne, adult acne is more likely to occur secondary to either internal and external stress. This causes hormonal irregularities and disrupts our internal hemeostatis, resulting in poor skin renewal, increased sebum production and increasing the likelihood of acne outbreaks.

Examples of stressors that can cause adult acne:

A woman stressed from her work

In addition, a decline in the skin's barrier function due to lack of moisture can also be a contributing factor. When keratin builds up, it becomes thick and clogs pores, leading to the development of adult acne.

Shaving products and makeup can cause adult acne

Excessive skin irritation can contribute to the development of adult acne. For instance, it is important to exercise caution when shaving body hair and beards. When shaving, it is recommended to use clean tools and shaving products to minimize irritation.

Makeup can also be a potential cause of acne. It is crucial to thoroughly cleanse the skin to remove all traces of makeup. If acne is already present, it is advisable to avoid using makeup or opt for non-comedogenic cosmetics that are specifically formulated to prevent worsening of acne.

In women, adult acne is often influenced by the menstrual cycle. Many women experience an increase or worsening of acne before menstruation. This is believed to be linked to the elevated secretion of the female hormone progesterone, which stimulates sebum production. While progesterone itself is not a direct cause of acne, it can act as a trigger.

How to prevent adult acne breakouts

Getting rid of potential causes mentioned above may be an efficient way to prevent breakouts.

1. Review your diet

An excessively strict and nutritionally imbalanced diet can have an impact on bowel movements and potentially contribute to the development or aggravation of adult acne. While there is no definitive evidence linking specific foods to adult acne, maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet is crucial for promoting healthy skin. Research suggests that consuming adequate amounts of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as vitamins and minerals with antioxidant properties, may also aid in the prevention and treatment of acne.

2. Avoid stress

Stress has a direct impact on the skin's immune system, making it more susceptible to inflammation and exacerbating acne. Additionally, stress hampers the skin's natural regenerative processes. Unintentional popping of pimples and inadequate sleep are common manifestations of stress that can further contribute to the worsening of adult acne.

3. Reviewing face washing methods

While excess sebum can contribute to clogged pores, it's important to note that the skin needs to stay moisturized and protected. Dry skin can also be a factor in adult acne, so it's essential to strike a balance. Avoid over-washing your face and opt for a well-lathering cleanser that is gentle and doesn't cause irritation or rubbing. Steer clear of cleansers with scrubs as they can harm the skin. After cleansing, it's crucial to moisturize the skin using a gentle moisturizer to maintain its normal barrier function. Additionally, using non-comedogenic cosmetics that contain acne-preventing ingredients is recommended to prevent acne breakouts.

How to Treat Adult Acne

So what should I do if adult acne worsens?

It is important to deal with adult acne at an early stage. Some cases do not improve with self-care and may worsen. To prevent further worsening, consult a medical specialist as soon as possible. The type and combination of treatments may differ depending on the type and cause of adult acne you have. Click here for more information on acne treatment.

1. Topical treatments

These can range from topical antibiotics that are mainly used for getting rid of bacteria in acne to medicated creams containing ingredients that help alleviate redness and reduce clogged pores.

Oral treatments (such as isotretinoin,etc.) can include hormonal regulating medicine, oral antibiotics, birth control pills (for females) and isotretinoin helps to control acne.

3. Acne extractions

Extractions are a procedure that requires the hands of a professional, where small incisions are made to drain large, painful acne cysts. It can help remove whiteheads and blackheads as well.

There are different types of acne scars that remain, depending on the type and severity of adult acne. Dermabrasion, laser treatments, and chemical peels are some examples of treatments that are available to clear the skin and smooth out scars. Click here for more information on acne scar treatment.

Schedule a consultation today and start your acne recovery journey today.

An illustration of the different types of acne treatments


There are various types of treatments for adult acne; however, the best suited treatment always depends on the type and cause of it. Consult a professional for an accurate diagnosis. And remember: the earlier the better! Approaching adult acne before it worsens can help start the treatment process and discover the exact causes.

This blog post was medically reviewed by Dr Summer Zhang.


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