What is the Main Cause of Adult Acne?

by Mona Gohara, M.D.

5 Sources of Adult Acne

Acne is synonymous with pubescent teenage years. But, dermatologists are spotting a growing trend: adult acne. 35% of women in their 30s, 26% in their 40s, and 15% of women age 50+ find that pimples are a problem. Patients fall into two different categories: Those who had acne in adolescence and carried the condition into adulthood, or those who experience acne for the first time as adults. The question becomes “What causes adult acne?” Here are some answers.

1. Hormones: 

Around puberty, hormones are bouncing around, but then they even out and equilibrate. Adults, and in particular adult women, are more likely to have fluctuating levels of hormones. This may be due to menstruation, pregnancy, birth control pills and other forms of contraception, polycystic ovarian syndrome, peri-menopause and menopause. Chin acne and acne along the jaw line coupled with coarse facial hair may hint to a hormonal cause of acne.

2. Genetics: 

Having a first-degree relative (that means mom, dad, brother, or sister) with acne is a predisposition to both adolescent acne and adult acne.

3. Stress:

Stress can compromise other organs such as brain, heart, and lungs, so why not the skin? With daily stressors such as balancing family and work, small amounts of a hormone called cortisol get released and cause inflammation in the skin, sometimes in the form of acne. While doctors can prescribe the best acne products, it is just as important to find your zen, weather in the form of exercise, meditation, reading, or engaging with friends. A few minutes of down time each day can be the best natural acne treatment, and can go a long way for your overall health and complexion.

4. Medications: 

With age comes the higher potential for diseases that require medication. Medication can certainly be the culprit for new onset adult acne. Some common medication acne triggers include testosterone, progesterone, steroids (both topically and in pill form), lithium and other mood stabilizers, phenytoin, isoniazid, vitamins B2, B6, and B12, halogens, and epidermal growth factor inhibitors (as may be used with some cancer treatments).

5. Cosmetics: 

Attempts to turn back the hands of time with heavy creams and salves can lead to clogged pores. To avoid blemishes, choose light serums and lotions specifically labeled oil-free or non-comedogenic.

Unless there is a hormonal cause that can be reversed or a culprit medication, most adult acne is treated with traditional topicals such a salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, retinols, azelaic acid, and clindamycin. Oral medications such as low dose antibiotics, sprinolactone, and isotretinoin can also be very effective.