What Can Cause Acne in Adults?

by Shirley Chi, M.D.

3 Common Triggers of Adult Acne

What Causes Acne Scars on Face - La Roche-Posay

I get this question every day: “Why am I still breaking out in my 30s?” Adult acne is more common than ever before. While the real reasons why are still a mystery, dermatologists recognize three common triggers that could be causing skin to act up.

When’s the last time you went “off the grid”? Has your smartphone made you available to work anytime, anywhere…even on vacation? Our around-the-clock accessibility stimulates constant stress, and stress is a major trigger for oil production that can trigger acne. Simply put, our increasingly busy and high-pressure lives are a definite factor in the rise of adult acne.

Did you know we are exposed to more oil-clogging toxins in our everyday lives than our grandparents’ generation? Pollution could also play a role in the increase in adult acne cases seen by dermatologists.

Finally, our modern diets, heavy with refined sugars and hormone-laden meats and dairy could be another adult acne trigger. People who live in agrarian societies (those that subsist mostly on grains and vegetables) have much lower rates of acne in both teenagers and adults.

To help my adult clients take control of their acne, I recommend a 3-pronged approach: make more time for de-stressing activities (this is as simple as deep breathing exercises or going for a 10-minute walk), modify your diet to minimize sugar and hormone intake, and treat with products that are powerful and effective, yet take into consideration the sensitivities and needs of our adult skin so as not to increase the inflammation and redness of adult acne.

The acne products we used as teenagers may be fine for oilier, hardy skin types such as those of an adolescent, but on certain adult skin types may cause burning, redness, and even worsening of the acne. The same goes for those rough “acne facials” that consist of steaming your face, poking and prodding your skin with instruments, and scrubbing with exfoliating beads or harsh chemicals.

Adult acne requires a very light touch, and I tell my patients that less is more in this regard. I generally don’t recommend facials, but professional treatments such as Blue or Red light, microdermabrasion, and certain lasers such as the Smoothbeam laser can help calm breakouts. Of course, there are also prescription medications that can help, so if what you’re doing isn’t working after 6-8 weeks, enlist the help of a board-certified dermatologist who can assess your skin’s needs.