What Causes Adult Acne and What Can You Do About It?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne in adults is increasing. Up to 35% of women in their 30s, 26% in their 40s, and 15% in their 50s have acne, as do 20%, 12%, and 7% of men, respectively. Adult acne often has the same causes as teenaged acne — a combination of excess androgens (e.g. testosterone), increased sebum production, and the proliferation of the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes — but other factors could be at work, too.

At Specialists in Dermatology in Houston and The Woodlands, Texas, our expert dermatologists understand how frustrating dealing with acne in your middle years can be, especially if you’re also trying to manage signs of skin aging. Whether you still have acne, have developed it again after years of clear skin, or have a new case of adult-onset acne, we can help.

Hormonal changes cause adult-onset acne

Women suffer most from adult-onset acne, because of hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. Starting or stopping hormonal birth control can also throw your hormones off-balance. 

Men may develop adult-onset acne if they use steroids for bodybuilding or to improve their athletic performance. Both sexes can have a surge in the hormone testosterone when they’re under stress, which could lead to acne.

When your testosterone levels rise too far, your skin creates more of a waxy substance known as sebum. The excess sebum prevents your pores from shedding old cells. The dead skin and sebum clog up your pores, forming lesions such as whiteheads and blackheads.

The clogged-up material in the lesions provide a feast for P acnes, so the bacteria begin to multiply. P acnes causes inflammation, which creates zits, pimples, cysts, and nodules. If our dermatologists suspect that hormonal imbalances are behind your acne, they may recommend oral contraceptives (for women) or stopping steroid use.

Skin irritation can lead to acne

If you wear a tight-fitting hat or use athletic gear that you have to wear, you may develop a type of acne known as acne mechanica. Some common areas for acne mechanica include the chin, due to chin straps on helmets, and on the back, for race-car drivers who lean against their seat backs. 

The combination of heat and friction irritates your skin. If you’re already prone to acne, because of genetics or hormone imbalances, you could break out at the site of your athletic gear. 

Remedies for acne mechanica include using moisture-wicking clothing and placing clean padding between your skin and the equipment. You can use over-the-counter medications containing salicylic acid to clear up a current breakout. If your acne doesn’t resolve in six to eight weeks, you may need a stronger, prescription therapy.

The wrong skin products cause acne

Using skincare products that contain pore-clogging oils or irritating ingredients is a common cause of adult acne. Culprits include:

Be sure any product that goes on your skin is labeled “noncomedogenic” or “nonacnegenic.” 

Some drugs cause acne

In addition to hormone-related drugs such as contraceptives and steroids, other medications may trigger an acne outbreak. Let your dermatologist know if you’re on anti-seizure medications or take lithium or other drugs.

Get the appropriate treatment

Acne remedies for teens are sometimes too harsh for adult skin, so you should steer away from most drugstore remedies. You also need to know what’s at the root of your adult acne to be able to treat it effectively. 

When you come to Specialists in Dermatology for an acne consultation, we examine your skin and take a complete medical profile. Once our dermatologists uncover the factors involved in your adult acne, they may recommend one or more treatment and prevention methods:

To find out why you’re breaking out in acne as an adult, contact us today. You can phone one of our friendly offices or book an appointment online.

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