5 Common Causes of Adult Acne

Although nearly 85% of people have experienced acne at some point in their lives, many of us wrongly assume that this skin condition affects only those in their teens. The harsh reality is that people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond can experience adult acne. Even worse, these skin problems can feel even more embarrassing when you’re past puberty. You may wonder what you’re doing wrong or why you’re plagued with zits when your peers seem to have a handle on their skin care routine. Don’t worry: you aren’t alone — and there are ways to cure what ails you.


Understanding the causes of acne can be tough. There are numerous factors that can put someone at risk for developing acne or that could cause someone to suddenly start breaking out later in life. If you’re currently struggling with adult acne, you and your local dermatologist may want to focus on at least one of the following common causes.

  1. Fluctuating Hormones: Hormones can play a huge role in skin issues like acne, which is why many people start to develop pimples during puberty. But that’s not the only time when blackheads, whiteheads, and pustules may occur. Many women find that they experience particularly bad bouts of acne at certain points in their menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and/or during menopause. Other women also report that starting or discontinuing birth control pills may have a substantial effect on their skin. This isn’t to say that men can’t experience adult acne related to hormones, but it’s often a more common cause for women.
  2. Stress Levels: Skin experts will tell you that this point is actually related to the first cause of acne, as the amount of stress we feel correlates to certain hormones released in our bodies. When we’re stressed, our adrenal gland produces more cortisol. While this hormone helps us deal with the stress, it also stimulates our oil glands — and that can result in acne development. Physical stress to the skin from dehydration, pollution, irritants, illness, lack of sleep, or harsh weather can also cause acne flare-ups. Although you may not be able to eliminate stress entirely from your life, you can learn to recognize your triggers and take steps to mediate your stress levels (in addition to any topical or pharmaceutical treatments your dermatologist may recommend) for the sake of your skin.
  3. Personal Care Products: You may love the smell of that new shampoo or might like the feel of your new facial cleanser. But unfortunately, your choice in care products could be doing you dirty. In fact, many products supposedly formulated for fighting acne can be immensely irritating for people and can make matters worse! When you purchase personal care items, you should always check the label to ensure the product is non-comedogenic and oil-free (water-based is best). It should not clog pores and you may want to steer clear of strongly fragranced products, as this can irritate sensitive skin. Your dermatologist can probably recommend some excellent alternatives for any products you’ll have to stop using.
  4. Certain Medications: Every medication comes with a set of side effects. There are, unfortunately, some medications that may cause adult acne in patients. Antidepressants, epilepsy medications, and other necessary pharmaceuticals can lead to breakouts. Talk with your doctor to assess whether your current medication can cause acne and whether there might be an alternative that could be just as effective without causing skin issues. If there’s no other option, your dermatologist can likely help to treat your adult acne while you stay on your current medication.
  5. Genetics: Finally, the cause of your adult acne could come down to simple genetics. Some people are more likely to have acne than others. If others in your family have experienced it, you may be predisposed to this skin condition. That doesn’t mean it can’t be treated, however. Your dermatologist can come up with a strategy that will tackle your acne, even if it’s not linked to any easily identifiable cause.

Struggling with acne as an adult can make you feel self-conscious, but there’s no reason to be embarrassed. By talking to your dermatologist about treating your acne, you can gain an amazing amount of self-confidence. For more information, contact us today.