You thought only teenagers got pimples. So why are you suddenly breaking out again as an adult? Discover what causes adult acne and how you can treat it.

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Adult Acne: Causes, Treatment, And Prevention

10/12/20228 min read

You thought your acne days were behind you after graduating high school and entering the real world. But even now, years later, you're still dealing with regular breakouts. Unfortunately, adult acne is a thing that far too many people deal with daily.

To help you have better skin days, we’ve put together this guide on adult acne. In it, you'll learn about some of the most common causes and treatment options for this condition. You'll also discover how you can prevent future breakouts.

Table Of Contents

Causes Of Adult Acne

A woman pointing to an adult acne breakout on her cheek

Many things contribute to adult acne, and it's often a combination of factors. That's why it can be difficult to pinpoint a single cause. However, some common triggers often lead to breakouts.

To help you identify what could be causing your adult acne, here are some of the most common culprits:


Your hormones play a leading role in adult acne. When your hormone levels fluctuate, it can increase oil production, which can lead to clogged pores and breakouts.

Often, women experience hormone-related adult acne around their period. Pregnancy can also cause breakouts due to rapidly shifting hormones.

However, women aren't the only ones affected by hormone-related adult acne. Men can also experience pimples and other types of acne as their testosterone levels fluctuate.


What you eat matters. While the reason is not completely understood, some studies support the hypothesis that the Western diet (rich in animal products and fatty and sugary foods) is associated with the presence of acne in adulthood.

In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology Association found that 87% of patients in one study had less acne when they ate a low-glycemic diet.

To help manage your adult acne, you might want to try limiting sugar and saturated/trans fats while incorporating healthy fats, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Environmental Factors

A woman fanning herself while sitting in the sun

Your skin is constantly being bombarded by environmental factors. For example, humidity can lead to clogged pores and breakouts if you live in a hot and humid climate. Or, if you live in an area with a lot of pollution, the build-up of dirt and debris in the air can burden your skin.

And it's not just where you live. What you do for a living can also be a factor. For instance, if you work in a job that exposes you to grease, chemicals, or other substances that can clog pores, you're more likely to experience adult acne.


We all know that stress can wreak havoc on our bodies in several ways. But did you know that it can also lead to adult acne?

When you're stressed, your body produces more of the hormone cortisol. This hormone signals your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, the oily substance we mentioned earlier.

Product Choices

In an attempt to clear up their skin, many people accidentally choose products that do more harm than good. For example, selecting products with harsh ingredients can strip your skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness, irritation, and even more breakouts.

Other products, like those that contain pore-clogging ingredients, can also cause adult acne. If your body wash, shampoo, or other skincare products contain ingredients like petroleum jelly, lanolin, or mineral oil, they can clog your pores and intensify your acne instead of treating it.


Unfortunately, adult acne can also be hereditary. If your parents or other close relatives had adult acne, you're more likely to suffer from it as well.

Treating Acne As An Adult

A young adult applying cream to a pimple on her forehead

The good news is there are many things you can do to treat adult acne. While there's no one-size-fits-all solution, you can see significant improvement in your skin with the right treatment plan.

To help you feel more confident in your skin, here are some of the most reliable methods for treating acne:

Stay Clean

The first step in treating adult acne is to keep your skin clean. This means washing your face twice daily with a gentle, non-drying cleanser.

However, you want to avoid trying to scrub your acne away. Intense scrubbing can actually irritate your pimples and make them worse. Instead, use a light touch and focus on cleansing the area around your pimples, not scrubbing them.

Pick The Right Skincare Products

Choosing the right skincare products is essential for treating adult acne. As we mentioned above, you want to avoid products that are too harsh or contain pore-clogging ingredients.

Instead, look for products with ingredients that can help clear up your acne and prevent future breakouts. Take time to read the labels and understand what you're putting on your skin.

You'll want to look for ingredients, such as:

  • Niacinamide: A form of vitamin B3, niacinamide helps regulate your body's sebum production.
  • Salicylic acid:This ingredient helps clear clogged pores and prevent future acne breakouts.
  • Tea tree oil: The antimicrobial properties in this oil make it a star ingredient when fighting acne.
  • Colloidal oatmeal: When you combine ground-up oats with a liquid, you get a soothing, beneficial substance called colloidal oatmeal.

Try Medication

If you're dealing with hard-to-treat acne, you may want to try medication. You can start with an over-the-counter variety and see if you notice improvements.

One common starting medication for adult acne is :benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria that cause acne and helps reduce inflammation. No matter what over-the-counter medication you try, always read the directions carefully and apply the products as directed.

Also, be patient! It can take a few weeks to see results, and you don’t want to jump from one medication to the next too quickly.

Seek Professional Help

A dermatologist chatting with a patient

Unfortunately, not all cases of adult acne can be treated with over-the-counter medications. If you've been struggling to get your acne under control, it may be time to seek professional help.

Your dermatologist can prescribe stronger medications that are not available over the counter. They can also offer guidance and support as you navigate your adult acne journey.

Preventing Pimples As An Adult

While treating acne can be challenging, you can take steps to prevent pimples from forming in the first place.

Here are some tips for preventing adult acne:

Stop Picking

One of the worst things you can do when you have acne is to pick at your pimples. This can lead to redness, inflammation, and even scarring.

So no matter how much pleasure you get from popping your pimples, resist the urge!

Watch Your Diet

There's no one-size-fits-all diet for acne. However, as we mentioned earlier, you may find that certain foods trigger breakouts.

If you think certain foods are triggering your breakouts, try eliminating them from your diet and see if your skin improves. A food diary can help you track your results so you know if your dietary changes are working.

Practice Good Hygiene

Good hygiene habits can go a long way in preventing adult acne. As mentioned earlier, wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser.

Also, avoid touching your face throughout the day or you'll be transferring dirt and bacteria to your skin. Along those lines, wash your hands regularly, especially before applying any products to your face.

In addition, keep your bedding clean. Regularly change your pillowcase and sheets and don't forget to wash them in hot water to kill any lingering bacteria.

While these measures may seem small, they can make a big difference in preventing adult acne.

Goodbye Adult Acne, Hello Smooth Skin!

A woman with clear skin smiling confidently

Adult acne is a common problem, but it doesn't have to be permanent. When you find the right treatment option for your body and stick with it, you can banish your pimples and enjoy clear, smooth skin.

And remember, no matter what your skin looks like right now, better skin days are waiting for you!


American Academy of Dermatology Association
Harvard Health Publishing
National Library Of Medicine

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