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causes of adult acne and how to treat it

Adult acne is real.
causes of adult acne and how to treat it

You've cruised through your 20's with nearly flawless skin, then BANG, those pesky breakouts start appearing on your face outta nowhere. Finding an effective treatment can be tough - lotions, serums, creams, you’ve likely tried them all and nothing works. It's important to get to the root of the problem before you can treat breakouts, as there could be a few different reasons for your appearance of adult acne.

Acne vulgaris is the third most common skin condition in the world. Although it mostly (85%) affects adolescents and early adults between 12 and 25, it can occur at any age, even in babies! And yes, you can still have acne in your 50's; around 15% of women and 7% of men have reported having breakouts at that age. While teenage acne is more prevalent among males, adult female acne is more common than male adult acne. Sixty-four per cent of pimple breakouts occur in one's '20s and 43% in one's '30s. So, why do I have acne in my 30s?

Adult Acne Vs. Adolescent Acne

Typically if you have acne-prone skin, pimple breakout usually starts at puberty and slowly disappears when you become an adult. However, in some people, acne can linger around into adulthood and middle age. It can also occur in people who are 25 years old and older, who have not had any previous pimple breakouts may also experience late-onset acne.

The key elements for pimples to develop:

  • Comedones- white or blackheads in the opening of the oil duct and hair follicle (clogged pores)

  • Sebum or oil - excess oil production by the sebaceous glands- the clogged pore is a compact mixture of dead skin cells and oil.

  • Colony of Cutibacterium acnes (pimple-causing bacterium)

  • Inflammation

Adolescent acne. How is it different from adult acne?

Acne is multifactorial, which means it goes deeper than just the skins surface. During puberty, growth is achieved through the interplay of growth and sex hormones like Androgens which can also play an important role in adolescent acne. Testosterone can make the oil glands more active and produce more sebum, that's why it is more common in teenage boys. Because the pore is clogged with white or blackheads, sebum will continue to accumulate, which leads to the growth of acne-causing bacteria. When more sebum is produced, the opening of the pore will continue to distend and eventually burst. When that happens, oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells are released, leading to swollen nodules or cystic acne. Pimples appear on the face but can also occur on the upper arms, trunk, and back.

What is adult acne?

Adult acne in women can occur due to hormonal changes, particularly hyperandrogenism or excessive circulating male sex hormone. These are the common causes of sudden bad breakouts, particularly on the jawline or the lower face for adult women. It is often associated with an irregular menstrual cycle, pattern baldness, hirsutism and obesity.

Other underlying causes of adult acne are :

  • Genes or Family history

  • Medications like lithium, steroids, antiseizure, some oral contraceptive pills.

  • Endocrine disorders like Cushing's syndrome and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Polycystic ovarian syndrome is of the common causes of hyperandrogenism in females.

  • Pregnancy

What makes your adult acne worse?

  • Skincare products
    Using comedogenic products and oil-based cosmetics, including hair products.

  • Facial massage
    No matter how relaxing facial massages are, they cannot make your breakouts disappear and may even worsen pimples breakouts in some.

  • Food with a high glycemic index.
    Avoid certain foods like sweets, white bread, potato causes blood sugar level spikes, increasing insulin and insulin-like growth factors that can lead to more comedone formation and oil production.

  • Heat & Sun
    Excessive sun exposure, heat and humidity

  • Sweat
    If you sweat a lot, be mindful to wash off the sweat as soon as you can.

  • Menstrual periods
    70 % of females experience acne breakouts before their monthly periods.

  • Tight clothing
    Like shoulder pads, crops tops, headbands, backpacks, and brassieres.

  • Smoking
    Ditch the durries.

  • Stress
    The corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) regulates our body's stress response. When we experience stress in any form, like sleep deprivation, our brains produce more CRH, which leads to the secretion of the stress hormone, cortisol. Hormonal fluctuations or an increase in CHR can increase the oil glands' activity, resulting in oily skin.

How can I prevent breakouts and adult acne?

Oil can clog pores, so how can we help the skin's surface stay smooth and clear?

  • Use non-comedogenic skin care products.
    Use oil-free products or when using oils, stick to oils with a low comedogenic rating like hemp seed oil.

  • Treat adult acne using products with acne-fighting ingredients
    Retinoids, alpha hydroxy acid (lactic and glycolic acid) and beta hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) should be included in your skincare regimen. In terms of natural ingredients, add face oil with Tea tree oil and Bergamot to your skincare regimen.

  • Remove excess oil
    Fight inflammation and remove excess oil using witch hazel and salicylic acid .

  • Use non-irritating products.
    People, who have acne prone skin, have a combination of oily and sensitive skin. Use anti-acne products that will keep you hydrated and not irritate sensitive and dry skin.

  • Stay as cool as a cucumber
    Avoid too much sun and heat exposure.

  • Wear loose clothing
    This can help prevent truncal acne.

  • Be gentle with Acne
    Avoid rubbing and scrubbing on acne and breakouts.

  • Be Healthy
    Lead a healthy lifestyle avoid smoking and eat healthily.

  • Get expert advice
    Visit your trusted dermatologist for effective treatments! Remember, your breakouts might be associated with other health issues, you don't want to miss that.


Adult Acne skincare routine

Prevent acne with this simple skin care routine to help achieve clear skin.

Morning routine

  • 01. Cleanse your face. (Double cleansing kit)

  • 02. Apply Sunscreen at least and SPF 30 20 mins before sun exposure.

  • 03. Spot treatment: Use acne medications recommended by your trusted skin experts.


Night routine:

  • 01. Cleanse your face.
    Double cleansing is a good way to ditch the dirt.

  • 02. Tone.
    Use a toner with
    witch hazel, a natural astringent which can remove excess sebum, dry, inflamed acne and diminish pimple marks.

  • 03. Medicate.
    Use acne gel or creams recommended by your trusted skin experts to treat your skin conditions. You may use this as a spot treatment for mild breakouts or whole face application for moderate or severe cases.

  • 04. Moisturise.
    Use a lightweight moisturising serums like
    hydrate hero thirsty skin and lighten up brightening serum. Both serums have salicylic acid, which can remove excess oil and unclog pores without damaging the skin surface. Our Lighten Up Brightening Serum is packed with vitamin C from Kakadu plum, an antioxidant and tea tree, an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. Our Hydrate Hero Thirsty Skin Serum has Australian natives Finger Lime, Lili Pilli and Quandong extracts that can maintain skin hydration while Waratah Flower extract can calm and irritate the skin.

Author: Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara MD FPDS FPADSFI

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