Adult Acne: A Fact of Life for Many
Adult acne can be
particularly frustrating. Treatment that worked so well during
adolescence often is ineffective. Over-the-counter topical
medications tend to irritate the skin, making acne worse. Some women
try numerous treatments without success.
This lack of effectiveness can make one wonder if it really is acne.
After all, do adults in midlife and older get acne?
Types of Adult Acne
The truth is that acne can persist well into one’s 30s, 40s, and
even 50s. Dermatologists call acne that does not clear by one’s
mid-20s persistent acne. Often causing deep-seated, tender,
inflamed pimples and nodules, this type of acne is more common in
women. Persistent acne tends to form on the lower face,
predominately around the mouth, on the chin, and along the jawline.
Adults also develop late-onset acne. Again, women are more
susceptible. People who have not had acne for years can suddenly see
deep-seated, inflamed pimples and nodules. Even those who have never
had acne get late-onset acne. For some women, acne becomes a problem
during menopause. Adult-onset acne generally forms on the chin,
jawline, and around the mouth. Lesions can appear on the chest and
Why Adults Get Acne
Regardless of age, acne develops when excess sebum (an oil that our
bodies produce to naturally moisturize the skin), skin cells, and
bacteria accumulate. Researchers have discovered that the following
may trigger this in adults:
hormones. Acne is typically associated with the hormonal
swings of puberty, but any time hormones fluctuate, acne can
flare. Many women are familiar with the once-a-month breakout.
Hormonal swings also occur during pregnancy and menopause,
causing acne in some women.
Discontinuing birth control pills. Some women get acne when
they stop taking birth control pills. The pills may have been
keeping their acne at bay.
certain medications. Birth control pills that contain
estrogen and progestins often help control acne in women. When a
birth control pill contains only progestins, it may make acne
Acne is a possible side effect of other medications as well.
These include anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, and sobriety
drugs. Never stop taking a prescription medication because acne
develops or worsens. Talk with the doctor who prescribed the
medication. Ask if a different medication can be prescribed that
will not cause acne to flare. If only one medication can be
prescribed, talk with a dermatologist about ways to control the
acne. Do not stop taking the medication.
history of acne. In one study, researchers found that 50% of
the adults with acne had a first-degree relative (parent,
sibling, or child) who had acne. This suggests that some people
may have a genetic predisposition to acne.
Studies indicate that stress may trigger acne in women.
Researchers have found a relationship between increased stress
levels and higher levels of acne in women with fast-paced
careers. In response to stress, the body produces more androgens
(a type of hormone). These hormones stimulate the oil glands and
hair follicles in the skin. When over-stimulated such as during
times of stress, acne can flare.
used on hair and skin. Some products such as oily sunscreens
and hair greases promote a type of acne called acne cosmetica.
When buying products to be used on the skin or hair, look for
ones labeled “non-comedogenic” or “non-acnegenic.” This means
that they are less likely to cause acne.
Acne Can Be
Acne also may be warning a woman of an underlying medical
condition. When a woman’s acne is accompanied by excessive
facial hair, thinning hair or bald patches on the scalp, and
irregular periods, it may be a sign of polycystic ovaries (a
condition that causes cysts to develop in the ovaries) or adrenal
hyperplasia (a group of adrenal gland disorders). It also is
possible that the woman has a hormone-secreting tumor located in her
adrenal gland or an ovary. It is vital that women experiencing these
signs and symptoms see a doctor. Testing can find the cause and
allow the doctor to determine the best treatment. The acne will not
clear until the medical condition is treated.
Barring an underlying medical condition, most cases of adult acne
can be effectively controlled with acne therapy. Yet, researchers
have found that many women do not seek treatment. Most believe
treatment is not available. Dermatologists want women to know while
adult acne can be stubborn, effective control is possible.
For information about treatment options, read
Adult Acne: Effective
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content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
Women may continue to have
acne well into their adult years, sometimes beyond their