You spend your teenage years looking forward to adult life: more money, more freedom, and, of course, clear, acne-free skin. But then you hit your 20’s and you still have those same pesky breakouts you had in your teens. Or maybe you’ve been hit with a sudden, seemingly inexplicable bout of adult acne right in the middle of your 30’s.
Most people associate acne with teens, but unfortunately acne doesn’t just magically disappear on your 20th birthday. Keep reading to learn what causes adult acne and how to get rid of adult acne once and for all.
Adult acne is defined as persistent breakouts after the age of 25. There are two main types of adult acne:
But adult acne isn’t just teen acne that’s overstayed its welcome. Adult acne has some key differences from teen acne that make it more difficult to treat.
For example, whereas teen acne tends to crop up all over the face, adult acne is usually focused more in a “surgical-mask distribution” on the lower third of the face. You know—those zits that pop up on your chin and jawline. Plus, adult acne tends to show up more as inflamed cysts rather than those whiteheads and blackheads of your teenage years. And on top of that, since adult skin is more fragile than teen skin, it doesn’t respond well to the ingredients used to treat teen acne.
If you’re suffering from adult acne, rest assured that you’re not the only one (though it may feel like that sometimes). While the numbers differ depending on the source, it’s clear that adult acne is incredibly common.
One study estimates that up to 50 percent of women experience acne at some point in their lives, with over half of those women experiencing adult acne. A second research study found that 27 percent of female adults had clinical acne, while another 29 percent had mild acne. According to those estimates, 1 in 2 women have struggled with adult acne!
If it seems like this wasn’t a struggle for previous generations, it’s not your imagination. Though no one knows the exact reason, cases of adult acne in women have actually been increasing for the past 20 years.
The good news is that the growing rise in adult acne has lead to a proliferation of skincare products formulated to treat this complicated condition. So there’s definitely hope! But more on that later…
At its core, acne is caused by a mix of:
The triggers of these acne causes aren’t well understood, especially in adults, but the below are thought to be contributing factors:
Androgens like testosterone are the hormones responsible for acne flare-ups. Androgens increase oil production, leading to a growth of oil-loving C. acnes on the skin, which in turn causes breakouts.
It’s no secret that puberty can do some pretty strange things to your hormones, hence the acne that’s so common in your teenage years. But once we’ve reached our 20’s, all that hormonal stuff should have calmed down, right? Wrong.
One of the biggest causes of breakouts is hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle. Right before your period, your estrogen levels drop, leaving androgen unchecked and running wild. Cue the pre-period breakout. But women can also experience this type of hormonal adult acne during pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause.
Have you recently stopped or started taking birth control pills? Oral contraceptives also alter your hormone levels, which can leave you with zits while your body adjusts to its new normal.
You probably don’t need us to tell you that there’s a relationship between stress and breakouts. But what really causes it?
Stress makes the adrenal gland release a hormone called cortisol, which helps the body deal with the stress. Unfortunately, this fluctuation of hormones also increases oil production and inflammation, leading to acne breakouts.
Some studies report that eating food with a high glycemic index may encourage acne. Too much sugar creates excess insulin, which can promote breakouts. It’s also thought that foods with a high number of hormones, like dairy products, may also lead to more breakouts.
Now the part you’ve been waiting for: how to actually treat adult acne. There’s a few different approaches you can take, which is why we suggest keeping a skincare journal. Note which methods you try to clear up your adult acne and how well they work on your skin. Try to incorporate one method at a time (rather than all of them at once), so you can really figure out which ones are working best for you.
1. Don’t Use Acne Treatments Designed for Teens
We’re sorry to tell you that the skincare routine you used to treat your breakouts in high school isn’t going to work for your adult skin. Teenage skin is more resilient than adult skin and can stand up to harsher ingredients. For adult acne sufferers, the skin is often sensitive and those teenage ingredients will leave it red, itchy, and flaky. It’s better to use natural ingredients that nourish your skin rather than punish it.
2. Pay Attention to Your Diet
Some studies have shown that eating a low-glycemic diet can help to clear up acne breakouts. Swap out refined carbs for their whole grain counterparts and limit your intake of candy, soda, alcohol, and other insulin-boosting foods. You can also try lowering your dairy intake or eliminating it from your diet altogether. Pay attention to what you eat and how it affects your skin, then shop for groceries accordingly.3. Try Stress-Reducing Techniques
Anything you can do to relieve stress can also help reduce your breakouts. Of course, when your stress is caused by your acne, that’s easier said than done! Some stress-busting activities to try include yoga, meditation, vigorous exercise, walking in nature, journaling, coloring, and knitting. Try a few and see what works best for you!
4. Don't Pick!
Adult acne tends to present itself as inflamed cysts rather than your run-of-the-mill whiteheads. Pimple poppers beware: you won’t be able to easily pop these blemishes on your own, and trying to do so can lead to infection and scarring. The only way to get rid of a cyst quickly is to visit your dermatologist for a shot of cortisone.
5. Use Products Designed to Work Together
If your skincare routine isn’t working for you, it’s time to overhaul the whole thing and start fresh.
Many women with adult acne have a complicated skin care routine that isn’t doing them any favors. Combining multiple products from different skincare lines can actually inactivate their hero ingredients, so the products don’t work anymore. Oftentimes, mixing product lines can make acne even worse.
That’s why it’s incredibly helpful to stick to one product line at a time. Our Clear Skin Kit provides a total clear skin solution with products that are formulated to work together to:
Remember: no skincare routine works instantly. And altering your skin routine too frequently can actually irritate your skin even more. That’s why it’s important to give your new skincare routine at least two to three months to experience results.
Do you have adult acne? What have you tried to treat it? What were your results? Share your story with other readers in the comments!