What Causes Adult Acne?

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Acne doesn’t stop once you age out of your teens. Acne is a relatively common skin condition in adulthood, and the treatments that worked when you were a teenager won’t necessarily still be effective. In this guide, we’ll dive into what causes adult acne and how to treat it with acne skincare products once you’re in your 20s and beyond.

What Is Adult Acne?

In some cases, adult acne takes the same form that it did during the teenage years, usually whiteheads (closed plugged pores) and blackheads (open plugged pores). However, adult acne can also take the form of painful, swollen nodules and cysts that start deep within the skin. These are usually red and may or may not come to head with pus eventually. Cysts tend to appear along the cheeks, chin, and jawline while the forehead stays clear. Meanwhile, other types of acne can appear all over the face as well as on the chest, shoulders, and back.

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What Causes Adult Acne?

At its most basic level, adult acne is caused by excess oil production that makes pores become clogged by skin cells, forming a lesion. Bacteria and inflammation also contribute to the appearance of acne, causing swelling and redness. There are many different potential underlying causes for this excess sebum production.

Fluctuating hormone levels are one common culprit, and many people find that their acne breakouts become more severe before and during their periods. Some people also find that going on certain types of birth control also worsens their acne (though many others find that birth control actually makes their adult acne better). There is also evidence that stress causes an increase in hormones that ramp up oil production and contribute to acne.

Certain hair and skin products can also clog the pores or result in an irritation or allergic reaction that manifests as acne. If you’ve recently started using a new facial cleanser or lotion, check the labels for potentially irritating ingredients like fragrance and denatured alcohol and pore-clogging ingredients like oil and shea butter. Try eliminating these products from your skincare routine to see if that improves your acne.

In some cases, acne can be a symptom of underlying medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or another endocrine disorder. In these cases, the adult acne will usually be accompanied by other symptoms like hair loss or excess growth, rapid weight loss or gain, and irregular menstrual cycles. If you suspect that your adult acne is merely a symptom of an underlying medical condition, see your doctor to get a formal diagnosis.

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How to Treat Adult Acne

Treating acne early is key for preventing scarring and other longer term consequences that are more difficult to address. Thankfully, there are lots of over the counter acne skincare products that you can try at home without a prescription from a doctor. To start, we recommend using a cleansing balm or makeup remover at night to remove makeup and other impurities and then following it up with a gentle foaming facial cleanser. Regular exfoliation two to three times a week will help to clear away dead skin cells that can block your pores. Using a retinol on the other nights will help to improve skin cell turnover, which can also help improve acne.

Follow everything up with an oil-free moisturizer to keep the acne treatments from drying out your skin. In the morning, you should wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to help reduce the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation spots, which is worsened by UV ray exposure. If you have active acne lesions that you are trying to treat, a sulfur based spot treatment applied directly to the pimple can help to calm the inflammation quickly. While many cases of adult acne can be successfully treated at home, not all cases of adult acne will respond to over the counter products. In these cases, a dermatologist can prescribe stronger medications, including topical antibacterial creams to reduce inflammation, stronger retinoids like tretinoin to improve skin cell turnover, and oral medications like spironolactone to help control hormone levels.

Ready to start treating your adult acne? At Lancer Skincare, we offer an entire collection of acne skincare products that were developed by celebrity dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer, specifically to treat clogged pores. Shop the full size versions, or try our intro kit of travel sizes so you can sample the entire 3-step skincare method at once. Order today and get free, fast shipping on your U.S. order — no minimum required!