A woman is picking at her adult acne-prone skin
Adult acne is a term used to describe skin problems that persist or emerge into someone’s 30s, 40s, and 50s and can target anyone.

The Reasons Why You're Experiencing Adult Acne

You made it all the way through adolescence with only a rare breakout bursting forth from your forehead. Now as an adult, you figured the coast was clear, and acne would never affect your life.

Or maybe you struggled with pimples, zits, and blemishes throughout high school and college. You hoped as an adult you would finally grow out of breakouts and find relief from bad skin.

In either case, your hopes were dashed by adult acne. Whether your acne carried over from your teens or adult-onset acne is your first experience with skin issues, you want to do everything in your power to understand and treat the condition before the impact leaves permanent damage.

The Problem

Adult acne is a term used to describe skin problems that persist or emerge into someone’s 30s, 40s, and 50s. Adult acne can target anyone, but women are more likely affected by the condition.

What Causes Acne in Adults?

Your adult acne could be due to various different causes including:

Hormone Changes

Though both men and women endure hormonal changes during their lives, the results are often more dramatic for women. Women may have monthly hormonal changes involving their periods, and acne can erupt when birth control methods are started, stopped, or changed.

Some women with clear skin their entire lives experience a surprising sprout of acne during pregnancy. Lastly, your perimenopause and postmenopausal life could be marked by stretches of blemishes.


Is there a problem stress is not linked too? Unsurprisingly, stress makes new skin problems surface and existing problems worse.

When your mind is under high stress, your body produces androgens, which stimulate oil production. This progression will end with adult acne.

Family History

It turns out that adult acne might not even be your fault or due to anything you can control. If your close relatives have adult acne, you could be at higher risk, too.

Care Products

Every product you use on your skin and hair plays a role in making your complexion better or worse. Using harmful items, like certain acne remedies, can result in poorer skin, so always read labels and pay attention to products affecting your skin.

When you’re at the store, search for products marked:

  • Non-comedogenic (non-poor-blocking)
  • Non-acnegenic (less likely to cause acne)
  • Oil-free
  • Won’t clog pores

Keep a lookout for these terms on:

  • Make-up
  • Moisturizer
  • Cleanser
  • Sunscreen
  • Other skin care products

Medical Issues

Some medications have a negative influence on your skin and cause acne. If the medication is prescribed by a professional, discuss acne as a possible side effect and see if another remedy is a better option.

An underlying or untreated medical condition could also impact the health of your skin. Luckily, by diagnosing and treating the condition causing the issue, your skin will improve.

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The Impact

Naturally, adult acne results in red, uncomfortable, bumps on your skin. The full impact of the condition goes far below the surface.

The end results of adult acne can be quite significant and damaging depending on your situation. Having adult acne can make people feel:

  • Angry and frustrated
  • Sad
  • Worried about their next break out
  • Confused
  • Helpless and hopeless
  • Jealous of those with clear skin

Some will handle this stress in stride while others will become overwhelmed by their condition. The sadness could lead to depression, and the worry could lead to anxiety. In some cases, people could have so much shame and anxiety about their acne they experience panic attacks and other distressing reactions.

The power of your stressors and the aid of supports in your life will dictate your ability to manage the emotional impact of the condition.

For example, people with high stressors, poor self-esteem, and limited support may be >negatively affected by acne. On the other hand, people with low stressors, strong self-esteem, and many supports may be impacted only mildly.

Acne Treatments for Adults

Now that you know what causes acne in adults, it is valuable to understand adult acne treatments.

As mentioned earlier, some acne causes can be treated with simple lifestyle adjustments, like using different hygiene products or treating an underlying medical condition, while other reasons, like family history and hormonal issues, are more challenging.

Address the Mental Health

Because adult acne causes stress, and stress causes adult acne, one of the best treatments is focusing on stress reduction. Great options include:

  • Identify which situations, places, and people trigger stress
  • Avoid the triggers you can
  • Practice self-acceptance by concentrating on your strengths instead of weaknesses
  • Find positive activities like yoga, spending time with friends, and eating healthy foods
  • Consider professional mental health therapy if the symptoms increase or fail to diminish despite your best efforts

Address the Physical Health

If nothing seems to be helping your battle against adult acne, consult with a dermatologist. Dermatologists are medical doctors who specialize in keeping your skin as healthy and clear as possible.

By prescribing oral medications, topical lotions, and suggesting other helpful acne remedies – like tea tree oil – dermatologists become a great resource to diagnose and appropriately treat your adult acne. These medical professionals know how to get rid of adult acne once and for all.

Diet for Acne

While there is no acne cure diet or clear-skin diet, the foods we eat do contribute to the overall health and appearance of our skin. In fact, acne and diet are so linked many people find that making a few small changes to what they eat can have a tremendous impact on controlling acne breakouts.

If you want to craft your own acne diet, you'll need to learn more about not only the foods that trigger acne breakouts but also those that help promote clear and healthy skin. The best diet for acne should be equal parts of each of these factors to be successful.

Many people believe there are certain foods that cause acne, but it's more accurate to say that certain foods can trigger an outbreak of acne in certain people. While the trigger foods will be different for everyone, common food groups that can cause acne flare-ups include:

  • Saturated fats. Too many fattening foods in your diet, from fried foods and fatty meats, can cause fluctuations in hormones and a slowdown in nutrients passing into your cells.
  • Dairy. Dairy products, including milk, cheese and ice cream, often contain hormones that boost oil production in the skin, which can lead to acne breakouts.
  • Processed and refined foods. These foods cause spikes in blood sugar and may contain chemicals that can cause mild allergic reactions and inflammations, both of which can lead to acne.
  • Caffeine. Caffeine sources such as coffee, pop and chocolate increase stress levels in your body. Stress itself is a trigger for acne, so limiting caffeine intake can help you avoid unnecessary stress.

While it may not be possible to eliminate all these foods at all times, if you are prone to acne it's a good idea to try limiting or eliminating them one at a time to see if you notice a difference.

Even though your diet can trigger your acne, the good news is it can also help keep outbreaks at bay. There are many foods to help acne (particularly those that contain Vitamin A), including:

  • Essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids, found in foods like extra virgin olive oil and other cold-pressed oils, salmon and flax seed, help promote healthy cell membranes, which allow moisture to stay in the skin and prevent harmful bacteria from entering.
  • Berries. Most berries are high in antioxidants, which can help protect skin cells from free-radical damage.
  • Whole grains. Whole grains contain selenium, which promotes healthy skin cells and may even help limit sun damage to skin cells.