Updated November 20, 2020Many of us have been there. You thought you were done with this nonsense at the same time you were done with your teenage years. Yet somehow in your 20s, 30s, and even 40s, you still wind up rolling out of bed to pimples!Even though acne is associated with puberty and teenage years, adult acne is a really common ailment. And to make matters even more complicated, the acne treatments you relied on as a teenager may not cut it once you’re grown since your body’s hormonal composition changes after puberty.If you’re having trouble managing adult acne, you’re not alone, and with just how prevalent adult acne is, there are now plenty of adult acne treatment options available to zap away zits. To help you field blemishes, we put together this skincare guide outlining some of the most common reasons adults experience breakouts and options for clearer skin.Causes of Adult AcneBreakouts can happen later in life for a variety of reasons—some of them have to do with lifestyle, others have to do with the way our bodies change as we age.StressA major cause of acne in adulthood is stress. While stress often affects teenagers, most of us would agree the pressures of making friends and getting good grades don’t stack up against those of caring for small kids, putting food on the table, and making rent. Thus, stress-related acne is more likely to crop up in adults.Stress can cause acne by altering the body’s hormonal composition. When we’re anxious or overwhelmed, our bodies produce stress hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine. These hormones can stimulate oil glands, resulting in an increase in oil production and clogging hair follicles in the skin. And where there are clogged pores, there are usually pimples.ProductsYou may not realize it, but a lot of those anti-aging creams you started using in your 30s and 40s could be responsible for your breakouts. Since many people assume acne won’t be an issue for them in adulthood, they don’t feel the need to buy skin care products to prevent it.However, no matter your age, it’s vital to ensure you’re not clogging your pores. Not all anti-aging creams are created equal. Many come with essential or other oils like coconut and avocado. While these might be great if you haven’t had a zit in a decade, if you’re acne-prone, they will make your breakouts worse.To avoid exacerbating acne, ensure every facial moisturizer, sunscreen, night cream, cosmetic, and cleanser you use has some version of the phrase “noncomedogenic” on the label. Alternate phrases that mean the same thing include “oil-free” or “won’t clog pores.”HormonesHormone fluctuations can cause acne flareups as well, which may be why women are more likely to suffer acne in adulthood than men. Many women experience acne associated with their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause onset since drastic changes in estrogen and progesterone levels can trigger oil production and clog pores.In addition to hormone fluctuations associated with our reproductive system, aging causes a natural, steady decline in estrogen and an increase in testosterone levels. Over time, the androgens can overpower the female hormones in the body. The new hormone balance can lead to all kinds of unpleasant side-effects like thinning hair on the head, facial hair growth, and acne.DietThere’s no definitive scientific consensus that an unhealthy diet is a causal factor in breakouts. But research has shown a diet high in certain foods can contribute to acne by messing with the body’s insulin production.Foods that cause a large spike in insulin levels—like dairy or sugar—can trigger changes in other hormones and increase oil production. Research has indicated milk and whey protein are correlated with acne. A diet high in sugar, simple carbs, and trans fats also seems to correlate to breakouts.MedicationsThere are many prescription medicines whose side effects include acne, such as corticosteroids, calcineurin blockers, anticonvulsants, synthetic hormones, and psychotropic medications like lithium and some antidepressants. Even if these medications are causing your breakouts, don’t change your medicine regime without speaking to your doctor first.Medical ConditionsA few medical conditions can lead to acne or acne-like skin eruptions. A big one is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This condition often leads to out-of-control acne in adult women, and PCOS acne normally develops on the lower third of the face, like the chin and jawline.There are also many other skin conditions that look like adult acne but aren’t, these include rosacea, perioral dermatitis, and hidradenitis suppurativa.Adult Acne TreatmentsTo treat adult acne, you need to first determine its cause. Try to establish a pattern of breakouts by keeping a journal or calendar. If they occur every month around the same time, your acne probably has to do with hormonal fluctuations. If you break out every time you’ve got a big project due at work, stress is likely the culprit.If your acne seems to flare up all the time or for no reason, products you’re consistently using might be to blame. You may need to try a few different remedies in this case because the cause of acne may be less obvious.Treatments for Hormonal AcneIf hormones are the cause of your breakouts, you may find external remedies such as cleansers and topical spot treatments just don’t cut it. In this case, you should see your dermatologist to determine whether other treatment options might be right for you.Dermatological TreatmentsYour dermatologist can hit stubborn, hormonal acne with a lot of different remedies. Internal treatments include cortisone injections, antibiotics, hormone therapies, and oral retinoids. As with all medications, these treatments have potential side effects. Be sure to speak with your dermatologist about your best option.Lifestyle Changes to Balance Hormone LevelsSince hormones are the root cause of stress and diet-related acne flareups, managing stress and following a healthy diet is key to reining in unruly hormones. Get plenty of sleep, focus on self-care, and prioritize relaxation to help keep cortisol production in check.Also, eat a diet based on lean protein, healthy fats, and fruits and low-carb vegetables to maintain healthy, consistent levels of insulin. Avoid foods high on the glycemic index like refined carbs and starches.Treatments for Non-Hormonal AcneIf your acne is caused by environmental factors like your skincare routine, the products you’re using, or even seasonal changes and traveling, there are plenty of topical solutions to help calm skin.RetinoidsRetinoids are one of the best options for fighting adult acne because they do several things at once. First, they help dry out the skin to reduce oil. They also help increase cell turnover by sloughing off dead skin cells—both unclogging pores and fighting signs of aging. A great combo for adult acne!CleansersThere are many cleansers on the market to wash away oil, unclog pores, and kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Look for ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and other mild topical antibiotics/acids to clean impurities and smooth skin.Spot TreatmentsA lot of the ingredients you find in your cleansers can also be found in more concentrated spot treatments. While cleansers are meant to wash away dirt to prevent acne, spot treatments with the same ingredients are designed to eliminate existing pimples. Unlike cleansers, spot treatments should be left on rather than rinsed off so the skin can absorb them, allowing them to fight acne at the source.ExfoliatorsAgain, exfoliators can often contain some of the same ingredients as your regular cleansers, especially the mild acids. In addition to these ingredients, exfoliators will also come with either chemical or physical exfoliants to dig in deep to remove dirt and grime from pores.Physical exfoliant ingredients include crushed nuts, ground seeds or grains, sugar, and coarse salt. These cleansers feel a little like rubbing liquid sandpaper on your skin. It’s important to avoid scrubbing too hard or using them too often to prevent irritation. Also avoid plastic microbead exfoliants, as they can clog plumbing and cause environmental damage.Chemical exfoliators use acids to dissolve dead skin cells and dirt. These usually come in the form of leave-on facial creams and masks. Again, limit the use of these harsher treatments since they can irritate the skin if overused.Bottom LineAdult acne can be a frustrating problem, but it’s not without its solutions. The good news is a few tweaks to your skincare routine and a couple of healthy lifestyle changes are often all it takes to eliminate excess oil and clear skin.If you find yourself suffering from particularly stubborn or severe acne, don’t hesitate to visit the dermatologist. Most adult acne is highly treatable in a clinical setting, so there’s no reason to feel like rebellious skin has to control your life!This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.