Lawrence A. Schiffman, D.O., FAOCD - Board Certified Dermatologist

Lawrence A. Schiffman, D.O., FAOCD - Board Certified Dermatologist


7 Underlying Causes of Adult Acne

Published February 26th, 2020 by Thepracticeagency

Acne’s commonly seen as a teenage problem.

Oily skin, clogged pores, and inflamed facial breakouts are never ideal.

However, the struggles cease as those troublesome teenage years are left behind and you enter adulthood…Right?


In reality, acne is the bane of many adult lives too. Indeed, up to 55% of people between 20 and 40 years old suffer from at least low-level adult acne.

The common belief that acne’s a teenage ailment causes further complications. Adults who suffer from it can experience even greater levels of stress and shame.

Are you struggling with an adult resurgence of long-forgotten acne? Do you want to know the reasons behind it in order to find a solution to the problem?

Let us help.

Read on to learn 7 primary causes of acne in adulthood.

1. Clogged Pores

Any discussion about the etiology of acne is incomplete without mentioning pores.

You’ve almost certainly heard of them before. These tiny openings around the hair follicles on your skin can cause all sorts of problems when they get clogged.

Now, the glands you find in each pore naturally release oil (sometimes referred to as sebum).

In theory, the oil actually helps protect your skin and keeps it feeling nice and soft!

The trouble is that it can also cause pimples when too much of it is created. Throw dirt, bacteria and dead skin cells into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for trouble. These all end up clogging your pores, which leads to skin problems such as acne.

In some instances, then, the solution to adult acne is basic skin-cleansing processes. Keeping your skin clean and exfoliated should unclog pores and reduce the chance of breakouts.

2. Rising Stress Levels

Nobody in the world would struggle with acne if clearing it was as simple as exfoliating!

For many people, there’s usually more going on behind the scenes.

Stress, for example, might be the true cause of the problem.

Now, we all get stressed at various times in life. But excess stress levels can have a host of negative repercussions. Acne is one instance of an ailment that worsens with stress.

Cortisol is at the heart of the problem. This so-called stress hormone interacts with your bodily processes and can cause skin conditions to get worse.

Limiting your exposure to stress, then, might represent the solution to your adult acne.

3. Hormonal Changes

Hormones are another common complicating factor behind acne.

Indeed, they’re the root cause of many a problem in life! It just so happens that they can also be behind any recent influx of acne.

Progesterone, in particular, can be the culprit.


Because increases in progesterone are known to increase the production of sebum.

For instance, people often notice worsening symptoms of acne on their period, when pregnant, taking hormonal birth control, or going through menopause. The (possible) reason? Because progesterone production is known to increase at these times.

4. Oily Products

Think about all of the healthcare lotions, potions and products you use each day.

There’s a chance they might be responsible for your flare-up of acne.

Many people fail to realize that their skin and hair-care products, for instance, contain oil.

The addition of oil to skin that’s predisposed to excess sebum production is understandably problematic. For teens and adults alike, then, avoiding these products is a sure-fire way to see acne improvements.

Pores are more likely to remain unclogged, which should improve the situation.

Noncomedogenic is the technical term for oil-free products. Stick to lotions, creams, moisturizers, face-washes, and so on, of this nature and you’ll reap the rewards.

5. Over-Washing

As we’ve seen, clogged pores are at the heart of any acne flare-ups.

For this reason, many people assume (correctly) that staying clean is key to fighting it. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to ‘over-clean’.

Desperate to get rid of their acne, some people cleanse and exfoliate as often as possible.

They might scrub their faces vigorously, use powerful skin-care products, and do so multiple times a day. Sadly, this approach can actually backfire.

Skin gets too dry and starts creating extra oil in order to compensate for what it’s lost. Pores end up more clogged; pre-existing inflammation can become even more aggravated by the harsh treatment.

Now, everybody’s skin is different, which means you need to find what works for you. In general, though, washing once a day with a gentle chemical exfoliant should suffice.

6. The Environment

We’re always hearing about the negative impact of humans on the environment.

In terms of adult acne, though, it’s the environment that can potentially impact us. That’s right, pollution in the atmosphere is another possible cause of acne (especially in cities).

Dirt, fumes, smog, and exposure to the sun all combine to clog your pores. You essentially end up with a layer of pollution on your face! Make sure you get rid of that grime build-up to allay the onset of acne.

Think about wearing sunscreen whenever possible too. Why? Because harmful UV rays are another possible contributor to acne. Better still, you protect the skin of your face more generally as well.

7. Your Diet

In scientific terms, the jury’s out on the impact of diet on acne.

Yet many people swear that the food they eat has an effect on it.

It’s common to hear that oily foods such as pizzas, burgers, and fries are to blame for outbreaks. However, everything from chocolate to caffeine is also held accountable on occasion.

The key is to track the food and drink that seem to trigger your acne. Monitor their effects and consider cutting them out if the evidence is compelling. Of course, speak with your GP first before making any significant dietary changes.

Time to Tackle Adult Acne

Contrary to popular opinion, acne isn’t the reserve of teenagers.

In reality, adult acne is incredibly common too. This oft-distressing ailment affects millions of people around the world. Are you one of them?

Hopefully, this article will help you identify its cause(s) and take steps to address the problem. Are you in Miami and looking for professional skin support?

Contact us today to see how we can be of service.

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