Adult Acne: Grown Up and Still Breaking Out
What causes adult acne to develop, and what can you do about it?
Just when you start thinking it's time to worry about wrinkles, adult acne can strike. Adult acne affects your skin after your mid-twenties, and can continue into your thirties, forties, and fifties. Some types of adult acne persist from the teen years into adulthood, and others come on suddenly during adulthood.
Why Do You Have Acne?
Acne appears when excessive oil, dead skin, and bacteria accumulate in your skin's pores. Clogged pores can lead to blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, and nodular lumps in your skin. Acne commonly affects the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders, and arms.
There are many reasons adult acne may develop, including:
- Menstrual cycle hormone shifts. Since acne can be triggered by hormonal fluctuations, some women experience adult acne outbreaks at certain times during their menstrual cycles, often around the time of ovulation.
- Pregnancy and childbirth. Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and childbirth can cause some women to develop acne.
- Menopause. Female hormone levels can fluctuate widely around menopause.
- Birth control pills. Women who have been on birth control pills and stop may get acne. Also, certain types of birth control pills, especially pills that contain only the hormone progestin, can lead to the development of adult acne. Other birth control pills, however, can help keep breakouts under control.
- Stress. When you're under increased stress, you may be more likely to develop adult acne. This is thought to be because stress can trigger the production of hormones that stimulate the production of oil in the skin, causing acne to flare up.
- Medications. One of the possible side effects of some medications is acne. Medications that have been linked to the development of acne include anticonvulsants and corticosteroids.
- Skin care products. Certain skin care products, including some sunscreen formulas and hair styling products, can trigger a type of acne known as acne cosmetica in some people.
- Medical conditions. Adult acne can be a symptom of some medical conditions, including polycystic ovarian syndrome (in women), adrenal hyperplasia (the failure of the adrenal glands to produce enough of the hormone cortisol), and certain tumors. Consult your doctor if you develop unexplained acne.
- Genetics. If a parent, sibling, or child has acne, you are at increased risk of developing acne as an adult.
Acne Prevention and Treatment
You can reduce your chances of developing adult acne and help treat breakouts by doing the following:
- Choose products wisely. Use skin care and hair care products that are labeled as "non-comedogenic" or "non-acnegenic," because these products are less likely to cause acne cosmetica.
- Take the right birth control pill. If you take the pill, work with your doctor to find a type that helps control your acne.
- Control stress. Work to get your stress levels under control and do what you can to avoid stressful situations.
- Consider topical treatments. Ask a dermatologist about topical acne treatments, like Cleocin (clindamycin), erythromycin, and retinoids, which can be effective in treating adult acne.
- Ask about oral medications. Certain oral medications such as spironolactone (Aldactazide and others) and some birth control pills can help control the hormonal swings that often lead to adult acne. Other medications, such as oral antibiotics or oral isotretinoin (Accutane and others), can be used in certain situations to help get stubborn adult acne under control.
- Talk with your dermatologist about other options. Your dermatologist can offer certain acne treatments, including injecting corticosteroid medication directly into a nodule or cyst, to help clear your acne.
- Practice proper skin care. Gently wash your face with a mild cleanser, protect your skin from the sun, and resist the urge to squeeze or pop any acne lesion.
Arming yourself with the knowledge of why adult acne occurs and how to best prevent or stop it will help you maintain the healthiest skin — at any age.
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