What Causes Adult Acne Breakouts?

My dermotologist cannot give me an answer to why I started acne at age 19 and since. I have a very light complexion. Never, not even as a teenager, had I ever had acne problems. I started growing this horrifying monster acne at age 19 only in the cheek area toward my neck. No other place in my face or body. I'm scarred with tiny and also huge red dark spots. Once a year, I break out in this nightmare way. Once a year I must go see my dermotologist. What causes adult acne breakouts?

Doctor Answers 6

Adult acne cause

There are very few things more frustrating than to have had clear skin, and then to develop acne "out of the blue". Many factors go into the development of acne, including genetic infuences, hormonal influences, sometimes weather and ultraviolet radiation. In some situations, there are persons who have hormonal abnormalities, such as Poly Cystic Ovarian Disease, that are associated with intractable acne. I refer some of my female patients with stubborn acne, to their gynecologist for a hormonal evaluation.


Chicago Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 3 reviews

Acne in adults can have many causes

Acne in adults may be caused by by many reasons.  Some patients are genetically predisposed to acne.  It tends to run in some families and can be more stubborn.  Other types of acne are more hormonal and tend to be more easily treated with birth control medications.  An adult should be examined by a board certified dermatologist.  There is no acne that cannot be treated with the current plethora of medications and treatments available.

Adult acne - a growing problem

Adult acne is very common, especially in womon. It is unclear why acne is increasing in adults, but it may have to do with hormones, estrogens specifically, that are in our foods and air. Hormones are definitely involved. The treatment is very similar to treatment of teenage acne and lots of options exist for our patients.

Gary Goldenberg, MD
New York Dermatologist

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Adult Acne

There is an answer! 

Acne is one of the most common skin diseases. It is often mistakenly thought to affect exclusively the teenaged group. However, a significant number of patients either continue to experience acne or develop new-onset acne after the teenaged years. 

People of all ages can get acne, including newborns and older adults. 

It involves the oil glands around each hair. Hairs grow from a "follicle," which can become plugged by oil. Once the follicle is plugged, germs invade and cause bumps that can fill with pus and become red, swollen, and sometimes painful.

Acne can range from mild to very bad! 

Some topical (applied to skin) products won't really treat very severe acne. 

Acne is most common on the face, back, neck, and chest. There is no cure for acne, but you can treat the symptoms by keeping hair follicles from getting plugged. Once a bump has formed, you can use medicines that help with the redness and swelling.

The most common type of acne medicine is a cream or gel that you put on your skin. Many of these can be bought without a prescription. These medicines may help if your acne is mild. Benzoyl peroxide is the most common type. It is in most over-the-counter acne medicines.

If over-the-counter medicines don't work, your doctor can prescribe other types of medicine. These are usually antibiotics or retinoids. These medicines can cause dryness or redness. If this becomes a problem for you, your doctor can tell you ways to make your skin feel better.

If you have very bad acne, your doctor may prescribe pills. You may need to take these for several months before your skin gets better. If you do seek assistance from a doctor, it is important for them to explain the range of acne--from mild to severe, inflammatory and noninflammatory--and the approaches to treatment. 

Because acne is such a common condition, there are many treatments out there. Some are supported by data, others aren't. Some treatments are expensive, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are better. Overall, give response to treatment some time. How much time? Depends on the severity of your acne, and can range from weeks to months. 

Adult Acne

Acne is an extremely common skin condition that can occur at any point in any person’s life—from the teenage years through to middle age. Acne is, very simply, a clogged pore (or hair follicle) that can appear anywhere on the skin: the face, the back, the shoulders, the chest, and even the arms or legs. Pores can get clogged with a mix of dead skin cells and sebum (the oily substance produced by the oil glands that helps keep our skin from drying out).
While typically these dead skin cells rise to the surface of the skin to become sloughed off, in the case of a pimple, the dead skin cells stick together and become trapped in the pore. Sweat and dirt can also become part of the mix. When bacteria, which normally live on the skin, enter the pore, the result is an infected red, swollen, inflamed pimple or cyst. Sometimes these oil glands can go into overdrive, producing excess amounts of oily sebum. (The rate of sebum production is controlled by hormones.) This is common during the teenage years or during times of hormonal fluctuations (e.g. during menstruation, pregnancy, and even menopause). Oily skin is considered a skin type. Acne has also been known to run in families and can sometimes occur in dryer skin types. With the latest advances in acne—all available at our practice—there’s no reason for anyone to suffer from acne anymore. We work with each individual patient to customize a treatment plan that targets his/her acne.

Dennis Gross, MD
New York Dermatologist
4.4 out of 5 stars 5 reviews

Causes of Acne in Adults

Adults may also suffer from acne. Flares and inflammatory acne lesions may develop in situations of stress, also from occlusion and trapping of sweat on the skin surface (at the gym, at the beach, from excessive sunscreen application), poor facial cleansing and some foods (typically chocolate and fatty meals).

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.