Acne can persist through adulthood. It's possible for you to experience acne when you’re older, even if you didn't have acne problems during puberty.
According to a study done by the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, 50% of women in their 20s have acne, while the percentage is around 33% for those in their 30s and 25% for those in their 40s.
Adult acne is quite similar to teen acne, in that a combination of excess sebum, bacteria, old skin cells, clogged pores, and inflammation contribute to a person’s skin condition. However, there are some characteristics and factors that are unique to adult acne. Let's discuss some of them.
While acne usually emerges along the upper half of the face, or the “T-zone” (the nose and forehead), during your teens, adult acne normally appears on the lower half of the face, or the U-zone (the cheeks, jawline, chin, and even neck).
And compared to teen acne that only usually affects the skin's surface, adult acne is typically deeper and sometimes cystic (or forming deep underneath the skin), especially among adults with oily skin.
Biological Acne Triggers Among Adults
Certain biological factors that are beyond your control may contribute to the development of acne:
If acne is a problem that runs in your family, you may experience adult acne due to genetic predisposition. Your skin type and even the size of your pores are hereditary. If you’ve inherited oily skin, you are more likely to develop blackheads and acne.
Increase in progesterone or testosterone
Your body can overproduce hormones during certain phases of your life. A spike in either the female progesterone or male testosterone leads to excessive sebum that mixes with dead skin cells, forming a plug, or blocking your skin's hair follicles or pores.
Progesterone levels among women often go up:
After ovulation or just before menstrual periods
During pregnancy (pregnancy acne)
Due to polycystic ovary syndrome or the overproduction of male hormones, characterized by ovarian cysts, irregular periods, weight gain, and abnormal hair growth.
Meanwhile, some women may suddenly find themselves having acne in their senior years because of hormonal fluctuations that accompany menopause. During such time, a woman’s estrogen level becomes erratic until it drops, while her testosterone level, although production continues after menopause, declines.
Your body's reaction to medication
Acne can also be the side effect of some drugs used to treat epilepsy or other conditions, like those containing testosterone, corticosteroids (used against inflammatory arthritis), lithium (against bipolar depression and bipolar disorder), and anabolic steroids (for skeletal muscle growth).
The following can worsen acne, depending how your body reacts to food, your activities, and your environment:
Based onstudies, eating too much bread, bagels, chips, and other carbohydrate-rich food, especially those made of white or refined flour, can intensify acne. Overindulging on chocolate and dairy products, or having a diet that’s low on healthy fat but high on greasy food can also make you prone to breakouts.
Meanwhile, some people have skin reactions to pepper and spicy ingredients that contain acidic lycopene—an ingredient known to unsettle the skin's pH level.
Stress, regardless of the cause, can aggravate acne problems. The stress hormone cortisol can push your oil glands to overdrive, and would most likely cause your pores to get clogged. It can also release inflammatory chemicals called “neuropeptides”.
Getting enough sleep allows the level of your body's primary stress hormone, cortisol, to decline, so the opposite happens when you deprive yourself of sleep. Your sebaceous glands produce more oil when your cortisol level stays elevated, making your skin's pores more prone to bacterial build-up and eventual breakouts.
Moreover, your appetite-stimulatingghrelinhormone causes you to crave sugary and processed/junk foods when you lack sleep. Unhealthy snacking might possibly worsen your acne.
Fluoride and sodium lauryl sulfate can irritate the area around your mouth and cause pimples to surface.
Harsh laundry detergents
Your skin might be sensitive to some ingredients, like fragrance, in your laundry detergent or fabric softener, so acne problems may be triggered by the clothes or the towels you use.
Several studiesreveal that people residing in areas with high air pollution also have high sebum levels, which usually lead to acne and skin flare-ups. This indicates that prolonged and repetitive exposure to substances, including particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, has inflammatory effects when it's able to penetrate deeper into your skin.
Carcinogen from cigarettes and tobacco may cause your body to boost its oil production, as your skin dries out. And because chemicals from smoke can damage elastin and collagen fibers that make your skin supple and strong, your skin's pores might also become enlarged.
Workout equipment and routine
Dirty gym equipment or yoga mats contain dirt and bacteria that can affect your skin.
Moreover, working out with your makeup on, not using clean workout clothes, not using a clean towel to wipe off your sweat, using tight clothing on the acne-prone area of your body, and not washing your face or taking a shower after exercising can induce acne. Not putting on sunscreen before your outdoor exercise may also trigger breakouts.
Household dust and dirt that have accumulated on your pillowcase can get transferred to your skin when you sleep. They could also get mixed with the residue from your scalp and hair, and clog the pores on your face.
Bacteria on your smartphone screens or keyboard
Oneresearchsays that the amount of dirt on your phone is 10 times higher than what you find on a toilet seat. Your face may come in contact with the germs and microorganisms on your phone when you make calls. Dirt from your phone may also from your fingers to your face. "Acne mechanica", or acne on your U-zone, can also develop due to the frequent times your cheek and chin press against your phone.
Pimple picking and touching your face too much
Germs from your hands can be transferred to the porous parts of your face and contribute to breakouts. Acne will worsen when you try to squeeze your pimples.
Skincare/Beauty Products that Can Exacerbate Acne
Your acne condition can be affected by the following items you use on your face and hair:
Acne on your hairline, forehead, temples, and even your nape that's caused by hairsprays, gels, other styling or leave-on products, and some shampoos and conditioners is called "pomade acne". Products with oil or drying ingredients, such as alcohol, can usually cause clog your pores and cause the build-up of bacteria.
Dirty makeup brushes and sponges
If left unwashed, your brushes and sponges can collect dirt and dust that is transferred to your makeup, then onto your face upon application. Bacteria can also build up on them even if they're stored inside makeup bags that aren't cleaned regularly. Moreover, unwashed brushes and sponges containing the residue of makeup from yesterday or the previous days can make the bristles abrasive, irritating your skin.
Depending on cleansing wipes alone for makeup removal without properly washing your face after only spreads the makeup around your face.
Abrasive face scrubs
Scrubs that have large beads and require the use of rough cleansing cloths or pads can inflame acne-prone skin further
Shaving products, facial hair removers
Ingredients in some shaving gels or creams, as well as old or dirty razor blades can irritate your skin. Removing facial hair among women has the same effect as shaving among men: it can leave pores that hold hair follicles more open, exposing themselves to oil and bacteria that can enter and clog them. Meanwhile, forego waxing if you're on prescription acne medication, which makes your skin hypersensitive.
Ways to Manage Adult Acne
Here's how to protect your skin from further acne flare-ups:
1. Apply the right topical solutions.
Use skin and hair products that are oil-free, non-acnegenic, and non-comedogenic (won't clog your pores).
For acne problems, you may opt to look for products that contain salicylic acid.Salicylic acidis a gentle beta hydroxy acid (oil-soluble) known for penetrating your skin's pores, dissolving dead skin cells, and preventing acne from developing. It retains the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin, from which it's derived.
2. Follow an anti-acne diet.
Incorporate healthy fat into your diet by eating meals or snacks with fish and nuts. At the same time, limit fried and sugary processed food that can extend and increase your body's insulin production, which, in turn, leads to hormonal acne.
Choose dark chocolate if you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, as it contains less dairy and sugar than milk chocolate.
Go for organic or hormone-free meats and dairy. Growth hormones injected into cows are passed on to the milk, yogurt, and cheese that come from them.
Moreover, adding high-fiber food to your diet, such as whole grains, oatmeal, citrus fruits, berries, carrots, and tomatoes, can lower your gut's inflammation level and improve the condition of your skin.
Foods rich in the following vitamins and minerals also promote clear skin:
Vitamin A: eggs, dark and green leafy vegetables, cod liver oil, orange and yellow fruits
Vitamin B3: eggs, chicken, fish, milk
Vitamin C: citrus fruits and green vegetables
Vitamin D: fatty fish, cheese, milk
Vitamin E: nuts, seeds, green vegetables
Zinc: beans, poultry, dairy
Vitamin A, C, and zinc in topical and oral supplement form are also recommended to reduce your skin inflammation.
3. Improve your hygienic practices.
You can keep your acne from worsening by touching your face less often, washing your face twice daily (especially right after workouts), washing your pillowcases and makeup brushes/sponges at least once a week, and keeping your phone and keyboard clean.
4. Get enough sleep and manage stress.
Seven to nine hoursof sleep every day is recommended for adults. Block out distractions and choose soft bedding that can induce sleep.
Stress and worry may prevent you from sleeping well, so know your stressors. See how you manage your responsibilities better, exercise, practice relaxation techniques, and get help from others to combat stress better.
5. Seek your doctor's advice.
Your health provider may prescribe antibiotics or hormonal therapy if topical solutions and lifestyle changes don't lessen your breakout. The Food and Drug Administration hasapproved certain oral contraceptivesfor acne.
Your physician or dermatologist may also recommend special procedures, depending on the severity of your acne, such as steroid injection, dermabrasion, chemical peel, laser or light therapy, or surgery.
Adult acne shouldn't leave you anxious or depressed. Knowing which products to use and avoid and understanding the right actions to take will help you manage acne smartly and more confidently.