Struggling with adult acne? These are the common causes and treatments

Most people, even well past puberty, find the occasional spot.

It often comes – Sod’s Law – right before an important event where you want to look your best.

But is it normal to have more prominent breakouts well into adulthood?

“Adult acne is incredibly common,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Derrick Phillips (

“The good news is that many cases of acne respond well to over-the-counter products.”

It’s important not to underestimate the impact that skin problems can have on mental health.

“It can be emotionally distressing, especially for adults who may feel like they should have gotten over the condition,” says Dr. Omar Tillo, plastic surgeon and medical director at Creo Clinic (

Here, skin experts break down everything you need to know about dealing with adult acne…

How does adult acne differ from teenage acne?

“Adolescent acne occurs in both males and females during puberty,” explains Phillips, who says it’s “driven by the hormonal changes that lead to the development of adult physical characteristics” and affects males and females almost equally.

“Most people will ‘grow it out’ and in many cases it can be treated with skincare alone.

“The skin is generally oily and acne lesions (pimples, whiteheads, blackheads and nodules) are found on the forehead, cheeks, chest and back.”

Adult acne, on the other hand, is more common in women and the location of the spots tends to be different.

“Teen acne often occurs on the forehead, nose, and chin, while adult acne is more likely to appear on the lower face, including the jawline, cheeks, and neck,” explains Tillo.

Phillips adds that breakouts can be “a continuation of teenage acne, however, for some people it will be their first experience of acne.”

What are some of the most common causes?

Hormones are often the culprit when it comes to women’s skin problems.

“In adult female acne, the oil-producing sebaceous glands become sensitive to normal circulating levels of androgen hormones, leading to increased oil production and acne breakouts,” says Phillips.

“Estrogen plays an important role as it suppresses androgen levels, reduces oil production and has an anti-acne effect. The drop in estrogen at the end of the cycle is responsible for the premenstrual flare.”

A number of other lifestyle and dietary factors could be responsible.

“Stress, which can trigger the production of hormones that can cause acne,” says Tillo.

“(As) certain diets and foods, such as those high in refined carbohydrates or dairy products, and certain medications, including corticosteroids, androgens and lithium.”

Makeup can also cause breakouts, says Phillips: “Especially when we wear it for extended periods or leave it on overnight. Makeup traps dirt and environmental pollutants on the skin. It can also clog pores.”

How should you treat mild adult acne at home?

Skin care should be the first step if you want to get rid of some pesky bites.

“The wrong treatment can make acne-prone skin worse,” says Phillips. “In general, avoid oil-based products and occlusive ingredients like silicone.”

Tillo recommends following a three-step routine at night: cleanser, conditioner and moisturizer, adding sunscreen in the morning.

“Wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser to remove excess oil and impurities,” she says. “Avoid using hot water, harsh scrubs or rough towels as they can irritate the skin.”

Then apply an acne treatment that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide: “These ingredients can help unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and kill acne-causing bacteria. “Start with a low concentration to avoid irritation and gradually increase as needed,” advises Tillo.

Finish with an oil-free moisturizer that’s non-comedogenic, meaning it’s made with ingredients that won’t clog your pores.

And make sure your skin is protected year-round, Tillo continues: “Sun exposure can make acne worse, so use a non-food sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 if you’re spending time outside.”

When should you seek help for more severe acne?

“You should seek help for severe acne that causes scarring or significant changes in the texture of your skin,” says Tillo.

For example, if it’s “widespread, covering a large area of ​​your face, chest, or back, or if you feel a lot of pain, discomfort, or itching because of your acne.”

Phillips advises: “You should see your doctor if you have deep tender cysts and large red nodules. This type of acne is prone to scarring and requires medical treatment.”

You should also talk to your doctor if you’ve tried over-the-counter products and they don’t work after a few weeks, or, says Tillo, “If it’s causing emotional distress, such as feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression.”

Your doctor may prescribe medication or refer you to a dermatologist.

“There are several medical interventions that a dermatologist can recommend to treat severe acne,” adds Tillo.

“Appropriate treatment depends on the individual’s specific case, so it’s important to consult with a dermatologist to determine the best course of action.”

Group A

Try these targeted treatments with juice-soothing ingredients and skincare essentials that won’t aggravate acne…

Acnecide Face Wash 5% w/w Gel, £6.66 (was £9.99), Boots

Cellderma Hydraclean Botanical Cleanser, £33

Skin Theory Salicylic Gel Cleanser, £34.95

Garnier 3.5% Vitamin C, Niacinamide, Salicylic Acid, Brightening & Anti Dark Spot Serum, £11.99, Boots

Creightons Salicylic Acid Soothing Lotion, £3.99

Mantle The Treat Clearing Azelaic Acid Treatment, £47

Witch Brightening Night Cream, £5.95, Amazon

Ultrasun Face Fluid Anti Pollution SPF50+, £28

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