All About Adult Acne

Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States--one that doesn’t solely affect teens and those in their early 20s, either. In fact, clinical acne cases in adult women between the ages of 40 and 49 (and beyond) have been on the rise in recent years. Yes, adult men can also be acne prone, however, the number of women who suffer from acne in adulthood is staggering in comparison to that of their male counterparts.
If you suffer from adult acne, you know that it’s not just the occasional pimple we’re talking about, here. We’re talking deeper nodules, cystic acne and other severe, clinical acne types that can eventually cause scarring to the outer layer of your skin, and to your self-esteem.
One common adult acne myth is that it will eventually go away on its own. But trained dermatologists will tell you that without proper acne treatment, your skin could suffer even more. Thankfully, there are many effective treatment options available for adults who are prone to breakouts.
But what exactly is adult acne, anyway? The following information will help you determine common causes and types of adult acne, plus top-notch ways to treat those stubborn bumps effectively.
Common Causes of Adult Acne
The acne you develop as an adult is typically far different from those embarrassing pimples you dealt with as a teenager. However, whether you’re 15 or 50, acne develops when a mixture of excess sebum, skin cells and bacteria accumulate. But adult acne can also result from one or more of the following factors: 
  • Fluctuating hormones. When hormones fluctuate, acne can surface. Hormonal swings can occur throughout your menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause.
  • Going off the pill. Because hormones in birth control pills can keep acne away, when you stop using them, your skin can often break out big time.
  • Certain medications. Anticonvulsants, corticosteroids and some sobriety drugs can cause adult acne. If this happens, consult your doctor and see if there is another medication you can try in order to take control of your breakouts. Never stop taking any prescription medication before speaking with your doctor. If there is only one type of medication available for your condition, head to the dermatologist to see if there is something else that can help you get your acne under control.
  • Genetics. If you suffer from adult acne, chances are, your mom, dad, brother or sister have had to deal with this skin condition as well.
  • Anxiety and Stress. Research shows that women who subject themselves to stressful, fast-paced jobs are more likely to develop acne than those who stress less. When you stress, your body produces an excess of androgens, hormones that stimulate your skin’s oil glands and hair follicles, which can then result in acne flare ups. Get your stress under control with these yoga exercises.
  • Underlying medical conditions. If you’re a woman and notice that your acne is accompanied by other changes in your body such as irregular periods, excessive facial hair or bald patches on your scalp, this could be a sign of an underlying medical condition like polycistic ovary disease, adrenal hyperplasia or a tumor. If you experience these symptoms with your acne, consult your doctor who can determine the best treatment for your medical condition. 

Types of Adult Acne
There are two common types of adult acne: persistent acne and late-onset acne. 
  • Persistent acne is diagnosed when acne does not clear up by your mid-20s. This common type of adult acne causes tender, deep, inflamed nodules and blemishes that typically form around your mouth, chin and jawline.
  • Late-onset acne occurs if you haven’t had acne for a number of years or have never developed acne, and then, out of nowhere, you begin to see the development of deep cysts, inflamed pimples or nodules on your skin well past your 20s. Late-onset acne appears around your mouth, chin and jawline, just as persistent acne does. This type of acne can also form on your chest and back. Many women going through menopause experience late-onset acne, as well. 

How to Treat Adult Acne
Getting your adult acne under control as quickly as possible will significantly reduce the risk of scarring, plus give you confidence and peace of mind. Most cases of adult acne can be effectively controlled and treated with the help of a dermatologist. Though adult acne can take a while to clear up completely (it’s pretty stubborn!), patience is a must. Your dermatologist will likely offer a combination of two or more of the following acne treatment options: 
  • Topical Therapy: This type of adult acne treatment includes creams, gels and lotions with active ingredient combinations of benzoyl peroxide, antimicrobials (like clindamycin or erythromycin), retinoids, sodium sulfacetamide and sulfur. These products are available by prescription only.
  • Oral Medications: Because adult acne can often occur as a result of a hormonal imbalance, oral medications may be prescribed to control hormonal swings, so don’t be surprised if your dermatologist prescribes an oral contraceptive. Hormone replacement therapy can also be effective in the treatment of adult acne, and is typically prescribed when acne is accompanied by other symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, trouble sleeping and thinning hair. Antibiotics may also be a part of your treatment and can be effective in helping to clear adult acne, as well.

    There are stronger oral acne medications that may be prescribed. These potent medications must not be used if you’re pregnant or may become pregnant as they can cause harm to a fetus. Always inform your doctor or dermatologist if you’re pregnant before you start taking any type of prescription medication.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: If you have some large cysts or nodules that won’t go away with other acne treatments, your dermatologist will likely recommend injecting these lesions with a corticosteroid. Doing so will reduce swelling and pain rather quickly and can help lessen the potential of scarring to your skin.
  • Skin Care Products: In addition to oral medications and topicals, dermatologists typically recommend a whole new skin care routine to complement your acne treatment. This usually consists of a mild facial cleanser, a gentle toner, a moisturizer with sun protection (suitable for skin that is being treated with topical acne medications) and other non-comedogenic products. Once your dermatologist examines your skin closely, he or she will know the most effective skin care products for your skin type.

Treatment for Acne Scars
Though adult acne can clear up with proper treatment under a trained dermatologist’s care, acne scars can still surface. The good news is that there are now a plethora of effective treatments for mild, to moderate, to severe acne scarring that can dramatically improve your complexion. 
  • Laser Resurfacing: During this procedure, your dermatologist will use a real laser beam to detroy your skin’s outermost layer. New skin will form as the wound heals, leaving your skin softer and smoother.
  • Dermabrasion: Your dermatologist will “scratch” the top layer of your skin with a rapidly rotating wire brush during this procedure. Whether your acne has left you with deep scars or just surface scars, dermabrasion is a highly effective treatment for both. 
  • Punch Excision: If you have an extremely deep acne scar, your dermatologist can cut out the scar tissue and repair it with stitches or a skin graft, covering up the hole left at the scar site. This is a minor surgery that can be done in your dermatologist’s office.
  • Collagen Injections: Your dermatologist can make your acne scars less noticeable by filling them in with fat or collagen. Because this is just a temporary fix, repeat appointments are required. 
Now that you know the causes and treatments for adult acne, your skin education shouldn’t stop here. If you are suffering from adult acne or another skin disorder, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist to determine the cause of your skin condition and discover which treatment options are the best fit for you.
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Mayo Clinic, "Acne,", accessed on July 8, 2013.
Mayo Clinic, "What's the Best Treatment for Acne Scars,", accessed on July 8, 2013.