Why Do I Have Adult Acne?

Adult Acne - Darren Robb Collection/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Darren Robb Collection/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Updated May 29, 2014.

Question: Why Do I Have Adult Acne?


Acne is the most common skin disorder in the United States. But it is not just a teenage problem. The American Academy of Dermatology reports 80 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 30 suffer from mild to moderate acne. Over half of all women, regardless of age, have acne of some type. It can be a frustrating problem, especially when you thought you had left your skin problems behind in high school.

Hormonal Factors

Even as an adult, fluctuating hormones can cause acne flare ups.

Androgens are hormones released from the adrenal glands, the ovaries, and the testes. These hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands, increasing oil production and creating a skin that is more prone to comedones, or breakouts.

Adult onset acne most commonly affects women. Sharp hormonal fluctuations often occur during ovulation and menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause, and can also be caused by using certain birth control medications. Women may see their acne suddenly develop, or worsen, during these periods of life.

While acne strikes adult women at a greater rate than men, they are not immune to acne. Acne in adult men usually starts in the teen years and stays with them into adulthood. Men tend to have more severe and longer lasting acne than women, because of the higher levels of testosterone within the body. It is not uncommon for acne in men to last 10 years or more, if left untreated.


If you suffer from adult onset acne you may want to take a look at your cosmetics, including cleansers, moisturizers, makeup, and hair care products. Certain products, especially those with an oil-base, can block pores and create an impaction within the follicle. Avoid oily products, and use only those marked as

noncomedogenic . Be aware, however, that even noncomedogenic products may trigger an acne response in sensitive individuals.

Medications and Conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovary disease, may trigger acne in adults. If you have other symptoms such as increased hair growth, weight gain, etc., in addition to acne, you should talk to your doctor.

The use of steroids, certain birth control treatments, hormone therapies and other medications can also cause acne breakouts. Again, talk to your doctor is you believe your prescription medications are triggering or worsening your acne.


Acne tends to run in families. If one of your parents had acne at any point in their lives, your risk of adult onset acne is higher. Also, adults with oily skin types are more prone to acne breakouts. Skin type is hereditary as well. Adult acne can be frustrating, but don’t give up hope. Acne treatments have improved tremendously, and nearly every case of adult onset acne can be successfully controlled with the right treatment.

Next Steps:

What Can I Do About Adult Acne?

Adult Acne Treatment Options

What You Need to Know About Adult Acne