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What Causes Adult Acne?

When most people think of acne, they think of a skin disease that occurs primarily during the teen years, with breakouts and flareups stopping sometime in a person’s late teens or at least by their early 20s. But the fact is, for many people, acne doesn’t end when adulthood begins. Pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and full-on breakouts can occur for years afterward, sometimes well into a person’s 40s and even beyond.

Acne is the most common skin disease in the U.S., affecting about 50 million Americans, and nearly 700 million people around the world have acne. Yes, it’s true that most of those people are teens and young adults. But a surprising number of people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are also dealing with regular breakouts and the excessively oily skin that goes along with acne. And most of those men and women are also dealing with the emotional toll of acne, suffering from anxiety, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and even depression.

The causes of adult acne

Acne breakouts occur for the same reasons in adults as in teens. Oil in your skin mixes with dead skin cells, clogging pores and trapping bacteria inside your hair follicles. As those bacteria multiply, they cause inflammation and redness. Your body’s natural response is to send out special disease-fighting cells to ward off the bacteria — and that forms pus. Interestingly, the bacteria that is responsible for acne is found normally on your skin. But it’s only when it finds the ideal combination of dead skin cells, excess oil, and follicles that it causes acne breakouts.

That’s the mechanism behind acne breakouts. But what factors cause those breakouts to occur in the first place? Again, it’s pretty similar to what happens in teenagers. 

Hormonal fluctuations

Changes in your hormone levels play a major role in lots of adult acne, especially among women. As your hormone levels change, your skin starts producing more oils, and that means there’s a greater chance those oils will mix with dead skin cells to form the sticky combination that clogs your pores. For women, hormone-related breakouts are more common around the start of a period, during pregnancy, during menopause and the months and years leading up to menopause, and after starting or discontinuing hormonal birth control, like the pill. For men, hormone-related breakouts are less common, but they can still occur when certain hormone-containing medications are being used.

Stressing out

Stress is another major culprit of acne breakouts among adults (and teens, too). When our bodies are stressed out, they ramp up their production of certain kinds of hormones called androgens. Just like the hormone-related breakouts mentioned above, higher levels of androgens stimulate the production of skin oils, which in turn cause your follicles to get clogged, forming a nice, warm home for bacteria. 

Blame your parents

If you’ve got a family history of acne, especially adult acne, then you might be more likely to develop it yourself. 

Personal care products

Some shampoos and conditioners, moisturizers, makeup, sunscreen, and even face and body washes can cause or contribute to acne breakouts, too. The key to avoiding breakouts: Scan the label for words like “non-comedogenic,” “non-acnegenic,” and “oil-free.” Some labels will explicitly state that the product won’t clog your pores. The problem is, some people have sensitivities to skincare products, so even if a label says it won’t cause breakouts, it can still cause irritation — and excess oil production — if you’re sensitive to it. To really reduce your risk, ask Dr. Flood for product recommendations based on your skin type and the type of acne you have.

Medicine and other diseases

Finally, some types of medicine can actually increase the likelihood of breakouts, During your office visit, be sure to tell Dr. Flood about all medicines you’re taking, including over-the-counter products. Acne can also be caused by an underlying disease, like rosacea. Giving Dr. Flood a complete medical history can help him identify possible medical causes, as well as treatment options that can help prevent these sorts of breakouts.

Treating adult acne

Like acne during your teens, adult acne requires an individualized approach to treatment, with regular office visits to ensure your treatment stays on track and on target. Today, there are more options than ever when it comes to treating adult acne, including topical creams, gels, and washes, pills, and laser treatments. Many people benefit from a combination of treatments to achieve the best results.

As a top-ranked dermatologist in Washington, D.C., Dr. Allen A. Flood specializes in acne treatment for patients of all ages. If you have acne, the best way to reduce breakouts is to start treatment right away. To learn more about treatment options that can help you enjoy clearer skin, book an appointment online today.

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