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Acne after puberty? It just doesn’t seem possible. More than 70 percent of adults will experience outbreaks of adult acne between the ages of 20 and 50, and it’s more likely to strike women than men.

Why do we get adult acne?

The same factors that contribute to adolescent acne in teenagers are the ones that cause “late-onset acne” in adults, defined as acne that occurs after the age of 25. Though acne is caused by multiple factors, breakouts on the face are signs that it’s more hormone-based, not only bacteria-based. It can have significant negative outcomes, from scarring to skin discoloration that can translate into low self-esteem for lots of people.

The three main components of adult acne are:

  1. Sebum: oil that is produced in sebaceous glands in the skin
  2. Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes): a bacterium that lives in hair follicles (pores) and it’s an abnormal hair follicle that is “sticky” (gets clogged)
  3. Inflammation: an immune reaction where white cells arrive en masse to battle against the trapped, growing bacteria.

Specialists have determined that all acne is driven by hormones to some degree. Other potential causes of adult acne include:

  • High hormone sensitivity: some people have more hormone receptors on their oil glands and are more likely to develop acne when more androgens are in the system.
  • Immune system overkill: Some people have more of an immune gene known as TLR7, and when this gene senses bacteria, they send more white cells than normal to battle, increasing the risk of inflamed pustules.
  • The stress hormone cortisol: While stress isn’t a direct cause, it aggravates acne because cortisol can sit on androgen receptors and trigger an acne cascade.

What are some treatments?

Today’s specialist have identified these three major categories to treat acne.

Frustrated with frequent breakouts? Here's what you can do to make your adult acne disappear.


Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial medications: A prescription, anti-inflammatory topical retinoid is often used to treat and prevent the abnormally sticky cells lining the hair pore that contribute to acne formation.

Hormonal therapy: Up to 60% of acne outbreaks in women are hormone-based, identifiable by the location of pimples and outbreaks that occur just before menstruation. Birth control pills containing both estrogen and progestin help control the hormone imbalance.

Light therapy: Red light therapy, a new option proven effective, reaches deep into the skin and activates hemoglobin. Red light treatment cuts off just enough of the blood supply of oil-producing sebaceous glands that pores don’t get quite as oily.