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Adult Acne in Women: What’s Triggering Your Breakouts?

By Ruchi Agarwal | June 07, 2022
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Adult acne or post-adolescent acne is a skin condition that occurs after 25. Acne appears when hair follicles or tiny holes in the skin become blocked with dead skin cells or oil. Although acne is more common among teenagers, it is persistent and can affect people regardless of age. Scientific studies reveal that the prevalence of adult acne in women is more than that of adult acne in male patients.

Adolescent and adult acne have many similarities in their causes and treatment. However, there are also some unique features. Let’s look at them closely.

What is the Cause of Adult Acne?


Acne, in general, occurs due to hypersensitivity of the sebaceous glands (oil-producing glands present in the skin), the influence of androgens, puberty, endocrine disorders among women, etc. Usually, acne breakouts appear on the forehead, face, chest, upper back and shoulders.

Depending upon the severity of the patient’s condition, common acne signs include whiteheads, blackheads, painful, pus-filled lumps under the skin (cystic lesions), pimples (pustules), small red bumps with pus at their tips (papules), painful lumps under the skin (nodules), etc.

Differences Between Adult Acne and Adolescent Acne

Acne widely affects individuals that are going through puberty. However, medical science differentiates between three groups of acne patients:

  • Preadolescent
  • Adolescent
  • Post-adolescent patients

Adult acne treatment requires a different diagnostic approach that considers the subtypes of adult acne; these include —

Persistent Acne: This type of acne is a continuation or a relapse of an acne condition that grows from adolescence and continues into adulthood and middle age.

Late-onset acne: This type of acne usually involves patients older than 25 who have previously not been affected by acne vulgaris. Late-onset acne is considered to be less common than persistent acne.

Its severity is usually mild to moderate. This type generally appears on the face, lower jawline, cervical area, and sometimes on the chest. Medical research claims that both are prevalent subtypes of adult acne in women and can be related to

  • Inflammation
  • Changes in pigmentation or the colour of the skin
  • Scarring

Main Triggers of Adult Acne in Women

1. Fluctuating Hormone Levels


Women often experience an imbalance of hormone levels which is considered a significant cause of adult acne. Fluctuating hormones are prevalent among women during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause. Lifestyle changes and stress may also affect the hormone levels in women.

Around their menstruation cycles, women may experience an acne flare-up due to hormonal imbalance that influences the oil production.

2. Elevated Sebum Excretion

Elevated Sebum Excretion

Sebaceous glands are small oil-producing glands in our skin. They produce sebum oil which lubricates the skin surface. People prone to acne may have overactive sebaceous glands that produce more sebum than usual. This excess oil blocks the pores and the sebaceous duct, which further causes acne breakouts.

3. Differences in Sebum


A clinical sebum analysis of people with and without acne revealed that people with acne produce different sebum with a higher percentage of squalene (a fatty molecule) and wax esters (compounds). The sebum also has a lower amount of free fatty and linoleic acid. This difference in the sebum is discovered to be an eminent acne-inducing trigger.

4. Dysfunctional Skin Shedding

Dysfunctional Skin Shedding

The epidermis (top layer of the skin) constantly sheds dead skin cells. This process is essential as it exfoliates the skin. The epidermis also protects the skin against bacteria and germs and produces new skin cells to replace thousands of dead skin cells that die off every day.However, acne-prone skin makes more dead skin cells than usual. The abnormal shedding process further causes acne flare-ups.

5. Genetic Factors

Genetic Factors

The cause of pimples in adults can also be genetic. Genetic factors are known to affect the percentage of sebum in the patient. Therefore, you may inherit acne early if your parents have adult acne.

6. Cosmetic Products

Cosmetic Products

Even women who have previously not developed acne may experience breakouts from wearing makeup. This condition is known as acne cosmetica or acne caused by wearing makeup. Skin and hair care products or makeup are known to clog pores that can cause acne flare-ups. Furthermore, acne-causing bacteria also develops due to unhealthy makeup habits such as unclean or used brushes or makeup applicators.

7. Stress Factors

Stress Factors

Medical research has found a relationship between adult acne and stress. Our body produces a hormone known as androgens in response to constant pressure. This hormone stimulates hair follicles and oil glands that lead to acne breakouts.

8. Smoking


Clinical evidence has established a correlation between adult acne and smoking. Inflammatory and mild-moderate form of acne is observed among adult female smokers, typically known as atypical post-adolescent acne (APAA) or smoker’s acne.

9. Improper Diet

Improper Diet

Research links a faulty diet with the development of acne. High glycemic food, certain dairy products, fast food, and low raw vegetables and chocolate intake make acne more severe. People with acne-prone skin should follow a balanced diet with a low glycemic content or one that a dermatologist recommends.

10.Medication Side Effects

Medication Side Effects

Adult acne may also erupt as a side effect of some medicines. Starting or discontinuing birth control pills among women or other medication may also trigger acne or make it severe. If you suspect an acne breakout because of certain medicines, you may consider changing it after consulting your dermatologist. Medications like steroids, lithium and anticonvulsants are also known to cause acne.


Adult acne is known to socially, psychologically and emotionally impact the life of adult patients. Today, the question ‘how to treat acne’ has several adult acne treatment solutions depending upon the severity and type of acne, such as laser, topical application of gel, lotion, creams, hormonal therapies, alternative therapies, etc. Find out more about treatment remedies for acne on Skin and Hair Academy.

With proper evaluation from a certified dermatologist, all cases of acne can be successfully treated without hampering the patient’s self-esteem.Adult Acne in Women: What’s Triggering Your Breakouts?

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