Adult Acne: Causes and Ways to Get Rid of It Once and For All

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Being plagued by adult acne is a nightmare that nobody wants to go through.

For the unfortunate souls who do experience this, treating such adult acne is a more difficult task than imagined because of how adamant they can be.

They reoccur frequently and ruin the beauty of your skin.

It is important that you understand what is causing your acne and which type of adult acne you have so that you can opt for an appropriate treatment to get rid of it.

Waking up with a pimple was a common occurrence during the teenage years; but what if this continues to happen during your 20s and 30s as well?

Adult acne has been on the rise over the last few decades.

Since many factors play a role in causing adult acne, the process of elimination and consulting a good dermatologist can help you to identify what is causing your adult acne.

Once this step is accomplished, you can concentrate all your time, money, and effort towards getting rid of the acne for good.

The changes in our lifestyle, hectic schedules, unhealthy food habits, and increased stress are major factors that trigger acne during adulthood.

These factors result in increased sebum or natural oil production by the skin’s sebaceous glands.

This excess oil fills up the pores and dirt, dead skin cells, and pollutants from the environment easily stick to this oil to plug the pores.

Such plugged pores become breeding grounds for bacteria and in no time you see a huge pimple on your skin.

Let us look at adult acne in detail to get a better understanding so that the best course of treatment can be decided and begun.

What Is Adult Acne?

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Acne that forms on the skin beyond the puberty stage and during adulthood is called as adult acne.

The pores in the skin become blocked with excess sebum, dirt, grime, dead skin cells, and skin debris.

Bacterial infection in such clogged pores that leads to pus formation and acne.

Such acne is usually more adamant than the ones that you experienced during the teenage years.

Adult acne differs from teenage acne because the latter is primarily caused due to the upheaval in the hormones that occurs in your body.

What Causes Adult Acne?

Woman with acne on her face touching her face

The changes in the hormone levels, especially androgens, that occur during phases such as menstruation, pregnancy, etc. is just one factor that could be causing these unwanted blemishes to form on your face.

Apart from the hormonal imbalance, other factors responsible for adult acne are as follows.

These may cause adult acne of different types and may either be directly or indirectly responsible for the pimples in your adulthood.

  • Higher stress levels lead to increased male hormones in the body that cause an increase in the natural oil production by the skin.
  • Pollutants in the atmosphere
  • Comedogenic skincare and makeup products cause excessive build up on the skin
  • Specific food items, especially those you might be allergic to
  • An unhygienic skin care routine such as not removing makeup before going to bed
  • Certain medications such as corticosteroids and lithium
  • Genetic predisposition (family history of adult acne)

What Are The Different Types Of Adult Acne?

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Adult acne is classified into different grades or types depending on the severity.

Grade I – Comedones

A comedone is the most basic type of acne lesion that is formed when a pore becomes blocked.

The tip of the bump that forms on the skin can be closed and looks lighter or whiter than the surrounding skin.

This is known as a white head.

When this tip opens up, the oxygen in the air oxidizes the materials that are clogging the pore giving the tip a brownish or blackish colour.

Such a comedone is called a blackhead.

Whiteheads and blackheads are the first stages of acne and are commonly seen on the nose, around the nose, around the mouth, on the chin, and on the forehead.

Grade II – Papules And Pustules

When comedones progress to the moderate level of acne, they develop some pinkness or redness around them.

There is usually mild inflammation or swelling as well as the acne site.

Such acne is called papules and should not be picked at.

When papules become pus-filled due to the infection by the acne-causing bacteria, they are referred to as pustules.

These are more evident as the redness is prominent around the pimples.

Moderate acne or grade II acne can develop anywhere on your face or body and are capable of leaving behind marks and scars.

Grade III – Nodules And Cysts

Severe acne is also called as grade III acne.

Such acne has penetrated beyond the epidermal layer of the skin.

A swollen bump that is firm to touch is called a nodule.

Nodules develop into pus-filled and large acne lesions known as cysts.

Severe nodulocystic acne is seen in some people in their 20s and 30s wherein multiple cysts are present on the skin.

Acne at the severe stage is painful and you may even experience some bleeding.

They are commonly seen on the cheeks and jawline.

Deep scars that need specialized treatment are the remnants left on the skin by nodules and cystic acne.

How To Determine Which One You Have?

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To determine which type of adult acne you have, look out for the specific characteristics for each of the types.

Here is a simple guide to identifying which type of adult acne you have.

Blackheads and Whiteheads

  • White or black tipped bumps on the skin
  • Can be present individually or in groups
  • No infection present, hence no pus oozes out from the acne lesions
  • Respond well to home treatments
  • Have an average life cycle of a week

For Papules and Pustules 

  • Raised bumps on the skin
  • Pus-filled pimples
  • White or yellow in colour in the middle
  • Redness
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Maybe sensitive to touch
  • Maybe painful in some cases
  • Leave behind acne marks and sometimes scars
  • Usually, recur after simple treatments at home

For Cystic Acne

  • Large bumps or pimples
  • Nodules are firm to touch
  • Pus present
  • Blood may or may not be present
  • Redness
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Cysts can sometimes look like boils on the skin
  • Pain and tenderness in the affected area
  • Spread easily to surrounding areas if ruptured
  • Deep and permanent scars that ruin the skin texture form once this type of acne heals
  • Need strict medical attention for optimal treatment

How To Combat Your Specific Type Of Adult Acne?

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Since we have categorized adult acne into different types, the treatment for each type also differs.

The severity of the acne is directly related to the type of treatment you should opt for.

For Grade I

Since this is the mildest form of acne, simple over the counter treatments can help you to manage it easily.

Invest in a cleanser that contains ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid as this help to remove the dead skin cells from the skin’s surface.

Lesser skin debris translates to fewer pores becoming blocked to form whiteheads or blackheads.

Adding an oil-controlling toner to your skin care routine also helps to keep the skin’s oil production under control throughout the day.

Or, use an exfoliant or a homemade scrub two to three times to help unclog pores even better and improve blood circulation too.

Chemical peels available at skin clinics and spas can help you to thoroughly exfoliate and maintain the natural radiance of your skin as well.

For Grade II

For moderate acne, a healthy skin care routine is a must to keep the skin clear and acne-free in the long run.

Over the counter treatment that worked for comedones may or may not work for papules and pustules.

A better course of treatment for clearer skin is essential under the guidance of a dermatologist.

Common routes opted for by skin specialists include:

  1. A topical or ingestible antibiotic that kills the acne-causing bacteria and brings the infection and pus production under control
  2. A topical corticosteroid to combat the inflammation and redness
  3. Isotretinoin in milder doses to treat the internal factors that are causing the acne
  4. Hormonal therapy in the case where a hormonal imbalance is causing the acne

In addition to this, cosmetic treatments such as chemical peels and laser therapy may be recommended.

For Grade III

Severe acne cannot be treated with over the counter creams and lotions.

A vigorous treatment plan needs to drafted and followed religiously to treat current breakouts, avoid acne in the future, and to fade away the acne scars left behind by the nodules and cysts.

Only under the guidance of a dermatologist can severe acne be treated successfully.

Antibiotics and isotretinoin are commonly prescribed to deal with the infection, excess oil production, and dead skin cell build up.

Non-comedogenic skin care products need to be used strictly as well.

In the case where the acne is unresponsive or responding mediocrely to these treatments, laser or light therapy is used to alleviate the inflammation and kill the bacteria.


To learn more about how to keep your acne under control, click here to read our article about How To Prep Acne Prone Skin for a Long Day of Makeup.

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