Acne is supposed to be something that only teenagers get. Right?
We hate to break it to you, but while most people experience an episode or two of at least a mild form of acne inflammation, adults can get acne too. Like it or not, acne is one of the most widespread conditions, affecting humans around the world. A study in the National Center for Biotechnology Information has found that acne is the eighth most common health condition worldwide. That means that out of nearly 7 billion people on the planet, almost 1 billion of them have acne, or have had it in the past.
But what about adult acne? That can’t be that bad, right? Well... you’re kinda wrong. A research article in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology notes that the incidence of adult acne is on the rise. In fact, the number of people experiencing adult acne seems to have doubled in the past two decades. And, for some reason, it seems to be markedly more prevalent among women. The same journal published another study to research this, and it turns out that adult acne is something that largely affects women. The ratio is pretty out of whack - only 15 percent of men have acne, as opposed to 85 percent of women. These are, of course, adults.
And while we’ll discuss adult acne causes and adult acne treatment further down in the article, let’s clear things up a bit. Is adult acne even the same as… you know, ordinary acne?
Long story short, adult acne can be said to be pretty much the same thing as ‘ordinary’, or ‘adolescent’ acne. Acne is, as you may already know, a deterioration of the sebum glands inside the tiny skin pores and hair follicles we have all over the skin. And I really mean it when I say that. Acne, adult ones included, can appear on your face (including your cheeks, and chin), on your neck, along your hairline, and even on your chest, shoulders, and last but not least - acne can appear on your butt too. With that being said, adult acne pass through all the stages just like ‘normal’ acne do.
First, the pores become clogged or inflamed and form comedones. These comedones can be of various types.
For example, there are the so-called blackheads, which are actually a type of open comedo. The blackhead has a black tip because the sebum (and all the dirt, dead skin cells, and bacteria that clog up the pore) come into contact with open air and oxygen. The oxygen oxidizes these substances, making for a dark appearance at the tip of the open comedo.
And while blackheads are fairly common and easy to camouflage or get rid of, the next stages of acne formation are less pleasant and more hurtful. For example, the so-called whiteheads are a clogged pore that is still covered by the surface layer of the skin called epidermis. Since the epidermis is thin and largely translucent, it prevents the sebum (the white or yellowish skin oil inside the pore) from coming into contact with air and oxygen. Which, in turn, keeps the tip of the clogged pore white-ish or slightly yellow.
However, due to this bright color, whiteheads are much more noticeable and prominent, and more difficult to cover. That, in turn, makes people want to pop them… Which as you can imagine leads to all sorts of problems, but also pain. Lots and lots of pain.
And what happens when a blackhead or a whitehead becomes popped, irritated, infected or inflamed?
Well, then you get the first ‘proper’ manifestation of acne, the so-called pimple, technically known as papules acne. These boast a white, or yellowish tip, a pink or reddened surrounding area, and are often hard and painful to the touch. All of those changes are most likely the results of a bacterial infection with the notorious Cutibacterium acnes (formerly known as Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes in short).
Cutibacterium acnes is an otherwise normal, and well-behaved citizen of the largest organism in the human body - the skin. However, since it feeds on the tasty sebum (skin oil) that our pores and hair follicles create, it can find its way inside pores, gorge itself on the nasty sebum, and multiply itself until it clogs and disfigures the entire pore.
From the outside, this looks like an ordinary pimple to us. So congratulations, you have acne now!
And that’s only the lowest and mildest, form of it! If left untreated, or if it’s persistently popped, touched and abused, these pimples, and the bacteria infecting them can become larger, nastier, and more severe. Not only that, but trying to squeeze the papules acne (pimples) can lead to scars and persistent skin discoloration.
Papules acne can escalate to pustules, a fairly serious type of acne that affects the deeper levels of the skin, and leaves deeply red, black, and even blue marks on the skin. Pustules often leave deep wounds, which leave large acne scabs all over the skin. The pustules can then transform themselves to the most severe type of acne, the so-called cystic acne.
As you might glean from the name, cystic acne resemble large, usually hard or wobbly to the touch, cysts. They’re large, usually round, and sometimes run so deep that they can be covered with a completely healthy patch of skin. Cystic acne are notoriously tricky to get rid of, and may sometimes even require risky procedures such as draining the cyst with a needle.
Cystic acne and pustules are the most severe types of acne in existence and are prone to leave long-lasting scars on your skin and face. These scars can sometimes be very difficult to repair or remove, and can even last a lifetime. Treating cystic acne and pustules often requires the aid of medical professionals and a therapy of strong prescribed medications.
For example, the go-to, very effective, but somewhat risky treatment of cystic acne is isotretinoin therapy, commercially known as Accutane (or Roaccutane). Accutane for acne is a powerful solution, but the therapy takes up to six months and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
But you shouldn’t despair - if you only suffer the occasional pimple, there are a lot of skin care routines and treatments that can help you get clear skin and keep it.
So, adult acne is pretty much acne. Literally, every acne type that appears in adolescents, such as clogged pores, whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, papules acne, pustules, and cystic acne, can appear in adults too. But is it really adult acne you’re having, or something else? Nowadays people are too quick to self-diagnose over the internet. So, what isn’t adult acne?
There are some skin conditions that can be mistaken for acne. The confusion usually happens because the phenomena appear fairly similar to acne. The visual similarity often leads people to assume they have acne, when, in fact, they turn out to have something else.
The two most common skin conditions that are mistaken for acne are rosacea and folliculitis.
Rosacea is an odd, poorly understood chronic skin disease that is estimated to affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. While it is a much rarer occurrence than acne, rosacea can be easily mistaken for it due to its similar appearance. The skin affected by rosacea acquires a reddish, pimpled texture. There are four different types of rosacea, but its trademark symptom is always the same - dozens or hundreds of small, red bumps filled with pus, usually around the eyes, the nose, cheeks, and chin.
However, aside from being familiar with the appearance of rosacea, medicine is still lagging behind a full understanding of this skin condition. The cause of rosacea is still unknown and down to speculation, and so far, there is no known cure. Research keeps advancing, however, and has helped doctors and dermatologists devise treatments in minimizing its symptoms.
The important outtake here is to try to discern what exactly affects your skin. Before you self-diagnose with acne or rosacea, it’s always best to visit your dermatologist so you can know the exact nature of the problem. It is entirely possible to both have acne and rosacea at the same time, but please be careful about self-diagnosing yourself over the internet.
Another common source of confusion, especially when it comes to adults and acne, is the so-called phenomenon of the inflamed hair, also known as folliculitis.
Folliculitis is a fairly common skin condition in which hair follicles, i.e. the skin pores holding the hairs, become inflamed. The causes can be many, but the most common ones are either a bacterial or fungal infection. People often mistake an inflamed hair follicle for a pimple, or acne, because it looks like a small, red bump on the skin at first sight. What makes it even more similar-looking to acne is its second stage, when white-headed pimples form around the affected hair follicles. If left untreated, the infection can spread and mutate into chronic, crusty sores.
While not life-threatening, folliculitis can be unbearably itchy, annoyingly sore and intensely embarrassing. Severe infections of the hair follicles can cause permanent scarring and permanent hair loss.
A less intense, but no less unpleasant form of hair follicle disorder is the infamous ingrown hair. Ingrown hairs, while less dangerous than folliculitis proper, often look exactly like a pimple. Due to friction (such as tight pants), the hair bends back on itself, becoming stuck in its own follicle. As you might imagine, this clogs the follicle pretty well, closing it shut, which makes the pore swell with sebum, bacteria, and dead skin cells.
As with rosacea, the same goes for folliculitis or the odd ingrown hair - make sure you got the right diagnosis before treating yourself. A trip to the doctor or dermatologist can save you not just money, but a lot of nerves, health complications, and save you a lot of time as well.
Now that we’ve seen what adult acne is, and what isn’t, let’s take a look at the other concerns. What might be the cause of this, and what’s up with the stark difference between men and women when it comes to adult acne? Let’s find out.
We may describe any skin condition in impressive depth and minute detail, and yet never get closer to understanding what causes it, or how to prevent it from happening. Knowing the types of acne, what they look like, what it is - and what it is not, provides us with some knowledge, but not what we seek - treatment. And in order to treat acne, we have to understand what causes them first. It is then, and only then, that we can proceed to remove the causes so we can prevent the onset of acne.
As we mentioned briefly in the previous sections of this article, nearly all cases of adult acne are caused by the few, well-known reasons. Clogged pores, bacterial infection, or inflammation of the pores are by far the most prevalent adult acne causes. However, what drives these developments to begin with? What creates the imbalance so that a pore will become clogged, inflamed or infected? Are there any underlying reasons that lead to the eventual appearance of adult acne?
Here’s a concise “course” on adult acne causes that we hope will be of use to you.
In a sense, the main cause behind adult acne isn’t that different from what causes all the adolescents in the world to develop a pimply face. You might have guessed it - it’s due to the hormones and hormonal changes. Just because you’re an adult now, doesn’t mean that your hormones are set in stone, and that no imbalances or disharmony can ever occur.
This is especially pertinent to women - due to the monthly menstrual cycles, women experience hormonal fluctuations much more frequently than men. In addition, once women reach their 40s and 50s, they enter the perimenopause phase, followed by menopause and postmenopause periods, which introduce even further and deeper hormonal changes in women. This, at least partly, accounts for the drastic prevalence of adult acne among women in comparison to men. (In men, the appearance of adult acne is mostly correlated with the dysregulation of their testosterone levels.)
But how, and why, would hormones lead to acne, you wonder? Well, there are dozens upon dozens of hormones in the human body, and they are roughly organized in so-called male and female hormones. Testosterone, estrogen, endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and so on and on - the list is long and complex.
And if you really want to understand human beings the best you can, studying hormones can be a very rewarding experience. While some hormones, like dopamine and serotonin, generally affect our moods, other hormones are in charge of the more physical, sexual, metabolic, and physiological processes. Hormones like estrogen and testosterone, for example, regulate such physiological processes that affect the environment of the skin as well. The loss of balance between the male and female hormones can shift the pH value of the skin, can affect circulation, can cause inflammations, and can even lead to the increased production of sebum, or skin oil.
And, remember - the overproduction of sebum is one of the main causes of acne formation. Too much sebum will clog a pore or a hair follicle, invite the acne-causing bacteria inside the pore, and prevent the body’s otherwise normal mechanisms to remove all the dead skin cells. The result? A clogged pore ready to give birth to a baby pimple.
While hormonal fluctuations can, and do indeed, happen to men as well (mostly due to diet, physical activity, or a hidden health disorder), they happen to women roughly eight times more.
This difference is mainly down to biology, and there is very little anyone can do about it (well, except for intense hormonal therapy). Men and women simply have different hormonal makeup and a variety of different reproductive and physiological processes. All of that contributes to the greater prevalence of adult acne in women instead of men.
Moreover, when it comes to causes that can hardly be changed or controlled, there is yet another one - aging. As the body ages, so do the hormones inside it, which shift and reorganize to tend to the body’s ever-changing needs. Aging can lead to drier skin, but it can sometimes lead to intense periods of oily skin, which can, in turn, cause the appearance of adult acne.
But back to the causes of hormonal fluctuations specific to women. There are certain activities and bodily processes that promote hormonal fluctuations as the chief adult acne causes in women. The following activities can contribute to a change in hormones, and thus, in the appearance of adult acne:
When a woman undergoes a significant hormonal change due to the processes described above, she can develop adult acne. But to be more specific, this type of acne is called hormonal acne, due to their particular underlying cause. Hormonal acne is usually markedly different in appearance and structure than the ordinary pimple - these pimples resemble large cysts, often painful or tender to the touch. It is strongly advised that you do not try to pop hormonal acne. The damage can spread to the deeper layers of the skin, and lead to scar tissue that can be extremely hard to repair. Hormonal acne is one of the most severe types of acne and can be very complicated to treat. However, when we talk about adult acne, hormonal fluctuations are merely one of the causes.
There are many other adult acne causes apart from hormones, and one of the most common ones is very mundane. It’s good old irritated skin. While you may be scratching your head at the idea, you know full well what I’m talking about. Scratching your head, for example, may irritate your skin, and kick off a long chain of processes whose final link may be in the form of one, or more, nasty pimples.
To put it shortly, every little thing that irritates the skin can weaken the skin’s defenses, which will, in turn, cause a reaction. This kind of wayward defensive reaction of our bodies is known under the term of inflammation. It’s when the body reacts so extremely against a perceived threat or injury, that the defensive reaction itself is harmful to the body.
Rubbing your skin too hard when washing your face, using harsh soaps and cleansers, or even shaving with a certain type of razor can cause the skin to become irritated.
So, if you want to prevent ending up with adult acne, and avoid the most common adult acne causes, your best bet is to be very careful about what you expose your naked, healthy skin against. Let us walk you through some of the most common types of adult acne, and their causes.
For example, do you have this weird case of adult acne along your hairline? If so, it may be caused by the coarse material of a hat you’re wearing a bit too often. Or, there may be another reason - how about that shampoo, or conditioner, you’ve been using for a while now? It may be one or the other, or it can be both.
A third possible cause for acne along your hairline and even on your cheeks, can be due to your hair. Regardless of whether it’s dry, or greasy, or normal, if your hair rubs against your sensitive skin, it can drive it mad with irritation. In addition, we collect microscopic pieces of dirt and oil during the day, and the hair just acts like a magnet, collecting the dust due to static electricity. Basically, this turns our hairs into very fine brushes, that are prone to painting our skin with tiny, almost invisible doses of dirt. If you suspect that wearing your hair over half of your face may have something to do with your adult acne, tie it in a ponytail. Or simply brush it back. Or, dunno, visit your local hair stylist and let them work their magic.
But here’s another scenario - suddenly, your acne goes really bad. What if you go to bed, and wake up with a large pimple on your cheek? You’re an adult, and to the best of your knowledge, you haven’t gone through any hormonal changes lately. Everything seems fine. No spicy foods either. No candy, no alcohol, you’re not a smoker… And yet, here you are, stuck with a fresh case of adult acne right before that important job interview at 12. So what gives? If this reminds you of an episode from that Unsolved Mysteries show, I can’t blame you.
But let’s pretend we’re Sherlock and try to solve this case. First, check your pillows. Are they clean? Maybe try to figure out when was the last time you gave them a good wash, and if you can’t remember when - stuff them in the washing machine. Unclean pillows, sheets, and blankets are a grossly underestimated cause for inflamed pores and irritated skin.
Second, is your pillowcase made of a soft, pleasant material? Try not to sleep on a pillow covered with a coarse fabric. After all, we spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, rubbing out faces against pillows and sheets. Making sure that your pillowcases are comfortable and not irritating to your skin is a very important detail.
But what if your pillows are clean, and your pillowcase is silky smooth?
Then we come to the third possible perpetrator - your smartphone. If you’re someone who loves having long phone calls with your friends, family, or significant other, you’re probably spending a lot of time every day with your smartphone slapped to your cheeks and ears. But think about all the places you put your phone down. Park benches, bus seats, fast food joints, toilets, all sorts of tables, chairs, heck, even out in nature. Nowadays we take our smartphones everywhere with us, and they, in turn, collect all the dirt around us. Is it any wonder then that you have this persistent case of acne on your cheeks? Regardless of whether you like phone calls or hate them, make sure you clean your phone every couple of days.
This, of course, means that you need to keep your hands clean too. I know it goes without saying, but a friendly reminder won’t hurt.
And even then, regardless of how obsessively you’re trying to keep your hands and fingers, the fact is that touching your skin makes it react. Each little touch makes an area drier, or more oily, or even, more sweaty. That, in turn, messes with the natural function of the skin and can lead an area of your skin to overproduce sebum that will clog your pores. And that’s even if you’re touching your face with sterile gloves. I shudder to think what would happen if someone touched their face with dirty, greasy, pizza-stained hands. And we all know such people, right?
Here’s a short but sweet outtake for avoiding irritated skin:
Additionally, keep your hands, pillows, and smartphone clean. Tie your hair in a ponytail if you have to. Follow these rules and you have eliminated a huge number of causes leading to adult acne.
Adult acne causes are truly many. Besides hormones and their fluctuations, and irritating physical contact, the third most prevalent cause of adult acne seems to be intense emotions and emotional stress.
I’m sure that you’ve already experienced this. You always seem to come down with adult acne or pimples after, or sometimes even before, a very stressful event. Regardless if it’s that chronically dreaded Thanksgiving dinner with your family, an important job interview or a long-awaited promotion, or even an intense fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend, partner or spouse… You tend to notice how your face flares up right around any of those super stressful events.
So what’s going on there, exactly? Why would an episode of intense emotional stress be related in any way with the onset of adult acne?
Well, as we mentioned above, hormones are a super important feature of the human body. When a person is under intense emotional stress, it produces biological changes in the body which make the appearance of acne more likely. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a pimply adolescent or not, adults are just as prone to developing adult acne as the consequence of emotional stress.
Every time you feel intense negative feelings, such as fear, pressure, anxiety, anger or shame, the body reacts by releasing certain hormones. The adrenal glands are in charge of regulating these (not just) emotional processes in the body. Whenever you feel intense emotional turbulence, the adrenal glands produce larger quantities of the so-called stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol, in turn, kicks off a dozen processes that eventually affect the sebaceous glands in the pores as well, leading to the appearance of adult acne.
Well, these tiny sebaceous glands found in our pores and hair follicles, are tasked with excreting tiny amounts of skin oil. Skin oil, also known as sebum, is necessary in order to moisturize our skin, keep it smooth and elastic, and make sure it’s waterproof. But when we face intense emotional stress or turbulence, our adrenal glands begin producing cortisol to make us ready for freeze, fight or flight. And… Since we’re not in a jungle anymore, those options aren’t really options anymore. So what happens? You pretend nothing is going on, start sweating, and all the excess sweat and tension and increased activity in the skin doesn’t have anywhere to go. Our pores overflow with sebum, become clogged by dead skin cells, dirt or bacteria, and there you go. You have adult acne now, thanks to that intense argument with your lover.
But emotional stress isn’t the end of adult acne causes. What can also cause adult acne is...
Above, we walked you through the mechanics behind how intense emotional stress can lead to skin imbalances, which increased the likelihood of adult acne. But physical stress can also lead to hormonal changes that would produce the same end result. Not only that - physical stress can also weaken your immune system, leading to all sorts of inflammatory processes and infections.
But what is physical stress, exactly? Climbing up the stairs? Exercising vigorously? Well… No. While extreme physical training can lead to exhaustion and fatigue, that’s not what we mean by physical stress. If anything, exercise is known to reduce stress and in doing so, help prevent the appearance of adult acne, as well as acne in teenagers. The activities that can lead to physical stress that will impact your body negatively, mess up your hormones and lead to adult acne, are the following.
So, physical stress here doesn’t mean physical effort - it means physical difficulty, either due to the elements, lack of some form of sustenance, or internal causes (a health condition for example). All of the above messes with your hormonal balance, making your glands either overproduce a certain hormone or produce very little. The resulting hormonal changes affect hundreds, if not thousands of processes in the body.
Like a musical instrument, the body depends on fine-tuning in order to function harmoniously. When our hormones are in disorder, it’s like someone taking a guitar, tightening and loosening its wires randomly. I don’t have to tell you what such a guitar will sound like. (I’d rather listen to cats mating outside than that.) So when our bodies lose their hormonal harmony, a variety of processes go haywire and coordination is lost. Some of these processes lead to increased sebum production, clogged pores, and the appearance of adult acne.
Studies indicate that physical stress can be a specific risk factor for you, especially if you’re a woman who’s prone to allergies and migraines. Additionally, other research shows that adults who smoke, regardless of their sex and gender, are more prone to developing adult acne as well. Some of these factors can be mitigated - for example, some people have reservations about vaping and acne, but it’s a much safer alternative to smoking.
Finally, the physical stress of pollution - and especially air pollution, combines the risks of smoking and allergies, and is therefore considered a likely cause for the increase of adult acne.
As we mentioned above, hormonal imbalances can lead the body to produce too much sebum (also known as skin oil). But we all know that a huge part of the population has oily skin, which means that they’re in a somewhat permanent sebum overproduction mode. And while some of them do experience more acne than the rest of the population, the vast majority of people with oily skin isn’t constantly pimpled. Surely there must be an additional factor, yes?
Yes, and you might have already guessed what that additional factor is. It’s hygiene, or to be more precise, the lack of it. A person can have the oiliest skin possible, but barring hormonal imbalances, they will not end up having acne. But add to that poor hygiene, an unhealthy lifestyle, and bad habits, and suddenly the onset of adult acne becomes far more plausible.
Well here’s the answer -because poor hygiene means that your skin retains more material that can clog your pores. Especially if you’re a person with oily skin, whose sebaceous glands are already producing lots of sebum. If you don’t take proper care of your face and skin, and don’t wash all the dead skin cells, dirt and smoke particles away, getting your pores clogged becomes far more likely.
Not only that, but neglecting your personal hygiene would also enable the acne-causing bacteria Cutibacterium acnes (also known as Propionibacterium acnes) to multiply. Combine that with a hefty supply of their favorite food - skin oil - and you have a recipe for an acne disaster.
So if you want to prevent the appearance of not just adult acne, but any other acne type, it would be very wise if you maintained good personal hygiene along with a skincare routine.
While we’re on the topic of poor hygiene, skin routines, and their role in causing adult acne, let’s say a few words about makeup too. In this article’s introductory section covering acne, we talked about the key role that clogged pores play in the formation of adult acne. We explained how dead skin cells, too much sebum, bacteria, and dirt can clog our pores, making them inflamed and developing into pimples.
But think about it for a second. Just what is makeup made of? And do you think it doesn’t affect your skin or that it won’t clog your pores? In fact, it very much can. The finely ground dust of pigments that constitutes most makeup products is somewhat of a professional when it comes to infiltrating your pores.
Additionally, there is the problem of keeping all your makeup products and brushes clean. If you don’t wash them periodically, or dispose of makeup products that have sat for a bit too long on your shelf, you also risk giving yourself a bacterial infection. And that’s just the basics when it comes to the interplay between makeup and acne. For an in-depth look at the role of makeup in causing acne, as well as practical tips, head over to our article on does makeup cause acne (and what to do about it).
You got a sweet tooth? Or maybe you’re addicted to cheese? And what about your coffee binge drinking problem? That fast food itch? Or maybe you’re always getting a pimple or two after that super spicy Thai takeout on Tuesdays?
Whatever your guilty pleasure when it comes to food, you should definitely be more careful about what you eat if you have an adult acne problem. Or, to be more precise, if you want to solve, or at least reduce, your acne problem. You may not believe it, but even the most everyday, mundane foods and beverages play a role in the skin’s health.
And most often than not, most of these popular foods and drinks don’t have a positive effect on your skin. While no single food will make you come down with an intense case of pimple plight, each food contributes to the dysregulation of one or more metabolic processes. Nudging a hormone here or there, certain foods and drinks prepare the terrain for the landing of acne on your adult skin.
Let’s take the effects of coffee on acne for example. Coffee has become super prevalent, and there’s hardly a person that doesn’t drink it, or hasn’t drank coffee at a point in their life. If you poll planet Earth on their drinking habits, I have a strong suspicion that coffee will come up second, right after water.
But what’s the danger of coffee when it comes to acne, and adult acne? Well, problem number one is that we almost never drink pure coffee. Nowadays coffee resembles a creamy soup made up of very little actual coffee, but lots of milk, sugars, creams, caramel, spices and other ingredients inside. In a sense, most commercial coffees are a processed sugar bomb, designed to appeal to your taste buds instead of just offering a beverage to keep you alert. And processed sugars, combined with milk and coffee (which acts as a catalyst for your metabolism, speeding everything up), can be a recipe for disaster for your skin.
Coffee nowadays is a pretty broad term, encompassing everything from dark, natural coffee prepared straight out of raw coffee beans, to large, pumpkin spice milk lattes. This wild variety makes it difficult to describe a single metabolic pathway that sums up the effects of coffee on the skin. Should you stop drinking coffee? Most likely not, and green tea is a good (and probably healthier) replacement, but there are things you should be aware of if you’re having problems with your skin. Maybe it would be better if you drank less, or avoided certain kinds of coffee? You’ll find the answers to that question and more in our in-depth article on the role of coffee in causing acne.
However, it’s not just coffee that seems to be the problem. Foods that are high in processed sugars are also suspected to contribute to the appearance of adult acne. The mechanisms are very similar to the ones that turn those soupy, milky lattes into acne-causing agents. Namely, the ingestion of intense amounts of sugars messes with the hormones and the body’s regulation mechanisms of sugar. The hormone that’s in charge of receiving all the sugar (glucose) from the foods and drinks, is called insulin. Insulin also decides how much sugar should be allowed in your bloodstream, and how much should be stored in the body.
The only problem is that when we ingest too much sugar too quickly, insulin is sort of caught off guard. And the best thing your body can do then, is just put a dam between your intestines and your bloodstream. This is a defense mechanism so you don’t get poisoned by too much sugar, but where does all the excess sugar go, then?
Well, it gets sent to different organs in the body which in turn, transform all that sugar into fat, and a portion of that goes to… You guessed it, your skin. The resulting hormonal imbalance and poor sugar handling after gorging on foods rich with processed sugar leads to an overproduction of sebum in your skin pores. Which, as we have pointed out several times above, can lead to them becoming clogged, and eventually transforming into acne.
And you don’t want that, do you? Who does… We all have our guilty pleasures, but why not experiment a bit? If you’re a fan of sweet and sugary foods, try to avoid them for a couple of weeks and see how your skin reacts. Sometimes it’s the little things. Maybe adjusting your diet ever so slightly will solve, or significantly reduce, that acne problem you’ve been having. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, it’s definitely worth a try.
So you’ve been hearing everyone tell you this - stop eating fast food if you want to get rid of acne. And there are all sorts of people telling you this. And this is your first burger and fries you’ve had in two weeks now. And you see the same people telling you that fast food causes acne feast themselves on cheeseburgers every other day. Something… Doesn’t feel right.
Could you be a part of a tiny minority that’s almost allergic to fast food, so you come down with acne? Perhaps, but that’s not very likely. So what gives?
The truth of the matter is that the popular notion that fast food, barbecue, mayo, butter, bacon, french fries, and so on lead to acne is a myth. But almost everyone is very convinced in this myth, and there are very deep and intuitive reasons why that might be the case. See, although science hasn’t found any correlation between eating fatty foods and an increased frequency of acne breakouts, people still believe that it does. Our bodies need fats, and you’ll take them, one way or another. It’s either butter or too much sugar (which becomes transformed into fats in the body), and which one do you think is the less harmful option for your health?
But, the myth persists. And there is a good reason why. I’ve felt it a thousand times, and I bet you felt it too. You know how whenever you sit down to eat a burger, or some french fries, or something greasy like that, the area around your mouth and sometimes your entire face feel… sort of sticky? We feel greasier, oilier, after eating greasy food. Hence, the conclusion that it leads to acne is a very intuitive one, and rooted in our actual senses. And so far, so good, the myth is onto something.
But here’s where it gets it wrong: it’s not the eating of the fast food that’s the problem. You can eat ten times as much fats, and if you still won’t get acne. And we all know a vegan person or two who can’t seem to ditch theirs. So if eating fat isn’t the problem, what is?
All the fat that didn’t get eaten, but got glued over our skin, there. See, whenever you eat, or cook something greasy (say, you decide to fry some french fries), there are tiny particles of cooking oil and grease that get dispersed in the surrounding air.
The contact is, of course, even greater when you actually sit down to eat a greasy meal. Your mouth, chin, nose, and sometimes even cheeks, come into contact with cooking oil, spices, grease, and so on. Incidentally, all of those parts of the face are the most prone to the appearance of acne, which should light a small light bulb in a corner of your mind. On top of that, if you don’t take good care of where you put your fingers, they may end up being super greasy too. And I assume that you won’t resist touching your face with those greasy fingers once or twice.
That’s why we feel like our faces are sticky with grease after eating such foods - because they actually are. And what did we say was one of the main causes for acne? Clogged pores. And what does all that grease do to our skin? Clog our pores.
Not such a great mystery now, right? Fast food, barbecue, mayo, french fries, steaks, butter, and even salads doused in vegetable oil can all contribute to adult acne. But not because of us actually ingesting the foods themselves, but because we inadvertently cover our skin with a fine layer of oil and grease.
So, wanna enjoy the occasional fast food meal, french fries, or a well-oiled salad? No problem - just wash your face and hands twice after the meal. Boom, adult acne cause eliminated.
Does dairy and milk cause acne? Well, as is the case with most foods, the answer is pretty much no. No single food can make a person develop acne. However, as we have seen above, foods can interact with our metabolism, and sometimes, it can lead to a dysregulation of our hormonal balance. That, as we have seen, can very well create all the necessary condition for an adult person to experience a bout of adult acne.
That being said, there is no shortage of anecdotal evidence on the internet claiming that milk and dairy are what’s causing acne. In some people, especially the part of the population that is lactose intolerant, this can very well be the case. Each individual, and often entire populations, have specific genetics and predispositions that are different from everyone else.
But we’re all aware that you can find anecdotal evidence for pretty much everything on the internet nowadays. There are many people who have miraculously cured themselves of cancer as well. And there are many others who have tried to follow the same path but didn’t succeed. Clearly, when it comes to human health, there is hardly a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem.
But what does science say? Well, there is no shortage of studies finding direct, albeit weak associations between diet and acne, but there is something there. An overview of the research conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology in 2009, and published by the US National Institute of Medicine in 2010, concluded that:
“Compelling evidence exists that high glycemic load diets may exacerbate acne. Dairy ingestion appears to be weakly associated with acne, and the roles of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, zinc, vitamin A, and dietary fiber remain to be elucidated.”
A study from 2005, however, found a more direct link between the total intake of milk and skim milk in teenage girls and boys, and the incidence of acne. The study concludes: “We found a positive association with acne for intake of total milk and skim milk. We hypothesize that the association with milk may be because of the presence of hormones and bioactive molecules in milk.” A study conducted among Malaysian teens in 2012 confirmed these findings, adding ice cream and milk combined with sugar to the list of acne-causing risk factors. While scientists are still unable to deduce the exact cause for dairy’s contribution to acne, the presence of growth hormones in cow milk and the added sugar seem to be the main suspects.
So, what should you do? As with the rest of the risk factors, it pays off to experiment. If youhave a problem with adult acne, give milk and dairy products a time out and see what happens. Even better, you can try replacing milk with a plant-based alternative, such as almond milk. Give it a try and who knows, you might surprise yourself. Pleasantly.
As you are acutely aware by now, the list of acne causes, and adult acne causes seems almost infinite. In the name of clarity, let’s recap and focus on the few fundamental factors that lead to acne: clogged pores. The main reasons for clogged pores are the following: hormonal imbalances, poor personal hygiene, and certain diets (that lead to hormonal imbalances and clogged pores).
Occasionally, the odd medicine or pill may be causing this, but in case that seems a probable cause to you, you should schedule a visit to your doctor as soon as possible. But enough about what causes, or may cause adult acne. Is there anything that you can do about it? Let’s see.
The number of acne causes can only be compared to the number of acne treatments and cures. From conventional treatments to skin care products, and anti-acne solutions you can buy over-the-counter, to home remedies, the choice is truly immense. Keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for acne - what works for you will not work for someone else and vice versa.
For the sake of clarity, we’ve taken the liberty to organize the adult acne treatments in two neat categories - home remedies (including the use of Vitamins), and conventional remedies (medical treatments, cosmetic procedures, and formulas sold over-the-counter).
When in doubt, go natural. From honey masks to green tea, egg whites masks, and banana peels, there is a lot to choose from. Home remedies for acne, especially those based on natural ingredients are some of the safest, albeit slowest, methods for acne prevention and treatment out there.
Their pros outweigh the cons by a long shot, so they’re worth a try. Because they’re natural you risk nothing, and since they’re super affordable, you spend almost nothing too. And you can gain so much - it can improve your skin health immensely, and even prevent another bout of adult acne.
Here is a list of some of the best DIY practices, and natural home remedies for adult acne that we researched and recommend:
As we mentioned above, this category covers a broad selection of prescribed medications, cosmetic treatments, and over-the-counter supplements. For some of these adult acne treatments, you might need a doctor’s approval and official diagnosis, along with prescriptions. For others, such as supplements and some of the cosmetic treatments, that won’t be necessary. Our team at Misumi took the time to research some of the best conventional treatments for acne out there, and prepared the following guides for you:
To be beset by acne long after your teenage years is far from ideal. But, you’re not alone. The numbers show that adult acne is a problem that’s on the rise in our modern times - a silver lining that unites us in dealing with this problem.
As we clarified in this article’s introductory sections, the main cause for acne comes down to clogged pores. And the pores, themselves, can become clogged as a consequence of many things. But mostly, they come down to hormonal imbalances, poor personal hygiene, or perhaps an aspect of your diet (such as processed sugars or dairy products).
But what about adult acne treatments? Well, the number one rule is to refrain from touching your face. When you feel that you absolutely have to, make sure that you do it with clean, freshly washed hands. In addition, you should keep your pillows, sheets, smartphones, tablets, and computers clean too. Finally, developing useful morning skin care routines and healthy habits seems simple, but can go a long way.
As for treatments, we suggested a long list of both natural home remedies, and conventional treatments above. It goes without saying, but it’s always a good idea to discuss any treatment with your doctor and dermatologist before going forward with it. In case nothing of this was of help to you, or you simply needed something different, check out our ultimate guide for flawless skin. If you are short on time, however, and the proposed home remedies and medical treatments won’t do you any good, then head over to our handy article on getting rid of acne fast.
In conclusion, while adult acne may be an annoying situation to deal with, there are plenty of solutions that can solve the problem. It only comes down to finding out which adult acne treatment works best for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment, especially when it comes to using nature’s gifts. And remember - you’re not alone. Be wise and consult with your doctors and dermatologists, and keep your head up. Sooner or later, you’ll find a solution that makes your skin clear, fresh, glowing and vibrant.
This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.