Just when you thought you were through your awkward teenage years, they’ve come back—in the form of adult acne.
“Adult acne is more common than most people think. Fifty percent of women and 25 percent of men over the age of 18 will be affected by acne. Fortunately, there are effective treatments available,” says John Doux, M.D., who is a board-certified dermatologist affiliated with Eden Medical CenterOpens new window.
During adolescence, our bodies begin producing chemicals called hormones in larger amounts that help our bodies mature. Teenage acne is caused by the effect of hormones on the tiny organs called sebaceous glands that lie beneath the pores on our skin.
When stimulated by hormones during adolescence, these glands produce an oily, waxy matter called sebum that’s released into our pores to lubricate and waterproof our skin. The sebum is made up of fat, wax and dead skin cells.
“Most teenage acne is generated by the body’s response to bacteria,” explains Dr. Doux. “First, sebum is overproduced. This excess combines with dead skin cells and clogs the pore where bacteria begin to grow. The body reacts by releasing white blood cells to fight the overgrowth of bacteria. This causes inflammation in the pore, creating a pimple.”
But adult acne in women is driven by a more complex set of conditions.
“Adults with acne fall into two groups,” says Dr. Doux. “The first group has overactive sebaceous glands that continue to produce sebum, usually in response to stress, well beyond the high school and college years.”
For adults in this first group, pimples form close to the skin surface due to excess bacteria. As in the teen years, this type of acne tends to appear on the forehead, cheeks and chin.
“The second group is predominantly made up of women with oil glands that are oversensitive to the hormones responsible for producing menstruation. During the hormonal surge right before menstruation, their sebaceous glands start producing too much sebum, which causes adult acne,” explains Dr. Doux.
For women in this second group, this type of cyclical acne has different characteristics than teen acne:
Tips for managing adult acne include: