Adults can get acne well into their 30s and beyond. For some, the acne onslaught that began during adolescence just never let up. This is called persistent acne, and it happens to more women than men. And late-onset acne can hit those who never suffered teen acne at all. Late-onset acne can also be the reappearance of acne, like a bad high school yearbook photo someone posts of you on Facebook.
Adult acne tends to pop up around the mouth, chin, and jaw, though the pimples and nodules can appear on the back and chest as well. No matter what your age, acne is caused by excess buildup of dead skin cells, bacteria, and sebum - the natural oils that lubricate the skin.
This sort of buildup is par for the course during the hormone roller coaster of puberty, but is much less common in adulthood. A person may be genetically predisposed to acne. And in rarer instances, acne is a visible sign of a more serious medical condition. Tumors of the adrenal gland or ovaries may trigger acne, and polycystic ovary syndrome may be spotted by a combination of symptoms including acne, excessive facial hair, thinning scalp hair, and irregular periods.
In most cases, though, the most likely causes of adult acne are:
The ebb and flow of a woman's hormones: A woman may be more prone to pimples at points along her ride on the hormone tides of menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause. This is why birth control pills may be prescribed to women struggling with acne, since oral contraceptives containing estrogen and progestin can stabilize the hormonal fluctuations of the monthly cycle. Aside from contraceptives, a woman can track her cycle to plan ahead for potential breakouts.
The effects of starting or stopping medications: If a woman stops taking birth control pills, she may notice more frequent breakouts. Use of other types of medication may activate acne, including corticosteroids and anticonvulsants. Do not stop taking a medication because of acne. Talk to your doctor about your concerns.
The body's response to stress: When you kick into high-anxiety mode, your body kicks up its production of a certain kind of hormones called androgens. And those androgens crank up your oil glands and hair follicles and make you more prone to pimples, pustules, and general skin trouble.
The products you use on or near your skin: Cosmetic products can clog pores, an invitation to acne. And hair care products (sprays, gels, pomades) can have the same effect. Keep this in mind when applying makeup or styling your hair and consider switching to non-comedogenic products, which are specially formulated to not clog pores.