Here’s Why Adults Have More Acne than Teens

Nykia Spradley
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Here’s Why Adults Have More Acne than Teens
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Adulting is hard, especially when it concerns our skin. In fact, it may come as a shock to some that our breakouts tend to increase with age. As depressing as that info is, it’s not surprising, considering the stressful state of our world, compounded by a few other factors, such as side effects of medication and undiagnosed medical conditions. Even if you didn’t suffer from acne as a teen (lucky you!), the cold hard truth is you can still experience it as an adult.

Ahead, Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, board-certified NYC dermatologist and clinical attending at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai Hospital, breaks down the science behind this shift and how to treat it post-adolescence.

MORE: Kendall Jenner Is Being Shamed for Her Facial Acne

Why We Break Out

Changing hormonal levels. Certain hormones, particularly testosterone, trigger increased oil production promoting acne. The surge in those hormones could be from your period, pre-menopause, menopause, starting or stopping birth control, a hormonal IUD (intrauterine devices), or eating hormone-enhanced foods (i.e. non-organic meat and dairy). “Women are more likely to deal with adult acne than men due to hormonal changes,” Levin says.

Stress. Turn on the news for two seconds and you’ll understand why. “Unfortunately, chronic stress elevates not only cortisol levels but also androgens. Stimulating androgen production causes an increase in sebum, which clogs pores and increases the overgrowth of a bacteria called P. Acnes,” Levin says. It then leads to inflammation underneath the skin or cystic acne.” In a recent study conducted by Differin, 90 percent of those surveyed reported they have experienced a breakout while stressed.

Overcleansing and overscrubbing. Too much roughness on skin can result in dryness and irritation. And unfortunately, aging skin is also drier (in part due to the cumulative effects of sun/UV exposure).

MORE: How to Treat Acne Breakouts in the Winter

The Difference Between Adult and Teenage Acne 

“Teens tend to break out primarily on their face, chest, and back, due to to the surge in hormones called androgens, which occurs during puberty,” says Levin.  Adult acne is much more complicated because of the different hormones and other lifestyle factors involved. As an adult, there’s also a chance that your acne will overlap with other skin conditions such as rosacea.

How to treat it. Levin explains that the surge in dermatologists treating adult acne may very well be the shift in treatment options. “For many years, those with adult acne would often deal with their acne with over-the-counter remedies, but now, as dermatologists, we are able to offer many more treatment options, combined with in-office procedures to successfully treat and maintain those with adult acne.”

Some of Levin’s in-office treatment options are blue and red LED light therapy, which uses antibacterial and anti-inflammatory lights. There’s also radiofrequency microneedling to deliver heat energy down to the pores in order to essentially heat and ablate the oil glands to destroy oil production. Lastly, corticosteroid injections help decrease inflammation to reduce the size and pain of inflamed pimples or cysts.

Thankfully, there are still plenty of highly effective over-the-counter options, too. Of course, it depends on how severe or mild your acne is, so check with your derm before purchasing anything. Butiff you prefer to treat with an OTC, one of these options may get you in the clear quickly and effectively.

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STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | Mineral Fusion Charcoal Gel Cleanser
Mineral Fusion Charcoal Gel Cleanser

Starting with the right cleanser is key for acned skin. The charcoal base in this gel cleanser goes deep to pull out pore-clogging grime that causes breakouts.

$15, at Mineral Fusion

 

Photo: Mineral Fusion
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | DHC Acne Spot Therapy
DHC Acne Spot Therapy

Sulfur clear, a blend of green tea and aloe, helps calm, while vitamin C and licorice brighten up any dark spots left behind.

$19.50, at DHC

Photo: DHC
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products |
Differin Gel

"Retinoids are the absolute backbone of an acne treatment since they treat and prevent acne by declogging pores by normalizing skin cell turnover and as an anti-inflammatory," says Levin. This OTC gel has that.

$11, at Target

Photo: Differin
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | Arbonne Clear Future
Arbonne Clear Future Acne Spot Treatment

White willow bark, sage, and salicylic acid clear up pesky pimples without overdrying skin.

$31, at Arbonne

Photo: Arbonne
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | Tarte Blemish Bully
Tarte Blemish Bully

In addition to the salicylic acid in this vegan formula, there's also caffeine to help stimulate skin to give it a natural—not oily—looking glow.

$16, at Tarte

Photo: Tarte
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | HUM Nutrition Daily Cleanse
HUM Nutrition Daily Cleanse

"Diet is always a question I get. Research currently supports that a diet that has a high glycemic index [which elevates blood sugar levels] can increase the risk of acne, as well as dairy products due to hormones given to cows," says Levin. Start the skin clearing from within with a toxin-removing supplement like this one.

$25, at Hum Nutrition

Photo: HUM Nutrition
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | Indie Lee Blemish Lotion
Indie Lee Blemish Lotion

Dab this sulfur, clay, and salicylic acid potion on fresh pimples before bed, and by morning they'll be a lot less inflamed.

$26, at Indie Lee

Photo: Indie Lee
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | Nerium Prolistic Skin Balancing Probiotic Lotion
Nerium Prolistic Skin Balancing Probiotic Lotion

Treat acne beyond the face with a pro- and pre-biotic blend that will help rebalance skin that's out of whack.

$60, at Nerium

Photo: Nerium Prolistic
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | Ao Skincare Protect 30
Ao Skincare Protect 30

Although sunscreen may seem like it would exacerbate acne, it's actually critical in helping repair it—especially the acne marks that come along with breakouts. Try a nongreasy formula like this one that will protect and won't clog pores.

$60, at Ao Skincare

Photo: Ao Skincare
STYLECASTER | Adult Acne Products | Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask
Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask

If you need a potent spot treatment or a weekly skin management product for brewing breakouts, slather on this sulfur mask.

$55, at Sephora

Photo: Sunday Riley

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