Adult Acne: Why Are You Still Getting Acne in Your 30s?

At 30 years old, you’re prob­a­bly think­ing more about your career, your home, or your fam­i­ly than you’re think­ing about acne. So, when a pim­ple appears one day — and then anoth­er and then anoth­er — it might catch you off guard. Isn’t acne a teenager’s prob­lem? Why are you get­ting acne in your 30s?

While acne may be more like­ly dur­ing your teen years, that doesn’t mean that it can’t make appear­ances lat­er in life. 

Acne that occurs after age 25 is called adult acne” or post-ado­les­cent acne.” Just like teenage acne, it devel­ops due to:

  • Bac­te­ria grow­ing in your pores
  • Excess or high pro­duc­tion of oil in your pores

There are a few dif­fer­ences in appear­ance. Unlike teen acne break­outs — which often appear on the entire face — adult break­outs typ­i­cal­ly occur on the cheeks, jaw­line, and chin. Also, teen acne can be a both inflam­ma­to­ry (red and sen­si­tive, includ­ing cysts, nod­ules, papules, pus­tules) and non-inflam­ma­to­ry (black­heads and white­heads), where­as adult acne is main­ly just papules and pustules.

Learn more about dif­fer­ent types of acne.

So, what caus­es these prob­lems in the first place — and why are you still expe­ri­enc­ing them? 

Here’s why that pesky teenage” prob­lem might be back in your life as an adult:

Your Hor­mones Are Fluctuating

Hor­mone imbal­ances can cause acne break­outs. These hor­mone changes may be the result of:

  • Menopause. In fact, adult acne is most com­mon in women who are going through menopause. It can occur if estro­gen drops while male hor­mones like testos­terone stay the same or increase. For­tu­nate­ly, it’s rare for acne to con­tin­ue after menopause.
  • Peri­ods. Estro­gen and prog­es­terone are hor­mones that are linked to acne, and these hor­mone lev­els go up and down through­out your cycle.
  • Preg­nan­cy. Women with acne see improve­ments dur­ing the first trimester, as estro­gen lev­els increase. Acne can wors­en dur­ing the third trimester, when andro­gen hor­mone lev­els increase.
  • Birth con­trol pills. Adult acne can devel­op after stop­ping birth con­trol pills.

There is also a link between acne and the hor­mones that your body may pro­duce in response to stress. Stress can cre­ate an excess of hor­mones that are asso­ci­at­ed with acne, like cor­ti­sol or andro­gens (a group of sex hor­mones). While the jury is still out on whether stress can actu­al­ly cause acne, it is known that it can wors­en exist­ing acne.

Expe­ri­enc­ing adult acne? Make an appoint­ment with a der­ma­tol­o­gist at Duly Health and Care 

Your Face Still Hasn’t Adjust­ed to Wear­ing a Mask

If your acne start­ed right around the time masks entered the scene, it’s not sur­pris­ing. Before 2020, our faces weren’t used to being cov­ered with masks. Under masks, mois­ture can build up, trap­ping bac­te­ria and dead skin cells — and poten­tial­ly caus­ing acne.

Don’t let that stop you from wear­ing a mask if rec­om­mend­ed to, just make sure you’re pay­ing extra spe­cial atten­tion to the prod­ucts you use on your skin and clean­ing and mois­tur­iz­ing your face daily. 

Also read, Tips for Clear and Healthy Skin While Mask­ing

Your Skin­care Reg­i­men Needs a Makeover

If you are dili­gent about using skin­care prod­ucts and wash­ing your face, it can be frus­trat­ing to still find your­self break­ing out. 

You might not be using the right prod­ucts. Many skin­care and hair care prod­ucts, sun­screens, and types of make-up con­tain oils that can lead to acne. You might also be wash­ing your face too much. While it seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive (what harm can extra clean­ing do?), scrub­bing too often can irri­tate your skin and cause acne.

Also read, Skin­care at Every Age

You Have Oth­er Risk Fac­tors for Devel­op­ing Acne

Some risk fac­tors for adult acne, like being a woman or hav­ing a fam­i­ly his­to­ry of adult acne, can’t be changed.

How­ev­er, you could poten­tial­ly ben­e­fit from mak­ing a few changes to your dai­ly habits.

Stud­ies have shown that nico­tine, lack of sleep, a diet high in sug­ar, and some med­ica­tions may all be con­nect­ed with acne, mak­ing acne worse or increas­ing your like­li­hood of devel­op­ing it. Chang­ing cer­tain habits, like get­ting more sleep, might aid in clear­ing up acne. If acne is a side effect of a med­ica­tion, talk to your provider about switch­ing med­ica­tions or find­ing oth­er ways to con­trol your acne. (But remem­ber — do not stop or change med­ica­tions with­out talk­ing to your provider).

Whether your acne is due to a habit you can con­trol, fluc­tu­at­ing hor­mones, or sim­ply the luck of the draw, you don’t need to let a bout of acne stress you out. There are plen­ty of treat­ment options, from over-the-counter creams to chem­i­cal peels, acne-heal­ing facials, and pre­scrip­tion ther­a­py that can help you keep your skin clear and acne-free.

  • Ted Conrad, MD, Wheaton Dermatologist

    My mission is to provide the absolute best medical, surgical and cosmetic care to help you achieve healthy and beautiful skin.