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Adult Acne: Exploring the triggers and your treatment options

Just when you thought you could step away from the pimple creams, you find yourself in old familiar territory dealing with acne.

But this time, it's different; you're older and wiser, and the pimples seem different; inflamed, painful lumps that congregate in one particular area of your face, usually your chin and jawline.

Turns out, you can reach the age of confidence, but you might still be plagued with pimples. It's adult acne and is as confusing as it is frustrating.

So, what is Adult Acne?

Adult acne refers to the development of acne, which continues beyond the teenage years into adulthood. This can be a frustrating and sometimes emotionally challenging experience, as many of us assume we left acne behind in our adolescent years.

The life stages of adult acne.

Adult acne can vary in when it might develop, but it often becomes more prevalent during specific life stages. Here are the typical age ranges when adult acne might occur:

  1. Late Teens to Early 20s: It might feel like a continuation of the acne from our teenage years, which is progressing into the early twenties. Hormonal fluctuations during adolescence and the transition into adulthood can contribute to ongoing breakouts.
  2. Mid to Late 20s: For some of us, acne may continue to be a concern even into our mid to late twenties. Hormonal imbalances, stress, and lifestyle factors can contribute to breakouts during this period.
  3. The late 20s to Early 30s: You may have dodged teenage acne and experienced clear skin until the sudden onset of adult acne in your late twenties or early thirties comes as a shock. Hormonal shifts, changes in birth control methods, and other factors can play a role.
  4. Perimenopause (Late 30s to Early 50s): Perimenopause is the transitional phase before menopause, from the late 30s to the early 50s. Hormonal fluctuations during this time can lead to adult acne in some women, particularly if they're sensitive to changes in hormone levels.

Regardless of which stage of life, adult acne can dramatically impact our confidence and discovering the causes can assist in determining the best way to treat adult acne.

What causes adult acne?

Hormonal Fluctuations: Adult acne is intricately tied to the dynamic interplay of the reproductive hormones oestrogen, progesterone and the androgen, testosterone. Fluctuations in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, perimenopause, and conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) set off a chain of events that significantly impact the skin.

The convergence of hormonal fluctuations, and increased androgen levels, lead to sebum overproduction, changes in skin cell formation, increased bacterial infection, and inflammation, collectively setting the stage for adult acne.

Stress: Chronic stress triggers the release of hormones like cortisol, which can stimulate oil glands to produce more sebum (skin oil). Excess sebum production can contribute to clogged pores and acne formation.

Diet: While the link between diet and acne is complex and not fully understood, some studies suggest that diets high in refined sugars can lead to metabolic disruptions and increased inflammatory mediators, which can actively trigger inflammatory responses, possibly including adult acne. There are also studies and possible theories that suggest that in some individuals, dairy products may contribute to inflammation that could lead to adult acne.

Genetics: If your parents or close family members have a history of acne, you might also be genetically predisposed to the underlying causes that trigger adult acne.

Overactive Oil Glands: Overactive sebaceous (oil) glands can produce excess oil, mixing with dead skin cells and clogging pores, creating an environment conducive to acne development.

Bacterial Infections: Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) is a bacterium that lives on the skin and is associated with acne. When the follicles become clogged, P. acnes can thrive, leading to inflammation and acne lesions.

Adult Acne Treatment Solutions 

While the hormonal fluctuations contributing to adult acne can feel beyond your control, seeking professional advice will empower you. You could start out with a professional skin consultation and treatment recommendation plan from a qualified Aesthetics Rx skin specialist. Our stockist locator is a great place to find a trusted location. In more severe cases, we recommend seeking medical advice from your GP or a dermatologist.

Successfully managing adult acne at home will allow your skin to slowly heal, minimise scarring and restore skin health during this challenging time.

Treating the skin as you did in your teenage years is tempting, but nothing could be further from what you should do to care for your skin than stripping your skin's delicate skin barrier.

Attempting to treat adult acne alone can actually make the condition worse. Using harsh cleansers, over-exfoliating, or not properly cleansing the skin can disrupt the skin's natural microbiome and worsen adult acne.

Likewise, avoiding moisturisation out of fear of a breakout can leave the skin dehydrated, more vulnerable to bacterial infection, and unable to protect and heal itself effectively.

Let's look at what happens to the skin when the skin becomes overwhelmed and what you can do to keep it balanced and healthy.

  1. Imbalance of Oil Production: Dehydrated skin lacks adequate moisture, leading the skin to produce more oil to compensate for the dryness. This excessive oil production, also known as sebum, can clog pores and contribute to the development of acne.
  2. Compromised Barrier Function: The skin's outermost layer, known as the lipid barrier or moisture barrier, plays a crucial role in maintaining hydration and protecting the skin from external irritants. When the skin is dehydrated, this barrier can become compromised, making the skin more vulnerable to bacteria, pollutants, and other factors that can trigger acne.
  3. Increased Inflammation: Dehydrated skin often becomes more sensitive and prone to inflammation. Inflammation is a critical factor in developing acne, as it can lead to redness, swelling, and the formation of pimples.
  4. Delayed Skin Cell Turnover: Properly hydrated skin tends to have a more balanced rate of skin cell turnover, where old skin cells are shed and replaced with new ones. Dehydrated skin can lead to a slower turnover rate, causing dead skin cells to accumulate on the skin's surface and potentially clog pores, leading to acne.
  5. Impaired Healing: The skin may have a more challenging time healing and repairing itself. This can be problematic when dealing with existing acne lesions, as proper healing is essential to prevent scarring and further inflammation.

Maintaining a proper skincare routine:

  • Gentle Cleansing: Use a gentle cleanser, like Aesthetic Rx Refining Mousse Cleanser, to cleanse the skin without stripping the skin or disrupting the skin's microbiome.
  • Hydration: Use hydrating products like Aesthetic Rx Microbiome Balancing Mist, which contains ingredients like glycerin, niacinamide B3, and panthenol B5 to replenish moisture in the skin.
  • Moisturise: Apply a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturiser such as Aesthetic Rx Daily Moisturiser Combination helps maintain the skin's hydration levels and strengthen its barrier function.
  • Exfoliation: Incorporate gentle exfoliation like Aesthetic Rx Ultimate Serum which contains salicylic acid to promote healthy skin cell turnover and prevent the buildup of dead skin cells. This can help prevent pore congestion and acne.
  • Sun Protection: Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen such as Aesthetic Rx Ultra Protection Sunscreen SPF50+ to protect the skin from UV damage, which can worsen inflammation and contribute to acne scarring.
  • Use Retinoids: Consider using topical vitamin A (retinoids) serums such as the Aesthetic Rx Retinol Vitamin A Serum, progressing to Vitamin A Serum 1% Retinol and Total Repair DNA in your skincare routine. These serums can help fight acne by unclogging pores, promoting cell turnover, and reducing inflammation. Start slowly to avoid irritation, only progressing to Total Repair DNA Serum when the skin can tolerate retinol well. Remember to moisturise well while using vitamin A to minimise dryness.


Adult acne can be complicated, with several factors contributing to breakouts. At Aesthetic Rx, we believe seeking proper advice and guidance is crucial.

A skincare professional from Aesthetic Rx can assist you in better understanding how hormonal fluctuations trigger adult acne and offer a targeted treatment approach, focusing on treatment solutions and effective homecare. In more severe cases, medical advice may be appropriate for hormonal regulation and anti-inflammatory interventions through medications. In both instances, specific Aesthetic Rx skincare treatments and homecare solutions can provide relief and progressive results.


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