Acne that appears during adulthood after the age of twenty-five years is called adult acne. Causes of adult acne should be investigated, as there is likely to be an underlying cause, especially when it has broken out for the first time during your grown-up years.

Though it is seen in both males and females, it is more common in women than in men. It is the eighth most common skin disease worldwide and about 80% of adults who develop acne are women. This is possibly due to the link of hormonal changes in the woman’s body during periods, pregnancy, and menopause.

You could get it when you are over 30 years, 40 years, or even 50 years of age. You may even develop them for the first time after the age of 50 years. This is typically seen in women during menopause. This is called “adult-onset acne”.

There are a number of reasons that cause acne breakouts. Some are more specific to you getting acne in your adult years. Stress and hormonal changes are the two most common causes of this late appearance.

Adult acne can occur on any of the sites of the body, which are prone. You can get them on the forehead, cheeks, chin, around the mouth, on the neck, on the back, and on the buttocks.

What are the causes of adult acne?

Most acne in adults develops as a result of inflammation and clogging of the skin pores by dead skin cells and other debris. Sometimes, there can be more than one factor that triggers the onset. This condition is also known to run in families.

Acne that resurfaces in adulthood

Adults who had acne during adolescence may find that it reappears in their later years. The cause for this reappearance is not known. Usually, the same factors that cause acne in adolescents are at play in adulthood.


When you are emotionally stressed, your body responds by secreting more androgen hormones from the adrenal glands. This is the male sex hormone, testosterone. This stimulates the sebaceous glands under the skin to secrete more sebum into the hair follicles. Sebum is an oily substance and excess of it causes the hair follicles to get blocked.

The hair follicles open onto the skin through the skin pores. The sebum, the dead skin cells, and the bacteria, which are normally present on the skin get trapped inside the blocked hair follicle. This can clog the skin pores. The hair follicles get enlarged due to clogging and this is seen on the surface as a pimple. An outbreak of pimples is called acne.

Hormonal changes

Changes in the hormone levels in adult females during periods, menopause, or pregnancy are three reasons why women get acne in their adult years. Starting birth control pills or stopping them can also be the reason because that causes fluctuations in hormonal levels in the body.

Certain medications

Certain medications like anabolic steroids, steroids (oral and topical), antiseizure drugs, anti-tuberculosis drugs rifampicin and isoniazid, lithium, and medications containing iodine can cause acne in adults.

If you are taking these medicines and develop this skin condition, you should consult your doctor who will give an alternative medicine, which does not affect your skin.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Another cause of acne in young adult women is polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS is a hormonal disorder. Though its reason is not yet fully clear, it is believed to be the fallout of resistance to the hormone insulin. In PCOS, acne which started during the teenage years continues even after the age of 25 years or it can first appear after the age of 25 years.

Acne due to PCOS is seen in the hormonally sensitive areas, which include the lower third of the face. You will also see them on the cheeks, the area around the mouth, the jawline, the chin, and the upper part of the neck.

Genetic causes

The tendency of adult acne to run in families is pretty much established. If your father or mother had acne, it is more than likely that you will also develop it. As a matter of fact, if both parents have this condition, three out of their four children will develop it.

Certain cosmetics

Certain hair preparations and face cosmetics, especially those that have an oily consistency can cause you to get acne during your adult years. While buying, examine the label to see if the product is non-acnegenic and oil-free.

Chronic physical friction on the skin

If certain activities exert chronic physical pressure on the skin, you may develop acne on the concerned part of the body.

This is called acne mechanica. For example, chafing from wearing a helmet can cause acne to break out on the forehead. An unwashed and tight-fitting chin strap too can cause a breakout on the chin.

If you drive a car daily for long periods, your back does not get ventilation because it is in direct contact with the back of your seat. This can cause heavy sweating, which can clog the hair follicles on the back and cause back acne.

Pollution and hot weather

Pollution, hot weather, and high humidity are other factors that cause you to sweat profusely on the back and give rise to acne breakouts on the back. Wearing tight and nonporous clothing makes you more prone.

Exposure to chlorinated industrial chemicals

Chronic exposure to industrial chemicals like chlorinated dioxins can cause symptoms similar to acne.

Do certain foods cause adult acne?

The answer is NO. You could eat anything, even the greasiest of foods, but that will not cause acne. However, it is always wise to eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to have a healthy and glowing skin.