Causes of Pimples on the Face in Adults (and What to Do about Them)
There are few things in life quite as frustrating as adult acne. So many of us make it through our awkward pimple-ridden teen years, clinging on to the hope that we’ll outgrow our acne in our twenties and finally be able enjoy our skin without worries, only to discover that those pesky breakouts still keep flaring up well into adulthood.
Unfortunately, many people can keep on experiencing acne in their 30s, 40s and even beyond. According to The American Academy of Dermatology adult acne is actually on the rise, now affecting up to as many as 15% of women. Why is adult acne on the rise? No one can say for sure, but one speculation connects increasing industrialisation and pollution with the increase: “One reason for increased prevalence is due to living in a developed area,” says dermatologist Ainah U. Tan, MD. “Studies have shown that industrialised nations have higher rates of acne.”
While research shows that adult acne seems to disproportionately affect women, acne can affect men or women of any age from puberty onwards. One study reported that “female patients account for two thirds of visits made to dermatologists for acne, and one third of all dermatology office visits for acne are by women who are older than 25 years.”
What is adult acne, and how is it different from teen acne?
Adult acne isn’t really any different from teen acne, except that your skin may be less resilient with age and so any treatments you use to keep breakouts at bay need to take into consideration your skin’s other needs. Products that worked on your skin in your teen years may no longer be suitable, so it’s important to tailor your skincare routine to the condition your skin is in now.
Over time, you’ll probably have built up more acne marks and scars too, so using products that help fight hyperpigmentation, scarring, and that generally even out skin tone and texture will be more important when taking steps to get clear skin as an adult. It’s also possible to get what’s known as “adult onset acne”, which means that you’ve never experienced acne before but are suddenly finding that your skin is breaking out. This type of adult acne is most common in women who are going through the menopause.
What causes spots on the face in adults?
In both teenage and adult skin, acne begins with a blockage caused by a build up of excess oil or sebum that can then attract bacteria and become inflamed, as white blood cells try to heal the affected area. When these white blood cells die, they turn into pus, which can either be present in painful cysts and nodules deeper in the skin, or in a visible white peak on a red pustule on the skin’s surface.
The excess sebum that caused the acne in the first place? That’s generally caused by an increase in hormones called androgens, which can enlarge the sebaceous oil glands (in hair follicles) and increase the oil on our skins. Most of us experience a large increase in androgens as teenagers, which is why acne is so common during puberty, but hormonal shifts can also be triggered by other things that affect many of us well into our adult lives.
One of the great things about Niacinamide compared to other high-strength anti-acne ingredients is that it doesn’t increase your skin’s sensitivity to UV rays, meaning you can use it both in the morning and at night.
The prevalence of adult acne in women, for example, can be explained by hormonal fluctuation at different points in her life, including:
- During a monthly cycle, before the period
- As a result of starting or stopping hormonal birth control pills
- During pregnancy
- Before and during the menopause
Acne can also be a symptom of PCOS, a condition that causes the development of ovarian cysts, so if you develop acne or it becomes suddenly worse along with other symptoms like weight gain and irregular periods, you should talk to a doctor.
Other triggers for adult acne include:
- Family history: When you have a hereditary predisposition to develop acne, you’ll be more likely to experience adult acne.
- Stress: Research shows that our bodies can also start to produce more androgens when we feel stressed, which in turn can trigger the overproduction of sebum.
- Medication: Various drugs can cause acne, including steroids, lithium, and some drugs that are commonly used to treat epilepsy.
- Diet: While this point remains controversial, several studies have linked diet with acne.
- Smoking: It’s generally agreed that smoking can have an adverse effect on your skin at any age.
How can you get rid of spots as an adult?
There are several factors to consider when you’re figuring out an action plan to achieve clear skin.
- Use these prompts to figure out which steps you need to take to get rid of spots as an adult:
- Has your skin been consistently bad since your teen years, or has it suddenly started breaking out?- If it’s suddenly breaking out, have you made any lifestyle and/or diet changes recently? Are you experiencing any symptoms in conjunction with the breakouts? Have you been to see a doctor about it?
- Is the acne manageable and relatively superficial on the surface of your skin, or is it deeper and more painful? If it’s deeper and more painful, have you been to see a doctor or dermatologist about it?
- Have you ever been tested for allergies?
- Are you particularly stressed at the moment?
- Have you noticed a pattern to your breakouts, i.e. they tend to happen right before your period every month?
- Are you going through anything that could be affecting your hormones, for example taking medication, pregnancy, peri-menopause, menopause?
Once you’ve looked into allergies, other potential health issues like PCOS, and contributing factors such as hormonal shifts and stress, you can work with a doctor or dermatologist to alleviate those underlying causes to get rid of your spots.
Other than these deep health and lifestyle factors, the good news is that most people will see a significant improvement in the quality of their skin by using products containing ingredients that are clinically-proven to help get rid of acne.
The products and regimens we recommend to treat acne are suitable for any age, but a few ingredients are particularly effective for treating adult acne specifically. Niacinamide is a multi-purpose ingredient, for example, that can reduce the inflammation that leads to both blemishes and post-acne scars, as well as smoothing fine lines and increasing collagen production in the skin to strengthen the skin’s barrier and protect from dehydration and damage.
Our anti-acne routines include a variety of highly-effective ingredients like Niacinamide, Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid that work together to treat active acne, prevent future breakouts, and heal skin damage as fast as possible. If you need advice on the best skincare routine for your skin type, make sure you use our free virtual skin consultation service to chat to an advisor. And remember, even if you’re experiencing adult acne that has lasted many years, the right treatment can help clear it up at any age.