Adult Acne: Causes and Ways to Get Rid of It Once and For All

Being plagued by adult acne can be a nightmare that nobody wants to go through. For unfortunate souls that do experience this, treating adult acne can be difficult because of how persistent they can be. Breakouts can reoccur frequently and ruin the beauty of your skin.

woman applying product to acne.

It is important that you understand what is causing your acne and which type of adult acne you have so that you can opt for an appropriate treatment to get rid of it. Where waking up with a pimple was a common occurrence during the teenage years; it can be frustratingly if it continues to happen during your 20s and 30s as well. 

Acne cases are on the Rise

Adult acne has been known to be on the rise over the last few decades. In fact, …in a study of 92 private dermatology clinics [in the year 2015], it was found that adults seeking specialised acne treatment had increased by 200%“.

Since many factors play a role in causing adult acne, the process of elimination as well as consulting a dermatologist can help you to identify what is causing your adult acne. Once you complete this step, you can concentrate all your time, money, and effort towards getting rid of acne for good. It is said that we can locate all major factors that relate to adult acne within life’s increasing stresses, our changing lifestyles, our hectic schedules and unhealthy food habits.

A stressed woman lying on a bed with her hands on her head

These factors result in increased sebum or natural oil production by the skin’s sebaceous glands. This excess oil fills up the pores and dirt, dead skin cells, and pollutants from the environment easily stick to this oil to plug the poresSuch plugged pores become breeding grounds for bacteria and in no time you may find a huge pimple on your skin.

Let us look at adult acne in detail to get a better understanding so that the best course of treatment can be established.

What Is Adult Acne?

Acne that forms on the skin beyond the puberty stage and during adulthood is that of ‘Adult Acne’. To begin with, the pores in the skin become blocked with excess sebum, dirt, grime, dead skin cells, and skin debris. This can then result in a bacterial infection within such clogged pores that eventually leads to pus formation and acne. Such acne is usually more determined than the ones that you experienced during the teenage years. Where teenage acne is typically due to the upheaval in the hormones that occurs within young bodies, Acne in adults can have a different cause… all of which we go into more detail below.

closeup of a persons chin showing acne.

What Causes Adult Acne?

The changes in the hormone levels, especially androgens, that occur during phases such as menstruation, pregnancy, etc. is just one factor that could be causing these unwanted blemishes to form on your face. Apart from the hormonal imbalance, other factors responsible for adult acne are as follows:

These may cause adult acne of different types and may either be directly or indirectly responsible for the pimples in your adulthood.

  • Higher stress levels lead to increased male hormones in the body that cause an increase in the natural oil production by the skin.
  • Pollutants in the atmosphere
  • Comedogenic skincare and makeup products cause excessive build-up on the skin
  • Specific food items, especially those you might be allergic to.
  • An unhygienic skincare routine, such as not removing makeup before going to bed
  • Certain medications such as corticosteroids and lithium
  • Genetic predisposition (family history of adult acne)

Suggested Articles: How To Tell If Your Diet Is Making Your Acne Worse & Is Your Hair Causing Your Acne: 15 Ways Your Hair Could Be Making You Break Out?

What Are The Different Types Of Adult Acne?

Adult acne is classified into different grades or types depending on the severity.

Grade I Adult Acne – Comedones

A Comedone is the most basic type of acne lesion that forms when a pore becomes blocked. The tip of the bump that forms on the skin can be closed and looks lighter or whiter than the surrounding skin. This is known as a white head.

When this tip opens up, the oxygen in the air oxidizes the materials that are clogging the pore giving the tip a brownish or blackish colour. Such a Comedone is called a blackhead.

Whiteheads and blackheads are the first stages of acne and are commonly on the nose, around the nose, around the mouth, on the chin, and on the forehead.

Grade II Adult Acne – Papules and Pustules

When Comedones progress to the moderate level of acne, they develop some pinkness or redness around them. There is usually mild inflammation or swelling as well. Such acne is called papules and should not be picked at. In fact, if papules become pus-filled due to the infection by the acne-causing bacteria, they are referred to as pustules. These are more evident as the redness is prominent around the pimples.

Moderate acne or grade II acne can develop anywhere on your face or body and are capable of leaving behind marks and scars.

closeup of a persons face showing acne and enlarged pores around the side of the cheek and chin.

Grade III Adult Acne – Nodules and Cysts

Some refer to severe acne as ‘Grade III Acne’. Such acne has penetrated beyond the epidermal layer of the skin and may result in a swollen bump that is firm to touch, this is referred to as a nodule. Nodules develop into pus-filled and large acne lesions known as cysts.

Severe nodulocystic acne can occur some people in their 20s and 30s wherein multiple cysts are present on the skin. Acne at this severe stage is painful and you may even experience some bleeding.

These are common on the cheeks and jawline. Deep scars that need specialised treatment are the remnants left on the skin by nodules and cystic acne.

Suggested Article: Lighten Pitted Acne Scars and Body Blemishes with Natural Home Remedies.

woman covering her face with her hands, with a black background.

How to Determine Which Type of Adult Acne You Have

To determine which type of adult acne you have, look out for the specific characteristics for each of the types. Below we provide a simple guide to identifying which type of adult acne you may have. It should be noted that as always if you are unsure, we advise contacting your GP or dermatologist for advice.

Blackheads and Whiteheads

  • White or black-tipped bumps on the skin
  • Can be present individually or in groups
  • No infection present, hence no pus oozes out from the acne lesions
  • Respond well to home treatments
  • Have an average life cycle of a week

For Papules and Pustules

  • Raised bumps on the skin
  • Pus-filled pimples
  • White or yellow in colour in the middle
  • Redness
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Maybe sensitive to touch
  • Maybe painful in some cases
  • Leave behind acne marks and sometimes scars
  • Usually, recur after simple treatments at home

For Cystic Acne

  • Large bumps or pimples
  • Nodules are firm to touch
  • Pus present
  • Blood may or may not be present
  • Redness
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Cysts can sometimes look like boils on the skin
  • Pain and tenderness in the affected area
  • Spread easily to surrounding areas if ruptured
  • Deep and permanent scars that ruin the skin texture form once this type of acne heals
  • Need strict medical attention for optimal treatment

Suggested Article: Blackheads: Natural Ways To Remove Them Once And For All.

a woman is pointing to her cheek, on a yellow background

How to Combat Your Specific Type of Adult Acne

Since we have categorised adult acne into different types, the treatment for each type also differs. The severity of the acne is directly related to the type of treatment you should opt for.

For Grade I

Since this is the mildest form of acne, simple over the counter treatments can help you to manage it easily. Invest in a cleanser that contains ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid as this help to remove the dead skin cells from the skin’s surface.

Lesser skin debris translates to fewer pores becoming blocked to form whiteheads or blackheads. Adding an oil-controlling toner to your skincare routine also helps to keep the skin’s oil production under control throughout the day. Or, you can use an exfoliant or a homemade scrub two to three times to help unclog pores even better and improve blood circulation too.

Chemical peels available at skin clinics and spas can help you to thoroughly exfoliate and maintain the natural radiance of your skin as well.

Suggested Article: Vitamins For Acne: The Best Vitamin And Mineral Supplements To Heal Acne.

For Grade II

For moderate acne, a healthy skincare routine is a must to keep the skin clear and acne-free in the long run. Over the counter treatment that worked for comedones may or may not work for papules and pustules. As a result, a better course of treatment for clearer skin is essential under the guidance of a dermatologist.

Common routes opted for by skin specialists include:

  1. A topical or ingestible antibiotic that kills the acne-causing bacteria and brings the infection and pus production under control
  2. A topical corticosteroid to combat the inflammation and redness
  3. Isotretinoin in milder doses to treat the internal factors that are causing the acne
  4. In the case where a hormonal imbalance is causing the acne Hormonal therapy may be suggested.

In addition to this, cosmetic treatments such as chemical peels and laser therapy may be recommended.


a range of beauty products on a shiny silver silver beauty trolley.
Most beauty products are available as miniatures, however, if not you can always purchase smaller bottles and make your own miniatures of your favourites.

For Grade III

Sadly, treating severe acne with over the counter creams and lotions does not work. A vigorous treatment plan needs to drafted and followed religiously to treat current breakouts, avoid acne in the future, and to fade away the acne scars left behind by the nodules and cysts.

Only under the guidance of a dermatologist can you treat severe acne successfully. Both Antibiotics and isotretinoin are commonly prescribed to deal with the infection, excess oil production, and dead skin cell build-up. It’s best that non-comedogenic skincare products are used strictly as well.

Furthermore, in the case where the acne is unresponsive or responding mediocrely to these treatments, professionals may utilise laser or light therapy to alleviate the inflammation, as well as, kill the bacteria.


In addition to this, you can learn more about how to keep your acne under control, by clicking here to read our article about How to Prep Acne Prone Skin for a Long Day of Makeup.

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