4 Causes of Adult Acne and How to Treat Them

Image of Rachel Sheldon
Rachel Sheldon

When I was struggling with acne in high school, one of the things getting me through was the thought of having flawless skin once I was no longer a teen.

Well, I was in for a rude awakening when I turned 20 and my acne didn't magically disappear. In some ways, it got worse.

Did you know that almost half of American women suffer from acne? Adult acne is something that so many women struggle with, but few address. There are tons of articles and products dedicated to teenage acne, but far fewer dealing with adult acne.

This is a big problem. The causes of adult acne can be different from teen acne, and the ways to treat it are different too. As our bodies and lives change, our skin changes too. We need to reassess and update our skincare routines to adapt to these changes.

But where to start?

If you're struggling with adult acne right now, first of all: I feel your pain. The struggle is real. But, it can be treated!

Here, I'll outline the top 4 causes of adult acne and how to treat them. Later on, I'll go into more detail in future posts about all the methods and products I use to treat my acne and get glowing skin.

1. Hormones

Ah yes, those pesky hormones. They plagued you during puberty, and they're still haunting your skin now by causing hormonal acne. This is the kind of adult acne I personally struggle with the most. Getting your hormones under control, whether that's through birth control or another method, is essential to curing your acne at the source. You could slather on as many expensive skincare products as you want, but your skin won't clear up if you're not targeting the internal source of your breakouts.

If you tend to get breakouts around your chin and jaw area, these are probably hormonal (especially if they flare up around that time of the month). Talk to your doctor about the right way to balance your hormones - it will be different for every woman's body and lifestyle.

2. Diet

What you put in your mouth is just as important as what you put on your face when it comes to acne. A poor diet will be reflected in your skin, especially if you tend to indulge in dairy, chocolate, and processed treats.

On the flip side, a healthy, balanced diet will help to produce radiant, glowing skin. When you get all the necessary micronutrients from whole foods, your skin will thank you.

Cut out (or cut down) dairy and other processed, crappy foods from your diet. Focus on trying to eat a wide array of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Juices and smoothies are an easy way to do this - you can even add superfoods like chia seeds and spirulina to amp up your skin game.

(Oh, and drink water! When you're dehydrated, your skin suffers. Drink as much water as possible - I keep a water bottle with me at all times so I'll never forget to hydrate.)

3. Lifestyle

Are you a high-stress person? Probably, and so am I. Stress has major negative effects on our bodies, including our skin. When we stress, our skin tends to show it. Reducing stress has so many health benefits, so even if you don't suffer from acne you should be doing it.

Try yoga or meditation, if that's your thing. If not, a nice walk outdoors while listening to music or a podcast does wonders for my stress level. This will vary from person to person - find what makes you feel relaxed, whether that's a bubble bath or a long run.

And remember the old saying, "get your beauty rest"? Well, it's true! Getting a good night's sleep (7-8 hours for most people) will dramatically improve not only your overall health, but your skin too. 

4. Products

Finally, the products you're using on your face and body may be causing you to break out.

Here's an example from my own life: I was suffering from terrible acne all over my forehead, a place I don't normally break out. I tried changing my cleanser, my moisturizer, washing my pillow case every night, all the usual tricks - nothing was working. It turned out it was my shampoo that was causing these pesky breakouts. My skin reacts to sulfates, and my shampoo had sodium laureth sulfate in it. As soon as I switched to a sulfate-free shampoo, the acne on my forehead cleared up in no time.

If you're unsure what product might be breaking you out, try paring your routine down to the bare minimum. Use the gentlest products possible, and cut out any harsh treatments like peels or retinols. Look in unexpected places, like your haircare products, laundry detergents, and perfumes.

These are just some of the causes of adult acne and a few ways to treat them - I'll be going into more detail in later posts, so look out for those coming soon!

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