The Top 6 Reasons You Can’t Shake Your Adult Acne

February 02, 2018 8 min read 0 Comments

What Causes Adult Acne

By Kali Kushner



acne skincare




Acne. Most of us deal with it at one point or another in our lives, but did you know there's more than just 2,3, or even 11 types of acne? That being said- do you know exactly what kind of acne you have? It can be very easy to assume that it's a whitehead or I KNOW this is a cyst when indeed it's another type of acne. Though it may seem simple, identifying the type of acne you're dealing with is the first step to properly treating your breakouts and pimples.


When I was in high school I couldn’t wait to finally “grow up”, I wanted an apartment, a car, a job, my own dog, and most importantly at the top of all my adult “wants”, I wanted clear skin. I always had a little bit of teenage acne in high school and for whatever reason when I looked at myself I felt it was severe. That was until I turned 20 and actually developed severe cystic nodular acne. In a matter of months my skin went from relatively blemish free to a canvas covered in pimples and marks. Without any changes in diet, skincare, or lifestyle, I wasn’t exactly sure what brought about my sudden surge of acne and began to feel lost, isolated, and confused. I remember looking around in my college classes, taking note of everyone’s skin, and most of the time being the only one in the whole room with noticeable acne.


Of course I’d spend hours every single day researching how to get rid of acne, finding those washes and creams that I’ve already triedormost of the advice would pertain only to teenage pimples. That was when I realized I was a full on adult, this wasn’t  normal acne anymore, this was  adult acne. That being said… it was a whole other ball game. I began to completely shift my focus, restart my research and relearn everything I thought I knew about acne to really find out what causes it.


As we know, acne is known as an inflammatory skin condition which often occurs during puberty stage. Well, then, if that’s the case… Why do adolescents get acne as well? What causes adult acne?


Adult acne is almost the same as teen acne; it’s caused by excess oil and skin bacteria. This adult acne is often referred to as  rosacea


Here are the 6 most common adult acne triggers/causes:


  1. Stress
  2. Hormonal Imbalance
  3. Gut Health
  4. Menopause, Giving Birth or Menstruation
  5. Frequent or Harsh Cleansing
  6. Food Intolerances/Diet


1) Stress 


It goes without saying - adulting is hard work. It seems the older we get the more responsibilities we inherit as well, full time work, making car payments, buying a house, having kids, even just making ends meet to pay bills at times can seem impossible. It’s no wonder all these things add up and when you stress out, well you breakout.


There are two kinds of stress that can cause adult acne:emotional stress andphysical stress. The emotional stress causes or creates a biological change in the body that can lead to many other triggers of adult acne especially when you’re feeling scared, anxious or pressured.  Physical  stress comes from extreme weather, lack of sleep, illness, dehydration and exposure to environmental irritants.


To make matters worse when you breakout, you stress outbecause you are breaking out and then things just seem to spiral out of control in a vicious cycle. When you’re stressed your hormones get all out of whack, your adrenal glands make the stress hormone (cortisol) and a bit of testosterone is created as well. This can be a huge driving force causing the oil glands to overproduce oil (which we all know is a huge root cause of acne).Acne occurs when we are stressed as the organism’s response to the stressor helps it to perform well. Our hypothalamus is triggered, hence releasing this corticotropinreleasing hormone (CRH)  that stimulates our pituitary gland.


2)  Hormonal imbalance 


Hormonal acne isn’t just acne that pops up around menses – it also includes acne in teenagers and adults during hormonal shifts, women with PCOS, as well as the skin’s general sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations. 


It’s all about balance,namaste. As you age your hormones begin to change, in fact they change pretty frequently with every life stage. Hormonal acne can range from mild (a few pimples around your period or when you’re stressed) to severe and chronic. One thing is for sure, though, hormonal acne can be very frustrating to live with and treat.


Hormones are responsible for the growth of our oil glands and skin, and they do not have the ability to produce acne until they are fully matured. This is why children (unless glands are matured) do not experience acne. The skin is a target for these hormones. Which hormones are we talking about specifically? The four biggest hormones which affect our skin health are estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, and thyroid hormones.


Fluctuating or excessive male or female hormones can lead to  adult acne because of changes they create in the entire body and the environment of the skin.


3)  Gut Health 


Listen to your gut instinct! There’s a balance of good (probiotics) and bad bacteria that live in your digestive tract. When this balance gets thrown off by stress, poor diet, or lack of sleep the bad guys start to take over. Even prolonged usage of antibiotics can throw off this delicate balance, interfering with digestion and producing toxins.


Now more than ever, people of all ages are suffering from the physical and emotional effects of unpredictable acne. The first thing most people look for is a topical product to fix it all, but what if acne had more to do with how you eat? Although simple life style tips like using correct cleansers and creams can help, battling the inflammation in our digestive system in a few ways can be the strongest route to healing acne.


It’s no wonder that  diet plays a vital role in your skin’s health as well. You know what they say,you are what you eat. Beyond the advice of drinking a ton of waterand getting plenty of fresh veggies, more and more dermatologists (alongside nutritionists) are advising their clients to carefully consider what’s  making an appearance on their forks.  Anything that causes a spike in blood sugar can, theoretically, increase inflammation and insulin levels, therefore leading to pimples and excess oil.


Questions to ask to find out if your  acne is caused by poor digestion:


  •  Do I break out after eating certain foods such as sugar, dairy or meat?
  • Do I experience stomach aches or weird stomach noises after eating certain food? Do I “pass gas” a lot? It’s honestly a serious question. Do you have bad flatulence that smells?
  • How are you my experiences in the toilet? This is a very personal topic but when you go to the bathroom, do you have regular, smooth and natural stool movements? If not, something is wrong with your digestive system which is likely to contribute to your acne.  


4)  Menopause, Giving Birth or Menstruation 


Back at it again with the …ermmm… hormones? From my experience if I’ve learned anything it’s that acne is like 70% hormones, 15% diet, and 15% skincare. Of course my opinion on that is always shifting but hormones always take up a huge part, they’re basically at the root cause of any breakout so if they’re frequently changing of course your skin is going to freak! If you are going through huge life changes like menopause or are pregnant, your hormones are going through significant changes to support the type of living environment your body needs. Even periods create an imbalance in hormones, leading to that stubborn monthly breakout.


Hormonal acne may be caused by influxes of hormones from:


  • menstruation
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • menopause
  • increased androgen levels


These hormonal fluctuations can also aggravate your acne issues by increasing your overall skin inflammation, oil production in the pores, clogged skin cells and production of acne causing bacteria known as  Propionibacterium acnes or P acnes for short.


5) Frequent Or Harsh Cleansing 


Wait, you can wash your face too much? Yes, yes you can. Unfortunately that 12 step routine morning and night that kept your face spot free when you were 16 may not be what you need when you’re 23. Again, as you age everything is constantly changing so we can’t expect to continue using the same skincare routine and see results, we have to change along with it!


Although  acne isn't caused by not cleansing your face, there's no doubt that regular cleansing is an important step in your acne treatment routine. But exactly how many times a day should you be washing your face? 


A twice-daily cleansing, morning and night, is just enough to clean away makeup, dirt, and extra oil hanging around on the skin, but not too much to be irritating. If you get sweaty or especially dirty, a third cleansing might be needed. What products you use to cleanse your face is also important. Stronger isn't always better. The skin on your face is delicate, so you don't want to use harsh cleansers or soaps.


6)  Food Intolerances/Diet 


So it’s not the stereotypical foods like greasy pizza and chocolate that cause acne, but foods that create a spike in inflammation like dairy and refined carbs can have a profound impact on your skin. Acne sufferers already naturally have   higher levels of inflammation (IGF1) so when something like dairy or refined carbs is consumed, it can cause an excess of insulin or inflammation, resulting in cystic acne.


If you suddenly have a horrible flare-up, despite no historical skin problems, it could be that you’ve recently developed food intolerance. While food intolerances are mainly seen as a digestive issue,skin conditions such as acne are a common symptom of food intolerance.


For a long time, I was in denial of the link between food and skin. I wanted to believe so bad that my acne could be completely cured solely through the use of topical and prescription drugs and that  diet had absolutely nothing to do with it. Deep down this was mainly because I didn’t want to change my diet, I mean who does? I liked what I was eating and if everyone was eating the same thing, I figured that meant I could too. Acne is of course, genetic, however, that doesn’t mean certain foods won't exasperate or improve your condition. After about a year of trial and error, I have found a definite link between 5 specific foods that cause acne, and 5 that fight it. You'll find lists like this all over the web that mainly say don’t eat pizza and drink lots of water, but like c'mon man give me some advice I can actually use? This is my own personal list, no hogwash- just facts with the science to back it up.


Examples of  acne causing foods are the following:


  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Spicy food
  • High glycemic food (e.g. nuts and sushi)
  • Alcohol
  • Corn
  • Gluten (e.g wheat and yeast) 


Adult acne or post-adolescent acne may also be caused by other factors such as:


  • Contact irritation
  • Clogged pores
  • Medications
  • Friction or pressure on skin
  • Greasy or oily substances (e.g. oily lotions and creams or with grease in work areas)


Treating Adult Acne


There are treatment options for  adult acne such as home remedies, over the counter products and prescriptions. However, just like any skin care product, results would vary from one person to another. There are some whose skin improves through OTC remedies and some from other treatments. It takes a lot of patience when you want to see positive outcomes or results for your adult acne.


1)  Home Remedies– Some or several effective home remedies for treating your adult acne may include oral supplements or topical treatments. Household products may also serve as effective home remedies and these are – apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, green tea extract, tea tree oil, zinc, Vitamin A and probiotics.


2)  Medical Treatment– Your dermatologist or skin specialist may prescribe some oral or topical treatments you can take or apply directly to your skin to treat adult acne. These are:  hydroxy (AHA and BHA) and other beneficial acids, oral  birth control pills, spironolactone (Brand name: Aldactone) , antibiotics, retinol (or retin-A), salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, sulfur and  blue light therapy.


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