Acne in adults

Acne isn’t just a teenage problem. It can continue into adult life – or even start for the first time in adulthood – with around one in ten (7-17%) of people having acne after the age of 25, and a few (1% of men and 5% of women) still having it in their 40s.

Women are far more likely to have acne during their early adult years than men, with more than eight in ten of cases of adult acne occurring in women.

What types of acne tend to affect adults?

Certain types of acne are more common in adults than in teenagers:

Acne rosacea can look similar to the commonest type of acne – acne vulgaris. It appears as a red rash, usually on the cheeks, nose, forehead and chin. The redness is often accompanied by bumps, pimples, and skin blemishes. It generally affects people over the age of 30, and is commoner in women than men.

Acne conglobate is the most severe type of acne vulgaris, with large lesions and widespread blackheads. It occurs on the face, chest, back, and elsewhere, and can cause severe scarring. It is more common in males, usually between the ages of 18 to 30 years.

Pyoderma Faciale (Rosacea Fulminans): This type of severe facial acne affects only women, usually between the ages of 20 to 40. Symptoms include large painful nodules, pustules, and sores, all of which may scar. It begins abruptly, and may affect a woman who has never had acne before. It is confined to the face, and usually does not last longer than a year, but can cause major distress in that time.

What are the causes of adult acne?

Hormonal changes: Many cases of adult acne are due to changes in hormone levels that women experience at certain points during their lives:

  • Before periods: some women experience a flare-up of acne just before their period is due. This is due to changing hormone levels that occur at this time.
  • During pregnancy: many women experience symptoms of acne during pregnancy, usually during the first three months.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: women with this poorly understood but common condition develop small cysts inside their ovaries. They also have acne, as well as weight gain.

Side-effects of medicines: Certain types of medicines, including steroids (which can be used to treat asthma and other conditions) and lithium (which is used to treat depression and bipolar disorder), can cause acne.

Quote: My Adult Acne

‘I was totally shocked to develop acne when I was 40 years old! For no apparent reason I just started to develop acne breakouts on my cheeks and forehead. The acne just got worse and worse and it became a nightmare. I’d never had bad skin as a teenager and even when I was pregnant my skin didn’t change. So you can imagine how horrified I was when my skin broke out like this. I was completely paranoid about it – I stopped looking people in the face thinking they were just looking at this face full of awful spots. It had a huge impact on my life and I was desperate for help. I visited my GP and he prescribed a treatment that thankfully worked for me.’