Adult Acne: Prevalence and Treatment

Acne pops up on the faces of millions of teens, but for many, the end of adolescence does not mean the end of acne.


How prevalent is acne in adults?

Recent studies confirm that it affects 25 percent of adult men and 50 percent of adult women, a rate that has increased over the years. Medical science still cannot exactly determine why post-adolescent acne is on the rise, or why more women are affected than men.

According to a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • The average age people seek acne treatment is 24 years.
  • Only 10 percent of visits to a dermatologist are by patients between the ages of 35 and 44 years.
  • Adults with acne suffer similar lower self-esteem and social stigmas as teens do.

Why do adults get acne?

Adults get acne for the same reasons adolescents do. Hormonal and genetic factors cause an over production of sebum (oil) in the sebaceous gland, which is located in every pore. The extra sebum clogs pores and attracts bacteria, which causes a minor infection in the pore. When the pore becomes inflamed, a pimple is made.

Different levels of sex hormones (like testosterone and estrogen) cause your sebaceous glands to produce sebum at different levels. As your body matures, your hormones fluctuate at different levels. For some, acne is the byproduct. For women, this is common during pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause.

Adult acne is more often seen on the face, along the jaw line and neck, and is usually accompanied by dryer skin. Also, adult acne tends to be characterized by more red bumps or cysts than adolescent acne. Why? Because the body’s anti-inflammatory response worsens with age. So breakouts are more likely to become and stay inflamed than teen acne.

Treatment for adult acne

Treating adult acne can be more complicated than treating that of adolescents. Most over-the-counter acne medications address a teens’ naturally oily skin, and are not an appropriate choice for drier adult skin. Effective treatment often requires a trial-and-error approach that takes time and uses a combination of OTC and prescription medications. A common treatment includes benzoyl peroxide (OTC) combined with topical retinoids, like Retin-A (prescription only). Other effective treatments include the use of oral and/or topical antibiotics.

The bottom line: what to do about your adult acne

Leaving acne untreated is not recommended as it can lead to scarring. For the occasional pimple, OTC products can prove effective. If you have moderate to severe acne, you most likely need prescription strength medication, which is not hard to obtain. All you need to do is consult with a dermatologist, who will write you a prescription for the medication. If you don’t already have a dermatologist, or if you want a more convenient way to get consultations, take a look at our online dermatology service.


  1. Collier, C., and J. Harper. “The Prevalence of Acne in Adults 20 Years and Older.”Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 58.1 (2008): 56-59. 18 Oct. 2007. Web. <>.
  2. Goulden, V., and G. Stables. “Prevalence of Facial Acne in Adults.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 41.4 (1999): 577-80. Web. Oct. 1999. <>.
  3. Feature, Daniel J. DeNoonWebMD. “Adult Acne Causes, Treatments, Types of Acne, & More.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. <>.

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