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Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that most often occurs during puberty. But acne does affect adults as well.

In fact, acne is the eighth most commonTrusted Source skin disease worldwide. And the number of people who get adult acne has gone up over the past two decadesTrusted Source — especially in females. One study found that 85 percent of females and 15 percent of males have adult acneTrusted Source.

Mild adult acne may consist of blackheadswhiteheads, or small pustules.

In its moderate form, adult acne might also include papules, which cover one-fourth to three-fourths of the face or bodyTrusted Source. Severe adult acne often comes with more extreme redness, swelling, irritation, and deep cysts.

Another condition, rosacea, is often referred to as “adult acne,” but is different from classic acne because the bumps are usually smaller and they appear all at once, in cycles.

Here’s everything you need to know about adult acne and how to treat it.

The causes of adult acne

Nearly all adult acne is caused by inflammation and clogged pores.

Sometimes the condition runs in families, but even when that’s the case, there’s usually one or more triggers that bring on the acne.


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.

This can lead to a pH imbalance, inflammation, differences in circulation, or excessive production of oil (sebum).

Hormonal fluctuations occur in the process of aging, and for females, during:

  • menstruation
  • pregnancy
  • the postpartum period
  • breastfeeding

Hormonal acne usually appears as deep and cyst-like, and is often tender or painful.

Contact irritation

Anything that irritates the skin can lower the skin’s defenses and cause a protective reaction that leads to inflammation. This may include harsh cleansers or razors used against dry skin.

Emotional stress

Emotional stress creates biological changes in the body that can lead to many of the other triggers of adult acne.

When you’re feeling scared, anxious, or pressured, your adrenal glands make more of the stress hormone cortisol, which causes an imbalance in the skin.

Physical stress

Physical stress can also trigger hormonal changes, weakened immunity, and inflammation. It may arise from:

  • extreme weather
  • lack of sleep
  • illness
  • dehydration
  • exposure to environmental irritants

Some research showsTrusted Source that people who have allergies and migraines, and those who smokeTrusted Source, are also more likely to have adult acne.

Air pollution may also be contributing to the rise in adult acne.

Clogged pores

Excess oil can clog pores, and a rapid turnover of skin cells can lead to backed up hair follicles. In both cases, the result is usually acne.


Bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes causes acne when it’s present in the skin, especially if it manages to build up.

Most people don’t get acne because of poor hygiene, however. The bacteria accumulate underneath the skin and can’t always be reached through surface cleansing.


Experts don’t agree on whether or not food causes breakouts. But many believe that excessive white flour products, sweets, dairy, and fast food may contribute to adult acne.


Some medicationsTrusted Source have definitely been found to trigger adult acne, including certain corticosteroids, antidepressants, and epilepsy treatments.

Although contraceptives are used to treat adult acne, certain formulations may also cause it. Your doctor can help you choose the best formula for your needs.

Treating adult acne

There are a number of treatments for adult acne, including home remedies, over-the-counter (OTC) products, and prescriptions.

Because treatment results can vary from one person to the next, some people like to try one or two at a time to figure out what will work best. For some, OTC remedies work quickly, but if they don’t provide the results you really want, a doctor can help you determine whether a prescription might work better.

Home remedies

There are several powerful home remedies for adult acne, including oral supplements you can take and substances applied directly to the skin.

Some of the most effective treatments are:

Medical treatment

Several OTC and prescription-strength medications have been approved to treat adult acne.

A doctor may prescribe oral hormonal treatment. The others you would apply directly to your skin.

These treatments include:

Acne in your 20s, 30s, and 40s

Hormonal changes can continue throughout your 20s and 30s as your body adjusts to adulthood.

In females, polycystic ovary syndrome or the menstrual cycle are often the cause, while males can look to the high testosterone levels of youth. At any age, pregnancy and breastfeeding can also cause adult acne.

In the 40s and 50s, females may experience very different hormonal fluctuations that are related to menopause, and the years leading up to it, known as perimenopause.

Males also experience a hormonal shift as they grow older, known as andropause. To treat hormonal causes of adult acne, speak to a doctor about possible tests and age-specific recommendations.

Although the precise treatments may be different, a nutritious diet, exercise, and a dedicated skin care routine may help.


It may not be ideal to have to deal with acne long after the teenage years are behind you, but the good news is that you’re not alone — and there are many treatment options.

Experiment with a few different options to find the treatment that works best for you, one that leaves your skin clear and vibrant.



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There was a time, right before I moved to the perpetual crowd that is New York City, when I was convinced that the pollution and grime would wreak havoc on my skin. I did my research on whether living in a congested city like New York could have detrimental effects on my dermis and invested in a product (or three) to help protect against harmful pollutants—but I was only thinking about my face.

Now, new research shows that air pollution has significant effects for another (and just as important, in my opinion) component of skin care: our scalps

In the study, presented at the 28th EADV Congress in Madrid, researchers found that exposure to common air pollutants known as particulate matter (PM) is linked to hair loss in humans. By exposing hair follicle cells—known as human follicle dermal papilla cells (HFDPCs)—to various concentrations of particulate matter, they found that the presence of these air pollutants decreased levels of specific proteins called β-catenin, cyclin D1, cyclin E, and CDK2, all of which are responsible for hair growth and hair retention. 

Although even the presence of PM alone was enough to decrease these proteins, the researchers also discovered that the greater the level of pollutants, the more these proteins would deplete. It makes sense, as air pollution is a form of oxidative stress, which research shows typically leads to hair aging (and hair loss, as a result). 

While “particulate matter” might sound rather vague and intangible, the study categorizes the sources of PM as the burning of fossil fuels—including petrol, diesel, and other solid fuels such as coal, oil, and biomass, as well as other industrial activities such as building, mining, and the manufacturing of building materials like cement, ceramics, and bricks, meaning that construction site next door to your apartment might be contributing to way more than just a loud 8 a.m. wake-up call on the weekends. 

Lead researcher Hyuk Chul Kwon, Ph.D., believes this research will have an impact on future studies regarding common air pollutants. “While the link between air pollution and serious diseases such as cancer, COPD, and CVD are well established, there is little to no research on the effect of particulate matter exposure on the human skin and hair in particular. Our research explains the mode of action of air pollutants on human follicle dermal papilla cells, showing how the most common air pollutants lead to hair loss,” he says

Although consciously worrying about everyday air pollutants may do more harm than good (we know that chronic anxiety is detrimental to our health as well), it’s interesting for us to think about how the pollutants we might not be able to see have the potential for tangible, unfavorable conditions—such as hair loss.

While skin care is crucial, we must remember that optimal skin health goes way beyond caring for just the face, so bring on the scalp masks!


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Picture this. It’s a Saturday morning, and autumn sunshine is falling through the blinds. You have a cup of coffee, a book, and an easy chair. Best of all: you’re alone. Your family, housemates, spouse, or children are elsewhere, and three uninterrupted hours stretch before you.

Restful, right? For introverts, who—goes one popular definition—gain energy by spending time alone, gathering their thoughts and regrouping emotionally, solitude is the obvious choice when it comes to resting.

But a new study into the state of rest has found that for most people, activities done alone—including simple solitude itself—are the best ways to rest. And that includes extroverts who, according to the same definition, tend to gain energy by being with others.

Reading was the most restful activity cited by the 18,000 people who filled out an online survey which the researchers, funded by Wellcome, a large health-focused charity, said was the biggest study run on rest to date. Second came being “in the natural environment,” followed by being alone, then listening to music, then ”doing nothing in particular.”

“The analysis team was struck by the observation that a significant number of the top ten restful activities chosen by participants are often carried out alone,” the researchers wrote in their preliminary findings. “It’s interesting to note that social activities including seeing friends and family, or drinking socially, placed lower in the rankings. It’s also not just introverts who rate being alone as a restful activity. Extroverts also value time spent alone, and voted this pastime as more restful than being in the company of other people.”

The study was carried out by the BBC in conjunction with researchers from a number of universities and disciplines, including cognitive neuroscience and anthropology, and involved an online survey filled out by 18,000 people in 134 countries. Felicity Callard, a professor of social science at the University of Durham, who directs the research group, said that the second part of the survey used a psychological scale to work out where people placed themselves on the introvert/extrovert axes, as well as how happy they were.

She said that the hectic nature of modern life has primed us to be very interested in how to rest. “The discourse of busyness is everywhere,” she said. “That sense of boasting, or status coming from being incredibly busy and productive. At the same time people think it’s unsustainable, but rest seems like this unattainable thing.”

One of the most interesting findings, Callard said, was that many people don’t think of work and rest as opposites. Studying those people could give insights to businesses that could help limit stress and stop burnout. While it’s unlikely that work could ever become purely restful, she said, future research will explore ways for the brain to get more of what it needs without so much strife: “How might we organize the rhythms of work to allow rest to become more possible within it?”


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