Woman with acne face

Adult acne - Why do people over 30 still get blemishes?

6 min read
Show more

Having acne as a teenager was one thing, but you thought you’d grown out of it. And now those pimples are back again.
It may seem unfair, but adult acne is more common than you think. This article looks at what causes and triggers it to help you get to the root of the problem. You can find out how to care for your skin Which skincare products and routine are best for acne-prone skin?

Adult acne: a common problem

Friends doing selfie
You’re not alone. Acne is common in the over 30s, especially in women.

You may find it reassuring to know you’re not alone.

Acne isn’t just for teenagers. Experts estimate that up to 40% of adults over the age of 25 have blemished, acne-prone skin1 and that 75 - 85% of them are female2.

Adult acne (also known as Acne Tarda) is particularly common amongst women who have taken the pill since the onset of puberty and come off it to try another method or start a family. Soon after they stop taking the pill, blemishes appear.

The symptoms of adult acne are usually only mild to moderate, but those who experience blemishes when they’re over 30 suffer just as much − if not more − than younger patients. The reasons are clear: teenage pimples are annoying, but are considered completely normal. Society expects you to have grown out of acne by the time you’re an adult, and can judge you if you still have spots.

Infographic Adult Acne vs Adolescent acne

The development of adult acne

How does adult acne develop?

Adult acne develops in the same way as teenage acne, and it starts with micro-comedones. Micro-comedones is the name given to the microscopically small precursors of comedones (a comedone being a blackhead or a whitehead). Everyone has micro-comedones but, in skin that isn’t blemish-prone, they dissolve. If your skin is prone to acne small inflammatory reactions occur − one of the underlying causes in the development of acne3,4

At the same time, acne-prone skin produces excess sebum. This sebum is unable to drain away because the pores are clogged and the excretory ducts are blocked. Comedones (blackheads and/or whiteheads) develop as a result and are most commonly found on the face, neck, chest and back. Acne bacteria gets to work in the blocked sebum, leading to red and inflamed pimples.

Infographic on how acne developed

Internal and external influences

What causes or triggers adult acne?

There is no definitive research on the causes of adult acne but it is thought to be associated with hormones and fluctuations in hormone levels. Teenage acne is linked to the hormonal fluctuations of puberty. The causes of adult hormone fluctuations are, clearly, different and you can find out more about the relationship between acne and hormones here.

Other important influencing factors include a genetic predisposition, smoking, inappropriate skincare and make-up and stress5,6. You can read more about these, and other potential causes and triggers, in the causes and triggers of acne.

Hormonal fluctuations in women

Adult women triggered by hormones
Women are all too familiar with how their hormones can trigger pimples

Women are subject to much stronger and more frequent hormonal fluctuations than men. The female menstrual cycle causes hormone levels to rise and fall continuously and skin is affected differently depending on the time of the month. 

  • Coming off the contraceptive pill to use alternative methods or to start a family can affect female hormone levels and trigger adult acne.
  • Pregnancy has a major impact on women’s lives, and their hormones are no exception. Hormone fluctuations during pregnancy can impact on skin condition with nearly half of all pregnant women experiencing acne at some point7
  • Many women also report skin problems such as dryness, rashes, blemishes and acne during the menopause.

Stress acne caused by hormones

Stress acne caused by hormonal fluctuations
When you’re already feeling stressed skin likes to make matters worse by developing pimples

Many experts believe that stress is a major cause of adult acne. Stress causes the body to produce stress hormones which lead to an increase in the production of skin cells and sebum - necessary factors in the development of acne.  
Modern life often involves juggling career, family, partners and hobbies. Many women (and men) struggle to get the balance right and suffer from stress.

An unhealthy lifestyle

While research into the relationship between nutrition and acne is inconclusive8,9, a healthy, balanced diet is a key contributor to healthy skin. Most scientists agree that a high Glycemic Index and too many dairy products can exacerbate acne9.
Smoking has also been proven to trigger blemishes10

Exercise, on the other hand, can have a positive impact on acne by helping to reduce stress and clear clogged pores.

Inappropriate skincare

Inappropriate skincare products and make-up can also influence acne. Products with a high oil or fat content are unsuitable for acne-prone skin. They can clog the sebaceous glands preventing sebum drainage and encouraging the formation of acne.


Medicines such as anti-depressants, anti-epileptics and certain steroids are known to trigger acne. 

Consequences of adult acne

What is the impact of living with adult acne?

As with acne at most life stages, adult acne tends to effect people in two ways: physically and psychologically.

Physical impact 
Acne alters someone’s appearance and can be difficult to live with. Even after the blemishes have healed pimple marks (caused by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and acne scars can remain. Our advice is to consult your doctor as soon as your acne becomes a problem. Early medical intervention can reduce the severity of your blemishes as well as the chances of marks and scars.

Psychological impact
Living with acne can be very stressful. Research shows that people with acne are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and social phobias than those without acne11. People with acne don’t like what they see in the mirror and may suffer from low self-esteem and an inferiority complex. Behaviour can change and they may hide behind too much make-up, appear shy and even stop socialising. 


1 Zouboulis, Hautarzt 2014 · 65:733–750.

2 Zeichner et al., J Clin Aesthet Dermatolog., 2017; 10 (1): 37-46 and Holzmann, Sharkery, Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2014; 27: 3-8

3 Kircik LH. Advances in the Understanding of the Pathogenesis of Inflammatory Acne. J Drugs Dermatol 2016;15(1 Suppl 1):s7-10. 

4 Tanghetti EA. The role of inflammation in the pathology of acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatolog 2013;6(9):27-35.

5 Zeichner JA et al. Emerging Issues in Adult Female Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatolog 2017;10(1):37-46. 

6 Holzmann R, Shakery K. Postadolescent acne in females. Skin Pharmacol Physiol 2014;27:3-8. 

7 Bechstein, S.K., Ochsendorf, F., Akne und Rosazea in der Schwangerschaft, Hautarzt 2017,  68:111–119

8 Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. A Kucharska, A. Szmurli, B. Sińska. Postepy Dematol Alergol, 2016 April, 33(2): 81-6

9 Acne and nutrition: a systemic review. F. Fiedler, G. Stangl, E. Fielder, K-M. Taube, 26 April 2016. Acta Derm Venerol 2017, 97: 7-9

10 Capitanio et al from British Journal of Dermatology 2007. Ed. 157 pp1040-1085

11 Ramos-e Silva et al., BJD, 2015, 172 (Suppl. 1): 20-26