7 Causes of Adult Acne in Women + How to Prevent Breakouts

Even though you may be out of that teenage, pubescent phase of your life, acne can still take a major toll on your skin and self-confidence. And though you may think those random (or even frequent) breakouts seem to pop up out of nowhere, the truth is that acne has a cause. Whether that cause is external (like using comedogenic oils on your skin) or internal, we're here to walk you through some prevalent causes of adult acne in women and help you figure out how you can treat it and prevent those breakouts from coming back.

What is Adult Acne?

Adult acne, also known as post-adolescent acne, is acne that occurs after the age of 25. There are some common causes of adult acne that you may have experienced in your teenage breakout years, like excess oil, clogged pores, bacteria, and inflammation. But there are also other factors that influence the onset of adult acne, especially in women (more on that later).


What Causes Breakouts?

Our sebaceous glands or oil glands produce sebum to keep the skin moist. Normally, this sebum travels through the hair follicles and to the skin. But, when these follicles become plugged, skin bacteria grow inside the follicles, leading to inflammation and pimples.


Common Adult Acne Causes

The reality of it is that there are actually many ways you can get acne. You can develop breakouts from touching your face too often, holding a dirty phone up to your face, not washing your pillowcase enough, or even eating food that doesn't agree with you. There are external causes of acne that could be affecting your skin, and there are some internal causes. 

External Causes

  1. Using the wrong products: Using the wrong products for your skin type can create all sorts of skin issues. If you have oily skin or are acne-prone, stick to non-comedogenic products formulated for your skin type. Those with oily skin should also avoid using too thick of moisturizer or sunscreen that can trap excess oil and clog pores. Leave the heavier stuff to the ladies with dry skin.
  1. Over-exfoliating and cleansing: Over-exfoliating and over-washing your face can actually make your acne worse. For most skin types, cleansing twice a day is more than enough to keep your skin clean without over stripping. Exfoliating no more than three times a week (depending on your skin type) is also plenty.
  1. Not removing all your makeup before bed: Not properly removing all of your makeup and sunscreen before bed can disrupt your skin's natural regenerative processes. Any residual makeup from the day will also trap oil, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.
  1. Travel: Travel can trigger your skin to freak out. A change in environment (sun, heat, humidity, etc.), plus traveling for long hours in planes and cars, can cause breakouts.
  1. Cell phone bacteria: Your cell phone is riddled with germs and bacteria (over 25,127 bacteria per square inch, to be exact). That means when you're touching your phone or putting your phone on your face, those acne-causing bacteria and oils are transferring directly to your skin. To learn more about how your phone might be causing your acne, we've dedicated a whole post on it—which you can find here.

Internal Causes

  1. Stress: Stress, specifically chronic stress, can be detrimental to the health of our skin and is a leading cause of skin issues like adult acne. This is primarily due to the increase in cortisol, a stress hormone that creates a favorable environment for bacteria-driven acne.
  1. Hormonal fluctuations: Like those before and around your period, are a significant cause of adult acne in women. This is due to an increase in the hormone progesterone, which ramps up your skin's sebum production. Learn more about how your period affects your skin and what you can do about it in our blog post.

If you do have adult acne and are still a bit confused about what may be causing it, have a look at where the acne is forming on your face. If the majority of your acne is around your hairline, it could be oil or product buildup from your hair or hair products. If you experience adult acne around your chin and jawline—especially during specific times of the month—the cause is likely hormonal. If you are having acne breakouts on your cheeks, it could have to do with your phone, pillowcases, or touching your face.


How to Prevent Acne Breakouts

Preventing adult acne breakouts is a whole lot easier when you have a team of scientifically backed superstar ingredients and a skincare routine on lock. If you have persistent or painful breakouts, we recommend seeing a board-certified dermatologist for a proper evaluation. However, if you just experience those occasional pesky breakouts, these ingredients may help.

Here are some of the topical treatments we recommend and love:

  • Niacinamide is a form of Vitamin B3 that has been proven to be highly beneficial for the skin. Niacinamide is anti-inflammatory, balances oil production, strengthens skin, and smooths complexion.
  • Salicylic Acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). BHAs are gentle chemical exfoliants that dissolve the bonds between dead skin cells to reduce pore-clogging. Salicylic acid is also oil-soluble, so it can treat excess oil and unclog pores more effectively than other chemical exfoliants.
  • Glycolic Acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that exfoliates the top layers of skin to prevent clogged pores, treat acne scars, and promote a brighter complexion.
  • Lactic Acid is another exfoliating AHA, but it's gentler than glycolic acid. It is also a natural humectant, meaning that it pulls water back into the skin to hydrate. This is a great ingredient to start out with if you're new to chemical exfoliation.
  • Azelaic Acid is a dermatologist-approved topical acid that is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. It encourages cell turnover and a faster healing time for acne, scars, and hyperpigmentation. Plus, azelaic acid is safe for sensitive, rosacea-prone skin and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.


Our Mini Routine for Clear Skin

  1. First cleanse with our Makeup Melt Cleansing Oil to gently break down makeup, oil, and sunscreen.
  1. Second cleanse with a gel cleanser that's gentle enough for irritated, acne-prone skin (we love our Clarifying Gel Cleanser with shea butter and aloe vera).
  1. Treat with a niacinamide serum to curve oil production and balance the skin (our Blemish Clearing Serum combines 10% niacinamide with 1% zinc to decrease inflammation and unclog pores).
  1. Moisturize with our Ageless Vegan Collagen Cream to keep skin protected and hydrated.

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