What You Need to Know About Adult Acne

While the word “acne” is often associated with puberty, adult-onset acne is an all-too-real issue for many people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology estimates 40 to 50 million Americans will suffer from acne at any one time, meaning it’s not just for teens. We spoke with Seattle dermatologist Peter Jenkin, MD, to better understand this common complexion issue.

Probable Cause


Dr. Jenkin explains that adult acne, while prevalent among both genders, is more common in women. “In women, adult acne is often related to changes in hormone levels, either with their menstrual cycles, pregnancy or menopause,” he says. “It can also be precipitated by starting or stopping oral contraceptives. Stress is another well-known aggravator of acne, though it is probably not a cause in the true sense.” Dr. Jenkin is also quick to point out that not all acne has a common cause. “What breaks one person out might not react the same way in another.”

In-Office Procedures


Acne is often treated with light-based therapies. Once the acne has been treated, procedures may be done to correct or improve scarring caused by acne. A visit to your dermatologist is the best way to find out what works for your own personal issues. “The procedure we do most commonly in our office is known as ‘acne surgery,’ which is done with a photopneumatic device called Isolaz,” he says. “This device uses a combination of vacuum and IPL light to drain plugged and congested pores and kill bacteria deep within the follicle.”

He says the more severe the acne, the stronger the treatment must be. “Salicylic acid chemical peels have been used with good success in helping acne, and less commonly other superficial chemical peels such as glycolic acid can be effective. In difficult, cases photodynamic therapy with Levulan and blue light can be very beneficial. Blue light alone has been used to help with the post-acne discoloration.”

Prescription Options


Sometimes, the best recipe for acne treatment is a combination of in-office procedures and topical applications. “The best way to treat adult acne is with the use of prescriptive medication through your dermatologist,” says Dr. Jenkin. “We often use a combination of oral antibiotics, which are in fact predominantly working as anti-inflammatory agents, with various topical agents such as azelaic acid, metronidazole, dapsone, retinoids or ivermectin. These may or may not in individual circumstances be combined with a topical over-the-counter preparation containing benzoyl peroxide. Salicylic acid is also present in many over-the-counter acne remedies, which may be slightly helpful in mild cases.”

The Bottom Line


A visit to your dermatologist is a must should you suffer from adult-onset acne. Self-medication can lead to scarring or worsening of the condition, so talk to your derm about options. And remember, what works for others may not work for you. “There is no one best treatment for everyone,” says Dr. Jenkin. “An individualized approach is best.”