An expert's guide to adult acne: Causes and treatment

Written by: Dr Zeeshaan-Ul Hasan
Edited by: Conor Dunworth

Adult acne is a common condition that can be emotionally or psychologically distressing. In her latest online article, renowned consultant dermatologist Dr Zeeshaan-Ul Hasan offers his expert insight into this condition, including the causes and treatment.


What causes adult acne?

Adult acne, like teenage acne, can be triggered by a number of factors.  Here are some of the most typical triggers of adult acne:

  • Hormonal fluctuations: Hormonal imbalances, especially in women, can cause acne breakouts. Hormone fluctuations, such as androgens, can result in increased sebum (oil) production and clogged pores.
  • Stress can cause the adrenal glands to release more androgens, resulting in increased oil production and therefore more acne breakouts.
  • Some skincare and cosmetic items may contain substances that clog pores or irritate the skin, resulting in acne.
  • Diet: Acne may be exacerbated by certain diets, particularly ones high in processed carbs and sugar. Dairy products and diets with a high glycemic index have also been connected to acne flare-ups in certain people.
  • Drugs: Some drugs may cause acne or disturb hormonal balances, resulting in acne breakouts.
  • Genetics: If you have a family history of acne, you are more likely to develop adult acne.
  • Environmental factors: Pollutants, humidity, and specific climates can all have an effect on the skin and can lead to acne.
  • Menopause: Some women experience acne as a result of hormonal changes during menopause.
  • PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome): PCOS is a hormonal disease that can result in acne owing to elevated androgen levels.


Keep in mind that the reasons for acne can differ from person to person, and that numerous factors may be at work. Consultation with a dermatologist can assist in identifying the unique triggers for an individual and determining the best treatment plan.


How common is adult acne?

Adult acne is rather common, and it can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. While acne is commonly associated with teenagers going through puberty, it affects many adults as well. The prevalence of adult acne varies according to age, gender, and ethnicity.

According to research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, acne affects approximately 54% of women and 40% of men over the age of 25. Another study published in the same journal found that acne affects about 12% of women and 3% of males over the age of 35.

Adult acne can be stubborn, with some people experiencing breakouts well into their 40s and beyond. 

Adult acne, like teenage acne, can have emotional and psychological consequences for individuals. If you have adult acne that is causing you distress or interfering with your daily life, you should seek the advice of a dermatologist or healthcare expert to explore treatment options and address any underlying reasons.


What are the most effective forms of treatment for adult acne?

Adult acne treatment options differ depending on the severity of the condition and individual characteristics. Here are a few examples of common therapies that have been shown to be effective:

  • Topical retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, are beneficial in preventing new acne lesions, decreasing inflammation, and boosting skin cell turnover. They aid in the unclogging of pores and may be effective for mild to moderate acne.
  • Benzoyl peroxide: This over-the-counter medicine can kill acne-causing bacteria and help clean blocked pores. It comes in a variety of strengths and formulas.
  • Antibiotics: A dermatologist may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics to reduce inflammation and manage acne-causing germs. They are frequently used in conjunction with other treatments
  • Hormonal therapies: Oral contraceptive pills or anti-androgen drugs may be recommended to women with hormonal acne to balance hormone levels and improve acne.
  • Isotretinoin (Accutane): This potent oral drug is typically used to treat severe and persistent acne. It significantly reduces sebum production and may result in long-term remission, but it has potential side effects and must be closely monitored.
  • Chemical peels: Dermatologists may use chemical peels to exfoliate the skin and unclog pores, which results in acne improvement.
  • Certain light and laser therapies can target acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation, assisting in the clearing of acne lesions.
  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle, which includes a well-balanced diet, frequent exercise, stress management, and good skincare, can supplement medical treatments and improve overall skin health.


To find the most appropriate treatment approach for your particular case of adult acne, speak with a dermatologist or healthcare expert. They can analyse your skin issue, discover any underlying reasons, and design a treatment plan to meet your specific needs. Furthermore, it is critical to stick to the treatment plan and be patient, as acne treatments can take time to show benefits.

Can adult acne be cured?

When it comes to acne, notably adult acne, the term "cured" might be rather misleading. While adult acne can be treated and controlled, it is not always totally cured in every individual. The goal of treatment is usually to manage and minimise acne to the point where it does not cause considerable distress or interfere with a person's quality of life.

Some people have long periods of remission during which their acne is under control and barely noticeable, whereas others have sporadic outbreaks or persistent mild symptoms. The underlying causes of acne, genetics, and hormonal variations can all influence the duration of acne in adults.

Many people's adult acne improves with adequate treatment and lifestyle adjustments. Acne lesions can be efficiently reduced, inflammation controlled, and new breakouts prevented with topical treatments, oral drugs, hormone therapy, and other interventions. Maintenance therapy may be required in some circumstances to keep the acne under control

Isotretinoin (Accutane) is a powerful medicine that has the potential to promote long-term remission in certain people suffering from severe and persistent acne. However, it is important to remember that isotretinoin has potential side effects and patients must be carefully monitored during treatment. Additionally, adopting a consistent skincare routine, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and managing stress can also contribute to better acne management.

Can dietary changes help to improve adult acne?

Yes, some people may benefit from dietary adjustments to improve their adult acne. While the association between nutrition and acne is not entirely understood and varies from person to person, some studies suggest that certain aspects of diet may influence the development and severity of acne. Making dietary changes may supplement other acne treatments and lead to better skin health.

Here are some dietary recommendations that may help with adult acne management:

  • Foods with a high glycemic index (GI) can induce fast rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, perhaps contributing to acne. Consuming more low-GI whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes may help stabilise blood sugar levels and prevent acne flare-ups.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as flaxseeds and walnuts, these healthy fats contain anti-inflammatory characteristics that may improve the skin.
  • Foods high in antioxidants, such as berries and citrus fruits, as well as spinach, kale, and carrots, may help protect the skin against oxidative stress and inflammation.
  • Probiotics: Consuming probiotic-rich foods such as yoghurt or fermented foods may build a healthy gut microbiome, which may help the skin indirectly.
  • Hydration: Drinking enough of water keeps your skin hydrated and promotes overall skin health.


While these dietary adjustments may be beneficial for some people, it is important to remember that the impact of food on acne varies. Some people may not notice significant benefits from dietary changes alone, and other variables, such as heredity and hormone imbalances, can also contribute to acne development.

If you're thinking about making large dietary changes to aid with adult acne, talk to a dermatologist or a qualified dietitian first. They can offer personalised guidance and assist you in developing a balanced diet that is in line with your skin health objectives. They can also assist you in identifying any potential food triggers that may be worsening your acne.



If you would like to book a consultation with Dr Zeeshaan-Ul Hasan, you can do so today via his Top Doctors profile. 

Dr Zeeshaan-Ul Hasan

By Dr Zeeshaan-Ul Hasan

Dr Zeeshaan-Ul Hasan is a highly respected consultant dermatologist based in London. He is renowned for his expertise in skin cancer recognition and surgery and also specialises in eczema, autoimmune bullous disease, acne and psoriasis.

Dr Hasan qualified in medicine with distinction in 2012 from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, before completing further training in London and Kent. He is a member of the Royal College of Physicians’ dermatology section and was awarded a highly sought-after Topol fellowship by Health Education England, relating to digital health care services in 2021. He has been a consultant dermatologist at Barts Health NHS Trust for several years, where he also holds the position of clinical informatics lead within the dermatology department. Dr Hasan sees private patients at the revered Skin Inspection Dermatology Clinic, a recognised centre for excellence in dermatological care located on London’s Harley Street.

Additional to his clinical responsibilities, Dr Hasan is actively involved in medical education and obtained a certificate in teaching and learning as part of his initial training. He has also authored a number of academic papers which appear in esteemed peer-reviewed journals. He regularly presents at key conferences within the field of dermatology and won the British Association of Dermatology’s Best Registrar Paper prize in 2019 for his presentation on skin cancer prevention in organ transplant patients.

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