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Adult Acne

Learn about what causes adult acne and what steps can be taken to prevent it.

Fifty percent of women have had acne during their adult lives. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Fifty percent of women have had acne during their adult lives.

Adult acne consists of skin blemishes that appear on the face, back and other parts of the body past the age of puberty. Acne occurs when sebaceous glands in hair follicles produce excess oil and clog pores, causing a buildup of bacteria and resulting in inflammation and infection. Whiteheads, blackheads and pimples may appear.

Causes of Adult Acne

Adult acne is caused by hormones, stress, cosmetics, childbirth, menopause or discontinuation of birth control pills. Adults as old as 40 years old may develop acne. According to Acne.org, 25 percent of men and 50 percent of women have had acne during their adult lives.

Washing with harsh cleansers, washing too vigorously or wearing oil-based makeup can make acne worse. While food does not cause acne, certain foods can exacerbate it, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Who Gets Adult Acne

Men more commonly experience the cystic form of acne, which occurs when inflammation and bacteria cause pus-filled bumps on the skin. Women may experience flare ups of acne during ovulation; however, acne may occur at any time during the menstrual cycle.

Rosacea acne occurs more commonly in Caucasian women between 30 and 60 years of age. Rosacea acne is caused when small blood vessels on the face leak fluid, causing red blotches on the skin. Rosacea does not produce blackheads.

Treatment Options for Adult Acne

According to the Mayo Clinic, over-the-counter acne treatments work for mild or moderate acne for periodic breakouts. An effective ingredient in a topical cream is benzoyl peroxide, which kills propionibacterium acnes (bacteria that causes acne inflammation), dries excess oil on the skin and strips away dead skin cells.
Another active ingredient in acne medication is salicylic acid, which sheds dead skin cells inside hair follicles and prevents pores from clogging.

Accutane, a form of vitamin A, reduces the oil secreted from sebaceous glands. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends Accutane for the treatment of rosacea acne. A warning: Accutane causes severe birth defects. While Accutane is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is available only under the iPLEDGE program under which women agree to use birth control while taking it.

High-Tech Treatments for Adult Acne

Photodynamic therapy is an option for women suffering from adult acne who do not respond well to traditional treatment. Photodynamic therapy uses a hot laser light to target the sebaceous glands attached to the hair follicle to dry the skin. Most patients need two to three treatments to provide nearly clear skin for six months. The cost is typically $650 per treatment.

The Zeno Acne Clearing Device is available for patients with cystic acne. FDA-approved Zeno is an over-the-counter medical device that applies heat through the tip of an applicator directly onto a pimple for two and a half minutes. The heat can decrease the size of pimples and prevent them from growing and must be applied two or three times per day. The device costs $225. Clinical trials have shown that Zeno has a 90 percent efficacy rate.

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