Adult Acne

Jawline with acne
Jawline with acne

Acne was once thought of as a teen-only skin condition. However, acne is common in adults too– particularly women between the ages of 20 and 40.  Adult acne is often called hormonal acne as it tends to flare up with hormonal changes such as around menstrual periods or pregnancy.

Who gets this?

# Up to 22%, or 1 in 5 women, suffer from acne in adulthood compared to 3% of men.


Persistent acne starts in the teens and continues into adulthood. Most adults have this type.
Late onset acne happens when a person gets acne for the first time as an adult. This form is less common.

Chin with acne


Red bumps and pus filled pimples, acne scars and dark marks may exist at the site of previous acne.

Appears most often along the jawline, on the chin and neck. May appear on the forehead, cheeks, back and chest. (Image courtesy Dr. Ben Barankin)


  • Can last for many years, even decades
  • Is generally mild to moderate in severity
  • Can be difficult to treat, stubbornly recurring after several courses of treatment
  • Often has an underlying hormonal cause. Birth control pills containing hormones, namely estrogen, can help to bring acne under control.
  • More likely for those with a strong family history of acne.
  • Causes frustration, emotional distress and can lead to anxiety and depression
Woman outside on a windy day


Hormones appear to play a leading role in adult acne in women and explain why this condition flares up when hormone levels fluctuate.
Acne outbreaks tend to happen around menstrual periods or during pregnancy. Hormones stimulate the oil glands in the skin.
May be seen in women after stopping birth control pills.
Genes – about 50% of adult acne sufferers have a close family relative with adult acne.
Medications such as steroids and those containing lithium can cause acne in adults.

Emotional effects

Because adult acne appears most often on the face, lasts for years and may leave permanent scarring and dark marks, there are often significant emotional effects for sufferers.

In one study of adult women with more serious acne:

  • many reported feeling frustrated, embarrassed, self-conscious, less confident and less attractive.
  • about half had symptoms of mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
  • more than 40% reported acne impacted their ability to concentrate on work or school.

Myths that some women with acne believe:

You just have to wait until acne goes away: 38%

Eating chocolate gives you acne: 36%

You should wash your face 4 times a day: 27%

You can treat acne by popping pimples: 22%

Adults do not get acne: 11%

What’s holding you back?

Getting improvement

Determine if you need medical help and follow medical treatment regimens completely. Learn about Treatment options for mild, moderate or severe acne.

  • Don’t pick or squeeze spots – this injures the skin and raises the risk of scarring or dark marks after healing.
  • Use gentle skin care products and don’t over-cleanse or over-scrub/exfoliate.

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