What Can Cause Adult Acne? – Superdrug This is the top of the page.
This is the top of the page.
What Can Cause Adult Acne? – Superdrug
Share Article

What Can Cause Adult Acne?

Smiling female with visible acne and natural curly hair

Adult-onset acne is more common than you may think. It is easy to associate the skin condition with teens or puberty, but it can also be persistent to those over the age of 25. If you are suffering from breakouts, and are not sure why, read on to discover more about acne, what may be causing it in your adult years, and the products available at Superdrug designed to help.

Pretty female with acne scars and natural curly hair

What is Acne?

Acne in its simplest form is a blocked pore. In the follicles in your skin, you will find the sebaceous glands which produce a waxy like substance, called sebum, which keeps your skin from drying out. Those with acne have overactive sebaceous glands, and the extra sebum it produces can block follicles and form a pimple when it mixes with dead skin cells, dirt, excess oil, and bacteria. Acne most commonly appears on the face, but it can also affect backs and chests.

Most breakouts start with blackheads or whiteheads, but those with acne can also get papules, pustules, nodules, or cysts which are usually painful to touch and caused by bacteria infecting the blocked follicle.

What Causes Adult Acne?

With acne being more associated with your teen years, it is easy to assume that acne would not affect you as an adult, but for many in their 20s and over, that is not the case. Adults in their 20s, 30s, and even in their 40s and 50s are known to suffer from acne breakouts. Blocked pores are still the main culprit when it comes to acne in adults, but several factors can make it worse.


Hormonal acne is a common type of acne in adults. Female hormones naturally fluctuate from having periods and pregnancy to going through the menopause or in some cases, having polycystic ovary syndrome. Although, according to the NHS*, women are thought to experience acne in their later years more than men, guys are not out of the woods when it comes to breakouts thanks to their androgen hormones. If these hormones go into overdrive, they can cause more production of oil and the skin shedding process to slow down, which is the ideal environment for acne to appear.


Stress is another common factor in the appearance of adult-onset acne, and it is well-known to play a part in how our skin looks and feels. Although stress will never be the outright cause of a breakout, it is thought that when we are feeling overwhelmed it can lead to a release of hormones, escalating the production of sebum and therefore either starting or aggravating the acne cycle. It is a little tricky to tell whether your emotions have a direct effect on acne, but if you do suffer from breakouts, it's a good idea to keep a diary of when your pimples appear and how you are feeling that day. This way, you can track any correlation between how you are feeling and how your skin is behaving.

Things That May Help with Acne

When it comes to managing acne, first and foremost, you need to be kind to your skin. Choose gentle products, pay attention to how your skin reacts and remember what may work for one person may not work for another.

Tips to Consider:

  • Avoid too many products with alcohol in them as it may dry your skin out.
  • Remember it is okay if your skincare routine contains a small amount of oil; you do not need to remove it altogether.
  • Do not pick your pimples; this can lead to scarring!
  • Do not over-wash your skin; you only need to cleanse the affected area in the morning and again in the evening.
  • Use topical exfoliants to tackle blocked pores, such as:


Salicylic acid: This is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that works by dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells. Some people find it particularly helpful because it is oil-soluble, meaning it can get deeper into your oil clogged pores than other chemical exfoliants.

Glycolic acid: Another form of chemical exfoliant, like Salicylic acid, but this is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). Glycolic acid helps remove the dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, so the sebum is no longer able to mix with it and block your pores.

  • And finally, use products containing:

Benzoyl peroxide: You will find this ingredient in a lot of specialist acne treatments due to its ability to kill bacteria while exfoliating pores at the same time. Although it can be efficient in the fight against acne, it can be extremely drying on the skin, so be sure to keep your skin moisturised. Always read the label.

Acnecide Acnecide Gel Spot Treatment Benzoyl Peroxide 60g £18.65 Buy Now
Freederm Freederm Spot & Acne Gel 25g £9.99 Buy Now

Loving the Skin You Are In

Looking for some self-love inspiration? Watch and listen to dancer Shantelia talk about her journey with adult acne, how she cares for her skin and how a positive outlook has taught her to love the skin she is in!

Managing acne will always depend on how severe the outbreak is and remember, when using topical treatments, it can take several months before you see any results. If your breakouts are getting worse, or your over-the-counter products do not appear to be working, then always see your GP.

At Superdrug, we offer a small number of Acne & Spot treatments which are available through our Pharmacy service. To find out more, click the link below.

Liked this article? Share it!
Link to top of current page.
Please wait...