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Why you have adult acne and what to do about it ?

Why you have adult acne and what to do about it

Adult acne is common

Acne is the eighth most common skin disease worldwide* and one study found that 85% of females and 15% of males have adult pimple*. You may have had spots since your teenage years, or it may be a new skin problem even if you’re in your 30s, 40s or 50s. This is known as adult-onset-acne. The good news is that if you are an adult pimple sufferer you don’t have to just live with it. First, you need to identify the cause of your adult spots, before seeking appropriate treatment.

Types of adult acne

Mild adult acne usually consists of small pustules, whiteheads, and blackheads. It may also include papules – raised areas of skin or lesions – covering up to three-fourths of the face or body. Symptoms of severe adult spots include swelling, extreme redness, irritation, and deep cysts. Acne is not to be confused with rosacea, which is a different skin condition.

There are many potential causes of adult pimples. Read on for the factors that trigger this condition:


Fluctuating or excessive male or female hormones can lead to adult spots. Hormonal fluctuations are often experienced by women around pregnancy, breastfeeding, perimenopause, and menopause as well as around their periods. Hormone levels can also fluctuate after starting or discontinuing taking birth control pills.


If a close blood relative has suffered from adult spots, you may be more genetically predisposed to get it. Research has shown that having a parent, brother, or sister who has (or has had) pimples will make a person more likely to have this problem.


Certain toiletries can trigger adult spots. A protective reaction can lead to inflammation if harsh cleansers or razors are used against dry skin. Check the ingredients of products like sunscreen, moisturizer, hair conditioner, etc. Only use products whose ingredients are described using one of the following terms: “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic”, “oil-free”, or “won’t clog pores”.

Emotional stress

Adult pimples have been found to be connected to high levels of emotional stress. Research has identified a relationship between stress and acne break-outs, as stress causes our bodies to produce more androgens (a type of hormone). Oil glands and hair follicles in the skin are stimulated by androgens, resulting in acne.

Physical stress

Hormonal changes, weakened immunity and inflammation can all be triggered by physical stress. This can arise from factors including lack of sleep, dehydration, environmental irritants, pollution, and extreme weather. People who have allergies and migraines and those who smoke are more likely to have adult acne.


If you are taking medication and experiencing spots, it’s important to find out if acne is one of the side effects of what you are taking. If so your doctor can hopefully prescribe a different medication. If this is not possible, a dermatologist can treat the resulting pimples. Medications that can trigger adult acne include antidepressants, epilepsy treatments, and certain corticosteroids.

A medical condition

Acne can be a sign of an untreated underlying medical condition. It’s important to see your GP to find out if you have a medical condition and get a full diagnosis. If so, once the condition has been treated, the spots may well clear up without further treatment.

Skin hygiene

Excessive oil can clog the pores and a build-up of skin cells can cause blocked hair follicles, resulting in acne. Exfoliation to remove dead skin cells and appropriate skin hygiene are essential for preventing this and removing bacteria that lead to acne development. Use a gentle chemical exfoliant rather than a harsh scrub or other physical exfoliants.


While there is no consensus on dietary factors, some experts believe that white flour, dairy, nuts, sugar, and fast food may be contributing factors to the problem of adult pimples. It is also believed that chocolate can worsen pimple in some sufferers.

If you have persistent acne that you have been unable to treat effectively, I can help. An expert in dermatological care for hair loss, mole problems, and skin conditions, I can provide you with advice via online video consultation and offer face-to-face consultations when necessary. Contact me, Dr. Anastasia Therianou on 0203 464 4884.

* Source: PubMed Central.

What is a dermatologist?

Dermatologists diagnose and treat skin conditions like skin tags or atypical moles, hair loss, and nail diseases. To become a dermatologist you have to be medically qualified just like any other doctor, and then train in general medicine. A dermatologist will then work, research and training in a specialist area, developing expertise in a dermatological sub-specialty. The whole process takes about 15 years.

Dermatologists treat over 3,000 skin diseases, including acne, psoriasis, and skin cancers, plus a huge variety of nail and hair conditions.

As well as prescribing topical and oral treatments, dermatologists are trained to carry out skin surgery, laser treatments, and more. With such expertise dermatologists are the best people to diagnose and treat your medical condition.

Skin conditions

Common reasons for referral to a dermatologist include eczema, psoriasis, and severe acne, acne scars. But the skin is a complex organ and there are in fact over 3,000 skin diseases, with about 20 of them accounting for the vast majority of dermatologists’ workload. In recent years skin cancers have increasingly been added to this workload, due in part to holidays abroad and the erroneous belief that tanned skin is healthy. There are also many underlying systemic diseases that manifest as skin rashes.

dermatologist moles
How you can identify the type of moles

Nail conditions

Fungal infections are a very common nail condition treated by dermatologists. Beyond infections, a dermatologist can also diagnose a range of abnormal growths within the nail. Some of these nail growths can be benign but may also be viral warts, fibroid tumors, or malignant growths. Symptoms and signs of nail conditions can include discoloration, scaling, or the nail ‘lifting’ so it is no longer completely attached.

nails dermatologist
Nails problem diagnosis

Hair conditions

A dermatologist is the best person to diagnose and provide hair loss treatments, which can be the result of a wide variety of conditions. These include anemia, androgenetic alopecia, alopecia areata, male pattern baldness, hair follicles, female pattern, and many different autoimmune diseases, thyroid disorders, traction, and baldness. Female hair loss can also occur as a result of polycystic ovary syndrome, after pregnancy and during menopause.

hair loss problems
Hair loss problems

What can a dermatologist diagnose?

Many scalps, hair, and nail conditions can be diagnosed by a thorough physical examination. The consultant will also review your medical history, ask about the symptoms, and examine the affected area.

In some cases, certain tests such as dermoscopy, a blood test, a skin swab, or skin biopsy may be necessary for diagnosis, or a trichometry or trichoscopy with video dermatoscopy.

You should seek medical advice when you first notice a medical condition. Consult your GP first for common problems such as mild acne, rosacea, and minor rashes.

They may refer you to a dermatologist near if specialist diagnosis and treatment is required. Seeking a consultation early will help reduce the potential risks and complications that may arise due to the dermatological condition.

I am a consultant dermatologist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, a big teaching medical team in hospital in central London.

While I cover general dermatology including acne, psoriasis, and eczema, my areas of particular interest are hair and nail disorders, skin cancers, and complex skin diseases.

I am one of the few London dermatologists in the UK who specialize in hair loss. Dr. Anastasia Therianou is a hair loss expert and mole, problem expert. To arrange a consultation book an appointment with me in my dermatology clinic in Harley Street.

To book an appointment or to request more information click here and please fill out the form and we will contact you shortly.

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