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Adult Acne: Why You Get It and How to Tackle it

By Ellie Child - 4 years ago | Updated
Why do you get adult acne

Remember when you thought the likes of mood swings, angst and acne were just a by-product of your teenage years? Ahhh, those were the days. Fast forward to your 20s, 30s, 40s etc etc and you’ll soon realise that half of these things still make an appearance – adult acne being one of the most talked about.

You can follow the strictest and most expensive skin care regime, eat cleaner, drink copious amounts of water and teach yourself the self-restraint of a monk when it comes to picking the spots, but still adult acne persists (although these extra steps should help with the severity).

Before we delve into some of the remedies that can help to lessen the appearance, let's look into some adult acne causes.

Factors that can drive adult acne:

Hormones, hormones, hormones

For women, the hormone changes before your menstrual cycle can be very responsible for the development of adult acne. The rise of male hormones such as testosterone are mainly accountable for some cases of cystic acne that forms around the chin, neck and back.

One of the main causes of acne is excess sebum production, which also comes with a host of other related problems such as blocked pores, build-up and inflammation. Oil levels can increase (or decrease) depending on your hormone levels: a reason as to why the contraceptive pill can cure or curse some cases of acne.

Outdated skin care routines

Using the wrong products for your skin type can cause more damage than you’d think. Highly fragranced, heavy creams and lotions can aggravate skin, which makes it respond in an aggressive way – usually in the form of angry inflammation.

Going forth, you’ll want to look out for products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic as they banish ingredients that promote blocked pores. Opt for lighter formulations such as gel cleansers and moisturisers to keep things as clean and easy as possible.


If excess oil and bacteria are the main cause of acne then naturally you would think that more cleansing is needed. Unfortunately, this is very far from the truth. In fact, over-cleansing can result in heightened bouts of acne, which can leave you feeling desperately confused and hopeless. The more you cleanse your face, the drier it can become, encouraging the production of additional oil – yeah. Not something we want to sign up to.

City life

Pollution can seriously mess with the dynamics of your skin, leaving it feeling heavy and stressed out. Air pollution can add a layer of grime to your complexion and clog your pores, which can deeply affect sensitive and vulnerable skin types.

An unbalanced diet

I know, I know – hearing that you should eat less sugar and processed food isn’t the answer you want to hear but unfortunately it can be responsible for certain types of acne. Sugar is a big trigger for spots as some evidence has been shown that insulin may boost oil-triggering male hormones.

So what can we do to counteract adult acne?

There are a lot of adult acne products on the market, but knowing what to go for can be tricky. Where possible, look out for products that include the following ingredients or labels:

The above ingredients generally help to either lightly exfoliate, kill off bad bacteria or dry out excess oil – all of which will help with combating adult acne.

Cosmetify’s top picks for adult acne:

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser


Powered by squalene, this acne-focused cleanser helps to soften and strip away dirt, grime and makeup with a gentle yet effective action that doesn’t dry out skin. Better still, it’s non-comedogenic and soap-free, allowing it to be used daily.

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant


Containing 2% BHA salicylic acid, this exfoliating treatment gently buffs away dead skin cells and dirt for a clearer, brighter complexion.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Moisturising Cream For Sensitive Blemish Prone Skin

La Roche-Posay Effaclar H Moisturising Cream For Sensitive Blemish Prone Skin

£18.90 £20.00 (6% off)

Boasting a cooling gel-cream texture, this light-wearing hydrator is ideal for replenishing moisture levels without overwhelming or weighing down the skin. It has been specifically formulated for oily skin types and actively works to reduce the appearance of dryness and scarring left by spots.

Institut Esthederm Intensive Propolis+ Purifying Mask

Institut Esthederm Intensive Propolis+ Purifying Mask

£28.88 £39.00 (26% off)

This life-saving mask is formulated to deliver fast-acting, easy results. Make this a part of your self-care routine for touchably soft, clearer skin.



£46.00 £62.00 (26% off)

This gel serum is the perfect go-to option for acne sufferers. It includes salicylic acid and a combination of other hardworking ingredients, to which helps you achieve a smoother, healthier complexion. The treatment provides a boost of hydration, while also soothing acne irritation.

NIP+FAB Salicylic Fix Spot Patches

NIP+FAB Salicylic Fix Spot Patches

£10.95 £11.06 (1% off)

Zit stickers are a quick, convenient and fuss-free way to heal blemishes and prevent picking. Infused with salicylic acid, witch hazel and tea tree oil, the stickers calm irritated skin, exfoliate pores and reduce the bacteria that cause breakouts.

Skin Doctors Zit Zapper

Skin Doctors Zit Zapper

£8.99 £14.59 (39% off)

Whether you're suffering from a hormonal, hangover or stress-related breakout, then you'll want to snap up this Zit Zapper from Skin Doctors. Promising to reduce the look of surprise spots, the fast-acting spot treatment instantly cleanses and soothes the affected area, reducing redness and drying out spots overnight.

Neutrogena Light Therapy Targeted Acne Spot Treatment

Neutrogena Light Therapy Targeted Acne Spot Treatment


This one-of-a-kind acne treatment harnesses the power of blue and red lights to eliminate acne-causing bacteria and reduce the appearance of inflamed, angry skin. Working for just two minutes, this on-the-go device can help to reduce the severity of bad breakouts and acne for a clearer complexion.

The most important thing to remember is that the skin you're in doesn't define you. Invest carefully in your products, eat and drink clean and don't stress: everything is temporary, including your adult acne. For further information regarding recommended products for acne-prone skin, check out our blog on The Top 6 Moisturisers for Acne-Prone Skin.

Ellie Child

Written by Ellie Child

With five years’ experience under her belt, Ellie has worked alongside a range of highly regarded makeup artists, giving her a real insight into what consumers should be spending their money on.

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