Treating Adult Acne in Women

10 Things You Must Know About Adult Acne In Women

Think that once you entered adulthood acne would be just a memory? Think again! Adult acne is very common, especially in women.

The acne that you have as an adult woman is different from the acne you may have had as a teen. Those old standby treatments probably won't work now, at least not very well. But there are other weapons in the acne treatment arsenal that can effectively clear adult acne.

Here are 10 must-know facts to help you treat your adult acne.


Woman examining face in mirror
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The acne you had during your teen years may have hung on into adulthood. It's also common to find yourself breaking out for the very first time as an adult.

There are several reasons why acne rears its head post-puberty. Certain medications can trigger breakouts, as well as conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The most common reason for adult acne in women, though, is normal hormonal fluctuations (more about this later).



Acne doesn't discriminate. It affects both males and females, about equally during the teen years.

During adulthood it's a different story, though. Adult acne strikes one of the sexes with much greater frequency than the other. Can you guess which one?

Yes, ladies, you're more likely than a man to get acne. It's those darn hormones again.

The predisposition for acne is genetic. So, if your parents had acne (either as teens or adults) you're more likely to get it too.



We all tend to think that any red bumps that are on the face are pimples, and that all pimples are acne. That's not necessarily true.

Rosacea is a skin problem that also causes red, acne-like pimples on the face. It most commonly appears for the first time during adulthood, so it's often given the misnomer "adult acne."

Acne and rosacea aren't the only skin conditions that cause pimples. A trip to the doctor might be a good idea if you aren't 100% positive that acne is what you're seeing.



Just as teen acne is triggered by the major hormonal changes that happen during puberty, hormones also play a huge part in the development of acne in adulthood.

Many women find themselves breaking out more right before their period. Menopause and perimenopause are also common times in a woman's life when acne suddenly appears.

Any changes that cause major hormonal shifts in the body can trigger acne.



Arguably one of the most "hormonal" times of any woman's life is pregnancy. The changes that occur in your body during pregnancy can also change your skin, for better or for worse.

For some women, their skin never looks better than during pregnancy. Others break out like crazy.

And after you have your little one, you may not be in the clear, either. For some women, postpartum acne is also an issue.

If you do choose to treat your acne during your pregnancy, you have to take into account your growing baby. Ask your OB/GYN or your dermatologist for acne treatments that are safe for mommies-to-be.



Acne in adult women is overwhelmingly inflammatory and most often confined to the bottom third of the face (like the lower cheeks, jaw line, chin, and neck.). Adult acne tends to be mild to moderate, but it is also stubborn. To treat it successfully, you will probably need a combination of treatments.

Topical retinoids

These are a good choice for treating adult acne. Not only do they help by reducing breakouts, but some can also slow down signs of aging, too.

Birth control pills

If you need a contraceptive anyway, birth control pills may be a good addition to your acne treatment routine. They help regulate hormonal fluctuations that contribute to breakouts.


An anti-androgen that's used to treat hormonal acne, many women find spironolactone can't be beat. It's not right for every woman, though, so your doc will work with you to decide if this is a good fit.

These are just a select few of the many treatments available. There are many more, at least one of which will be right for you.



Yes, this medication is also known as Accutane. Although isotretinoin is usually reserved only for severe cases of acne, it can also be prescribed to treat persistent cases of adult acne.

Often, adult acne is stubborn and resists other treatments. If this is the case for you, your doctor may suggest isotretinoin treatment, even if your acne is relatively mild. Most people get really good results with this medication.



Usually, adult women don't have the blackheads and greasy skin that most teens deal with. Maybe your skin is more dry. Those oil-stripping skin care products meant for super oily skin might not be right for you.

Instead, choose OTC acne treatment products designed for sensitive skin types. These tend not to be as oil-drawing as other acne products.

If you're using a prescription acne treatment, forgo OTC acne products altogether. Instead, choose gentle, hydrating skin care products to keep acne medications from drying out your skin.

If you need help choosing your skin care products, employ the help of an esthetician or your dermatologist.



Since acne that occurs in adult women most often has a hormonal aspect, topical treatments you find over the counter usually have minimal effect on breakouts. If you can't get your acne under control after about eight weeks, give your doctor a call.

If you wait, your acne may get worse and could possibly cause scarring. This is especially true if you have large, inflamed breakouts or if you are prone to hyperpigmentation and scarring anyway.

Think of it this way, no one ever regrets seeing a doctor too soon, but many people regret waiting too long.



You're busy living your life, taking care of your family and working hard at your career. Acne is just one more stress you don't need.

But in the midst of treating acne, and patiently waiting for it to clear, don't forget to give yourself some much-needed attention and care. It will help you feel better and protect against the eroding of self-confidence that sometimes comes with this condition. Remember, you deserve it!


Collier CN, Harper JC, Cantrell WC, Wang W, Foster KW, Elewski BE. "The prevalence of acne in adults 20 years and older." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2007.06.045. Published online October 18, 2007.

"Adult Acne: Effective Treatment Available." AcneNet. 20 Sep 07. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed 24 Sept 2011.

Williams C, Layton AM. "Persistent acne in women: implications for the patient and for therapy. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology 2006; 7:281-90.