Many people expect to deal with acne during their teenage years. But the reality is that 85% of people have acne at some point throughout their lives — and it can strike at nearly any time. It can affect people throughout their 20s, 30s, and even 40s and 50s. That’s just one reason why it’s known as one of the most common skin issues around. Plus, the fact that there are countless causes for acne can make it that much harder to treat. If you’re struggling to get help with acne, it may help to assess what might be causing it in the first place. Of course, your dermatologist will be your best resource for this. But this list of common adult acne causes is a good place to start.


Some people are simply more genetically prone to developing acne than others. Actually, your rate of cell turnover and level of sebum production — two common acne causes — can be almost totally caused by genetics. But even if there are hereditary causes at play, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to treat your acne. Because it’s one of the most common skin issues there is, there are numerous methods that can treat even the most stubborn kinds of acne. That said, adult acne that comes out of nowhere may have other root causes.


Hormones play a huge role in acne development, which is why these common skin issues typically develop during puberty. But hormonal fluctuations throughout your life — like during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause — may make acne a persistent problem. Men may also experience hormonal acne, though it’s typically not as severe or as frequent as what many women experience. Hormonal breakouts tend to occur on the lower half of the face, popping up out of nowhere in a painful way. You may not be able to eliminate hormone fluctuations, but there are ways to get a handle on hormonal acne.


Stress may not directly cause a new pimple to form, but it can indirectly wreak havoc on your face. An excessive amount of stress can, for example, result in hormonal changes that can (you guessed it!) exacerbate acne. It can also lead to a lack of sleep or make dehydration and dietary patterns worse. Essentially, stress can do a lot of damage to your body without you realizing the extent of it. Of course, a stress-free life won’t guarantee clear skin. But learning to recognize stress — and the patterns we fall into when we feel emotionally overwhelmed — can make a difference.

Allergies or Sensitivities

You might not realize it, but the cosmetics or skincare products you use on a regular basis might be making your adult acne much worse. Certain sunscreens, makeup ingredients, or cleansing products can clog your pores or irritate your skin and end up making matters worse. You’ll want to examine your routine and see whether any new additions can be linked to your breakouts. If so, replace these items with products with labels proclaiming they’re oil-free, non-comedogenic, and water-based. Keep in mind that your skin might actually have a bad reaction to chemical ingredients that may be used to treat acne in some cases. You should also take care to wash your makeup brushes regularly, change your pillowcases weekly, and clean off your cell phone screen to prevent breakouts.

Diet or Routine

Not every expert agrees that these common skin issues are attributed to diet, but they certainly can be for some people. You may have a sensitivity to milk, sugar, soy, gluten, iodine, or other ingredients that might cause an adverse reaction in the form of pimples. You might want to keep a food journal and cut out items that you think might be causing your acne and other negative effects. In general, maintaining a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water can help your skin look its best.

These common causes for adult acne serve as a good jumping-off point for you and your dermatologist to examine more closely. Your skin problems might actually be caused by several of these factors. To find out for sure, consult with an experienced dermatologist.