What causes acne breakouts?

  • Hormones. Fluctuating hormone levels can cause acne breakouts, which is why women tend to see breakouts around the time of their period, as well as during pregnancy and menopause.  It may also appear when starting or discontinuing birth control pills.
  • Stress.  Studies have shown a relationship between stress and flare-ups of acne.  Stress causes our bodies to produce more of the hormone androgen, which can stimulate the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, producing acne.
  • Hair and skin care products can also cause breakouts.  If you’ve noticed that you break out more when using certain products, check the labels.  Make sure you only buy products labeled "non-comedogenic" or "oil-free".
  • Genetics.  It’s sad to say, but you can simply have a genetic predisposition for adult acne. If someone in your family has had this condition, you may have inherited it from them.
  • Medication.  Some medications have a side effect of causing acne.  If you have developed an acne breakout and have just started a new medication, you may want to talk to your physician.  If it’s known that acne is a potential side effect of the medication, your doctor may be able to switch you to a different medication.


Treatment depends on the type and severity of your acne.  Acne comes in many shapes and sizes—from simple blackheads to painful, scarring, cystic acne.

Blackheads are a mixture of dead skin cells and oil that get trapped in the pores of the skin. Pimples can develop when blackheads become inflamed, and they can turn into whiteheads. There are many over-the-counter products that can be used to treat mild acne. Keep in mind, however, that it takes time. Non-prescription treatment can take several weeks before the acne starts to improve. Also, be careful when looking for an adult acne product.

Most acne medications are geared for teenagers who tend to have oily skin. For most adults, teenage acne products are far too drying and may irritate your skin. A trial-and-error approach may be necessary for adult acne. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, be sure to speak to your physician prior to starting over-the-counter products. If you’re having trouble finding a product that works, speak with your dermatologist.

Cystic acne is the most severe type of acne and occurs when oil and dead skin cells build up deep in the hair follicles in the skin. This type of acne actually forms deep cysts in the skin that can periodically rupture, causing a boil-like blemish.  Cystic acne can be painful, lead to scarring, and requires a trip to the dermatologist.  This is needed whether you’re a teenager or an adult.

Generally, because the acne is so deeply embedded in the skin, oral medications are usually necessary to clear up the outbreak. Your dermatologist may also prescribe a topical cream or lotion to help decrease bacteria and reduce the inflammation.  Your dermatologist will also give you a daily regimen to help keep the breakouts from reoccurring.

When cleaning your skin, remember to be gentle using your fingertips to apply non-abrasive cleaners. There is no need to scrub your skin. Harsh scrubbing of the skin can worsen acne. Wash with lukewarm water twice a day and after sweating. Use products that are alcohol-free.  Avoid "picking" or "popping" acne lesions as this increases the risk of scarring and can lead to further flare-ups.

If you have suffered from a bad outbreak of acne that has left embarrassing scars, speak to your dermatologist.  While light acne scars can fade over time, scars left by cystic acne may be improved with procedures such as laser resurfacing or microdermabrasion.

The important thing to remember about adult acne is that just as with teenage acne, there are treatments available.

If standard, over-the-counter products aren’t working for you, contact your dermatologist for an appointment for an evaluation and to discuss treatment options to help you achieve clearer, healthier looking skin.

To schedule an appointment for an examination by one of our providers, call us at one of our locations listed below. 

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