7 Things You Might Not Know About Adult Acne

7 Things You Might Not Know About Adult Acne

1. So many people are dealing with it.

If you feel like the only grown woman contending with puberty 2.0, you’re definitely not. The American Academy of Dermatology reported a surge in adult acne in recent years, especially among women, and BalmLabs’ own survey revealed that 1 in 3 women will struggle with breakouts at some point in their adult life. That number has likely risen in the past few months, if tweets about pandemic- and isolation-related breakouts are any indication. (“Mask-ne” is real, and it sucks.)

2. Adult acne ≠ teenage acne

Teen breakouts tend to consist of small pustules or blackheads close to the skin’s surface. Adult acne is much deeper, more cystic and concentrated around the jawline. For this reason, says BalmLabs’ chief dermatologist Dr. Robin Schaffran, your teenage zit cream — with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid — isn’t going to be much help. These ingredients often don’t penetrate deeply enough to be effective and they can be overly drying and irritating for more mature skin — at a time when fine lines, dryness, discoloration are also top skin concerns.

3. Raging hormones (but not the fun kind) are the #1 cause of adult acne

Women in their 30s and 40s often deal with what Dr. Schaffran calls “hormonally charged skin,” meaning they’re at the phase in life when hormonal fluctuations become more extreme. This might be due to going off the pill, pregnancy or the start of perimenopause. The main effect of these hormonal shifts is that oil gland activity increases, which means your skin is producing more oil, and pores can’t work as efficiently, which means it’s a lot more challenging to eliminate that excess oil. That’s how pores get clogged, resulting in deep-seated bumps that get inflamed.

4. Chronic stress is culprit #2

Stress sets off a chain reaction that can wreak serious havoc on your skin, according to Dr. Schaffran. At stressful times (like, say, now), the endocrine system secretes hormones — androgens and cortisol — and those hormones in turn increase oil-gland production. Bacteria that normally lives on the skin feed off the excess oil, and this often leads to an inflammatory response, as well as clogging of the pores, and ultimately, an increase in the frequency and severity of acne.


“Teenage zit creams can be overly drying and irritating for more mature skin — when fine lines, dryness, discoloration are also top skin concerns.”


5. It’s not just skin-deep

Acne can be tough to navigate as a teen, and as an adult who thought she’d closed the door on her acne years, it can be a source (and a symptom) of chronic stress. BalmLabs’ survey found that half of adult women suffering from adult acne said it affects the way they feel about themselves, with 20% of them saying it makes them feel like they don’t want to leave the house. “There’s this undercurrent of feelings of shame, feelings of guilt and feelings of worthlessness that can accompany [adult] acne,” says Matthew Traube, a California-based licensed clinical therapist who specializes in psychodermatology. “It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens to a surprisingly large number of people.”

Sold out

Sold out

Sold out

Sold out

6. Men deal with hormonal acne, too

Hormonal fluctuations in midlife are a huge issue for women, but they affect men too. Testosterone levels generally start to decline after age 35, which, in theory, should help with acne, says Dr. Schaffran. But more men are now supplementing testosterone, in an attempt to help with issues like lower energy and libido, which can cause a surge of spots the likes of which they haven’t seen since high school. In general, men tend to have oilier skin, and larger pores. So new bouts of acne tend to be deeper and more intense, which also increases the risk of scarring.

7. There’s been virtually no innovation in adult acne products in 20 years. Until now.

Half of U.S. women aged 35-50 find currently available acne products irritating and overly drying. That’s because over-the-counter acne products are created for oily, teenage skin and rely heavily on ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. For women in their 30s and 40s, however, issues like fine lines, dryness, thinning of the skin, hyperpigmentation, and adult acne occur all at once. You can’t just tackle one in isolation. ClearBalm by BalmLabs is a 3-step system designed to improve the look and feel of stressed and adult acne-prone skin. Our plant-based, science-driven formulation is gentle and effective, and contains nothing that’ll irritate or dry out your skin.


Dermatologist Q+A: What ingredients work for stressed and adult acne-prone skin?