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Adult Acne: Types, Typical Causes, and Treatments

Acne Free Face
Acne is for adolescents, right? Actually, acne can persist well into adulthood. What's more, people can experience acne for the first time in adulthood. Some studies even suggest that adult acne is on the rise. Find out the common causes and treatments of acne.
Types of Acne
Acne is a blanket term that covers different clogged pore conditions of the skin, typically on the face or back. While people tend to associate acne with inflammation, acne can occur in non-inflammatory cases.
Whiteheads and blackheads are examples of non-inflammatory acne. These two conditions are both pores clogged by sebum and dead skin cells. With blackheads, the top of the pore stays open, resulting in the dark presentation. With whiteheads, the pore remains closed over the clog, creating a small bump.
Whiteheads can also fall into the inflamed category. Called papules, this condition presents as the white bumps interspersed with red or pink bumps, which are typically sensitive. Pustules are also similar to inflamed whiteheads, though they present with raised red rings around the whitehead. The head can also be filled with yellow pus.
Nodules and cysts are more extreme forms of inflamed acne. Nodules are similar to pustules in that they present as a red bump. However, nodules don't develop a head because they're situated deeper in the skin. Cysts are even deeper in the skin and occur because bacteria have entered the equation. Cysts present as large bumps that may even look like boils.
Both adolescents and adults are prone to any of the above types of acne.
Causes of Acne in Adults
As noted, the base cause of acne is a clogged pore. However, the reasons pores become clogged vary.
One of the most common causes for clogged pores is a hormonal imbalance, which is why the condition often occurs in teenagers. However, adults can experience hormonal imbalances because of medical conditions. For example, polycystic ovarian syndrome results when women have an overproduction of androgens, or male hormones. One of the symptoms is adult acne.
Pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause also affect hormone levels in women, thus leading to acne. Likewise, genetics make some people more prone to adult acne.
Another leading cause of acne in adults is stress. When you're suffering emotional stress, your adrenal glands go into overdrive in producing cortisol, a hormone, thus creating another hormonal imbalance. When you're physically stressed, such as due to sleeplessness, the hormonal imbalance can be exacerbated by weakened immunity.
Topical Treatments
With topical therapy, you apply the treatment directly to the skin. Treatments include benzoyl peroxide, alpha hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, and sulfur. Benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria while removing excess skin cells. The acids and sulfur are even more effective at removing excess skin cells. Sulfur helps remove excess oil, while alpha hydroxy acid reduces inflammation.
Antimicrobial or retinoid creams are essentially prescription-strength versions of the above over-thecounter remedies. Retinoid creams are anti-inflammatory and help slough away dead skin cells. These creams also loosen the plugs already in the pores. Antimicrobials inhibit bacteria.
All of the above treatments are appropriate for any age of acne sufferer. However, skin gets drier later in life. You may want to talk to your dermatologist about treating you for acne while maintaining moisture in the other areas.
Systemic Therapy
The other method of treating adult acne is by addressing the internal cause.
Dermatologists may prescribe antibiotics such as tetracycline or minocycline to target the bacteria causing your acne. Oral contraceptives work to regulate cyclical hormones. Spironolactone is an anti-androgen hormone pill that dermatologists will prescribe if that condition is the root cause.
For the most severe cases of acne, dermatologists might prescribe isotretinoin, which is a high dose of vitamin A. The isotretinoin decreases the production of facial oil. Doctors only prescribe this treatment when a severe case of acne has not responded to other treatments.
Don't let acne make you feel like an insecure teenager while you're navigating an adult world. Contact Associated Dermatologists to discuss finding the right acne treatment.