What You Should Know About Adult Acne and Teen Acne – The Differences and How to Treat Them

Many things come to mind when we think about our experiences with acne breakouts. For some of us, the phrase “bane of my existence” might be an excellent way to describe how we feel about it. Acne is a skin condition that can affect anybody at any age. The American Academy of Dermatology will tell you that acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans a year. With it being such a prevalent problem, let’s talk about how it can affect you at different ages and some ways you can treat acne.


Acne is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. The body’s immune system reacts, causing pimples. Acne and pimples are not considered infections but are sometimes treated with antibiotics as an anti-inflammatory treatment. Let’s look at some of the different types of acne:

  • Whiteheads or closed comedones are pores clogged with dead skin that becomes trapped underneath the skin surface.
  • Blackheads or open comedones are clogged pores that remain open. This open surface then turns black.
  • Pimples, nodules, and cysts form when the wall of skin surrounding a clogged pore expands inward, leading to an accumulation of dead skin cells. Your body’s natural reaction to the dead skin is to initiate an inflammatory response leading to painful, inflamed, red nodules. Very rarely, a cyst can become infected with bacteria, but bacterial infection, contrary to popular belief, is NOT usually a key player in acne.


Acne at this age is mainly caused by hormone level changes during puberty. These hormones, known as androgens, increase the size of the oil glands in the skin and, in turn, the production of oil. As oil passes through large pores, they can become clogged, and you develop blemishes at that spot. These hormones are usually testosterone for boys and estrogen and progesterone in girls. The severity of acne at this age depends on various factors, one being genetics. If you have a family history of developing acne, you may develop acne as well. Other factors could be differences in hormone levels, how your skin responds to acne, oil production, diversity of skin flora and bacteria on your skin, and sensitivity of your skin to external irritants.

One of the differences between adult acne and teen acne is the location where acne appears. In teenagers, it occurs on the face, chest, and back. Once hormones balance upon adulthood, most teenagers “grow out” of acne breakouts.

Treating Teen Acne

This is an excellent time to start good skin care habits and to get acne under control. Dermatologists can significantly improve acne but minimizing the appearance of acne scarring tends to be a little more challenging. Good skin care habits will serve you well throughout the years and help you through your acne breakouts.

  1. Wash your face gently once or twice a day with a mild cleanser and water. Scrubbing can cause breakouts; facial scrubs and washcloths are not recommended.
  2. Avoid picking and squeezing.
  3. If you use makeup, use water-based, non-comedogenic products, and remove makeup thoroughly every day. Avoid pore-clogging ingredients like lanolin and mineral oil, alcohol toners that can cause your skin to produce more oil, artificial fragrances, and products that can irritate your skin, resulting in more breakouts.
  4. Look for products with salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells and prevent bacteria.
  5. Moisturize and use SPF daily with non-comedogenic products.

If you still feel that you are not getting the results you need, consult your Dermatologist for additional options. They will recommend treatments that are specific to your needs.


So, you start celebrating getting out of your awkward teenage years. Not so fast…for some adults, acne will start or continue through adulthood. And for others that never experienced acne, it is common to experience acne for the first time as an adult. It does seem to affect more women, primarily due to hormonal fluctuations from menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause. Other reasons for adult acne can be attributed to medications and cosmetic products.

Contact irritations can also cause or worsen acne (teen and adult). Things like helmets and face masks can occlude pores on your skin also exacerbating acne. The friction and sweat can irritate the skin and worsen breakouts.

Adults usually see acne breakouts on the chin, nose, and around the mouth area. Adult acne can be more challenging to treat acne as adults due to skin sensitivities, dehydration, and pigmentation issues.

Treating Adult Acne
  1. Since adult skin can be more sensitive, you want to avoid harsh products that younger skin might be able to handle such as benzoyl peroxide.
  2. Avoid picking and squeezing. Picking can cause further breakouts, scarring, and redness.
  3. Adult skin loses some of its ability to retain moisture. Use products that will not dry out your skin. Products such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid help enhance skin turnover. And don’t forget to moisturize with non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores) products.
  4. It is important to balance your acne treatments with all your other skin care needs. If you need to balance uneven skin tones or are combatting aging, you can use products that contain retinol and ingredients that help with skin tone.


One last thing that many people ask about is if certain foods cause acne. If you find that a specific food irritates your skin, try avoiding it. Some studies suggest that whey protein in skim milk and other dairy products and refined sugars can contribute to acne breakouts. Eating foods with a low glycemic index and limiting your skim milk and whey protein dairy intake might help improve your skin.


Acne treatments need time to work. If a treatment works for you, you should see an improvement in 4 to 6 weeks and 2 to 3 months or longer to see the acne clearing. If you don’t see improvement, sometimes adding a second treatment will enhance your outcome. Be careful not to overdo it – using too many products can irritate your skin making your acne worse.

Your Dermatologist can personalize your treatments to fit your specific skin, needs, and issues. If you have been using over-the-counter products and they are not helping, reach out to your Dermatologist. Also, see a Dermatologist if your acne is severe and painful, is causing scarring, or if it is affecting your life and self-esteem. There are prescription treatments that can be more effective, such as isotretinoin (known as Accutane), hormonal agents such as birth control, and antibiotics. Lasers and cosmetic procedures are options to treat acne scarring once acne flares are under control. The right acne treatment can heal existing lesions and stop new lesions from forming.

Our Board-Certified Dermatologists at Advanced Dermatology & Skin Surgery specialize in acne treatment. Request an appointment online today.