5 Ways to Get Rid of Acne at Any Age

By: Jennifer Cohen

Acne can occur at any age.
Acne can occur at any age.
Andreanna Lynn Seymore/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Acne does not discriminate when it comes to age. Though pimples are associated with the awkward teenage years, breakouts can occur in children under 10, previously blemish-free twentysomethings, expectant mothers, women approaching menopause and stressed-out adults of any age. Some people battle persistent acne throughout their lives, while others suffer temporary flare-ups due to hormonal changes, medication reactions, emotional strain or any number of other factors.

Though breakouts plague boys and girls equally during adolescence, adult women get pimples more frequently than their male counterparts, studies show [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Acne affects 45 percent of women between the ages of 21 and 30, 26 percent of women ages 31 to 40, and 12 percent of women ages 41 to 50 [source: Jackson-Cannady].


No matter how old you are, pimples, whiteheads and blackheads occur when sebum (oil) and dead skin cells plug the hair follicles, allowing bacteria to grow. But whether you're a despairing teenager or a grown-up with their first blemish, there are ways to stop this process in its tracks -- and prevent it from recurring. Find out how!

Get Your Hormones in Check

Women of all ages are still capable of getting acne.
Women of all ages are still capable of getting acne.

Breakouts often coincide with hormonal changes, including those associated with adolescence, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause [Jackson-Cannady]. Hormonal acne usually appears on the chin or along the jaw line, and it can often be deep and cystic in nature [Giglio]. You may notice that it comes and goes at predictable times of the month.

As women age, their levels of androgens, male hormones that can overstimulate the oil glands and make pore-clogging skin cells shed faster, tend to rise [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. That's why older women sometimes feel like they're reliving adolescence -- or, if they never broke out as teenagers, experiencing it for the first time.


Rather than antibiotics, retinoids or topical treatments like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, hormonal acne responds best to hormone therapies, including combination oral contraceptives and spironolactone, an anti-androgen medication [source: James]. Just be sure to let your doctor know if you're pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive, since these situations limit your treatment options.

In some women, acne can signal an underlying hormonal disorder, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). If you're a woman with persistent adult acne, ask your doctor whether it might make sense to test for PCOS and other hormone imbalances [source: Rettner].

Don't Stress

Stressing out won't help your skin.
Stressing out won't help your skin.

Ever sprouted a new crop of pimples during exams, a breakup or a frenzied week at work? Research shows that we produce more sebum, which blocks the hair follicles and causes breakouts, when we experience anxiety and unhappiness. What's more, nervous wrecks are more likely to pick at their skin and touch their faces -- activities known to aggravate acne -- than their anxiety-free counterparts [source: Kam]. According to dermatologist Amy Wechsler, who is also board-certified in psychiatry, stress is "the most influential factor" in acne flare-ups. "Any sort of stressful event can lead to inflammation that can lead to acne," she says.

Nobody's immune to stress, so how can you decompress? First, aim to get at least eight hours of sleep a night -- easier said than done during hectic stages of life, but an important goal nonetheless. Regular exercise can also work wonders, helping you stay sane and refreshed while also nourishing your skin cells with extra oxygen [source: Percia]. Just be sure to wash your face before and after your sweat session.


Sometimes, stress-related acne can trigger a vicious circle: you start worrying about your imperfect complexion, so you break out even more. This is especially true for women over the age of 30, says Dr. Wechsler. "They are angry about it, surprised and embarrassed," she explains. Pimples may get under your skin, but don't let them occupy your thoughts. Use that nervous energy to develop a healthy skin care regimen or make an appointment with a dermatologist.

Eat Right

Clean eating = clean skin.
Clean eating = clean skin.
Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Digital Vision/Getty Images

It may be a myth that French fries cause pimples, but that doesn't mean your eating habits don't affect your skin. First, maintain a healthy weight, since obesity has been linked to acne in both teenagers and adults [source: Tsai]. This is likely because weight gain prompts hormonal changes that increase androgen, which in turn accelerates sebum production [source: O'Connor].

Recent studies have suggested that high-glycemic foods, such as bread and candy, rapidly raise glucose levels, unleashing hormones that stimulate oil production [source: Aubrey]. If you're prone to acne, you might consider trying a reduced-carbohydrate diet rich in protein, vegetables and whole grains. Experts think frequent dairy consumption might also trigger breakouts, so cut back on the milk and cheese too [source: Burris].


To promote healthy skin in general, doctors and nutritionists recommend drinking plenty of water, eating lots of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and choosing foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids [source: Uscher]. You should also avoid artificial colorings, flavorings, preservatives and sweeteners [Daily Mail].

Use a Retinoid

For teenagers and young adults, the first line of defense against acne usually involves over-the-counter creams and gels. "For mild acne, two really effective treatments are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid," says Dr. Wechsler. But no matter what your age, the next step is often a dermatologist-prescribed retinoid, sometimes in combination with a topical or oral antibiotic.

Retinoids, which are derived from vitamin A, curb breakouts by unplugging pores, preventing new clogs and reducing inflammation. Topical retinoids include tretinoin, adapalene and tazarotene. Since these medications may cause peeling and redness at first, doctors recommend using them every other day or every few days, then slowly working up to daily application. Topical retinoids increase sensitivity to sunlight, so be sure to load up on sunscreen [WebMD].


For severe, cystic acne, dermatologists sometimes prescribe an oral retinoid known as isotretinoin. "It is the only medication that stops the scarring many people experience with acne," Dr. Wechsler says. Since isotretinoin has been linked to numerous side effects, including serious birth defects, it's typically recommended only after other treatments prove ineffective. Pregnant women and women who may conceive cannot take isotretinoin, and even topical retinoids should be avoided during pregnancy [Mayo Clinic].

An added benefit of using a retinoid? These medications also treat and prevent wrinkles. For adult acne sufferers, this means killing two birds with one stone.

Keep Your Face Clean

iStockphoto.com/Amanda Rohde

Whether you're 15 or 51, residue on the skin creates a breeding ground for pimples, whiteheads and blackheads. Avoid this scenario by maintaining a simple cleansing routine, Dr. Wechsler advises. But that doesn't mean scouring off every trace of grime with harsh soaps and aggressive scrubbing. In fact, washing your face too much can actually worsen acne by stripping the skin of lipids and increasing irritation. Experts recommend gently washing twice a day with a pH-balanced cleanser [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

No matter how tired you are, your skin regimen should include nightly makeup removal, especially if you're acne-prone. Various cosmetics, from foundation and primer to mascara and eyeliner, can clog pores and attract pimple-causing bacteria when they remain on the face. They can also lead to collagen breakdown and premature aging, giving you yet another reason to sleep cosmetics-free [source: Kitchens].


Another way to fight acne overnight: change your pillowcase frequently. Even if you cleanse thoroughly, oil, dead skin and hair products can build up on the surface of your pillow, turning your beauty sleep into a breakout nightmare. If your hair tends to get greasy or if you load up on styling goop, considering pulling back your tresses while you snooze [source: Chung].

As part of your campaign to achieve clean, clear skin, adopt a hands-off policy. Touching your face or resting your chin on your palm can spread bacteria and further irritate inflamed areas. And though it may be tempting, never pop, squeeze or pick at your pimples. You'll run the risk of redness, infection and, worst of all, scarring [source: WebMD].

Lots More Information

Related Articles


  • American Academy of Dermatology. " Hormonal factors key to understanding acne in women." March 16, 2012. (July 10, 2013) http://www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/hormonal-factors-key-to-understanding-acne-in-women
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Small changes in skin care routine can significantly improve skin affected by acne and rosacea." February 4, 2011. (July 10, 2013) http://www.aad.org/stories-and-news/news-releases/--small-changes-in-skin-care-routine-can-significantly-improve-skin-affected-by-acne-and-rosacea
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Women More Likely Than Men To Be Affected By Acne As Adults." Science Daily. October 20, 2007. (July 10, 2013) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071019155627.htm
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