Why Do I Still Get Acne as an Adult?

A dermatologist explains why women are more susceptible to adult acne than men, and shows us how to keep pimples at bay.


When you’re going through puberty, it’s easy to believe one of the perks of adulthood is not having a pizza face. But alas, adulthood disappoints once again, because, for many of us, acne returns with a vengeance in our postpubertal years — in fact, studies indicate that between 40 and 55 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 40 suffer from breakouts. But why is that? Didn’t our pimple-sprouting hormones dissipate along with the perpetual anger we felt towards our parents? We asked dermatologist Anthony Rossi to explain why the evil that is acne doesn’t account for age.

“The main reason we get acne during our teenage years is because of a hormone surge that causes the sebaceous glands to produce excess oil. This oil then clogs the pores, causing an outbreak of pimples,” Rossi explains. “Women are typically more prone to adult acne because of similar hormone fluctuations.” But that doesn’t mean every woman is doomed to a life of pimple popping: “We’re actually able to regulate these hormones by prescribing various types of birth control or other medications,” Rossi says. This, in turn, can stunt the constant growth of acne altogether.

Generally speaking, the main culprit behind adult acne is sweat, but only if we let it linger. When we sweat, the salty liquid acts like a pipe cleaner for our pores, pushing out any dirt and grime that’s lodged itself in our skin. That sweat and dirt mixture will settle back into your pores if you give it the chance, though. “That’s why you want to hop in the shower or, at the very least, wash your face — which contains the highest number of sebaceous glands — immediately after a workout or any heavy bout of perspiration,” Rossi told us when we discussed how quickly we should wash after workouts. “Or else you’ll be looking at a pretty nasty breakout.”

Rossi also adds that it’s a good idea to wear fabrics that allow the skin to breathe post-workout, so they’re not trapping moisture and breakout-inducing sweat against the skin all day long.

While keeping clean and dry may prevent zits from popping up frequently, Rossi notes that there’s no surefire way to remain pimple-free until the day we die. After all, we’re all human, and we’re all pretty darn gross no matter how hard we try not to be.