"Adult acne" is the term used to describe the growing phenomenon of people in their late 20s, 30s and even 40s and 50s getting spots. 80% of those with "adult acne" are thought to be women and this has been blamed on changes in hormone levels caused by stress, the contraceptive pill and lifestyle factors, including diet. Adult acne is no different to the acne that teenagers get and can be equally damaging psychologically.
Hormonal factors (mainly the male hormone testosterone) play a strong role in the onset of acne and it is believed that modern lifestyles, stress and medication (chemicals) are to blame for women producing more testosterone. One of the reasons teenage boys suffer from acne is because they have a spike in testosterone to enable them to grow and develop. Just before their periods women also get a spike in testosterone, which is why many suffer from acne around their time of the month. Acne is generally a four-step process. Hypersensitivity to testosterone causes the first two reactions from the skin. Firstly, sebaceous glands, which are sensitive to changes in hormones, start producing more sebum than the skin needs, making the skin more oily. Secondly, the natural shedding of the skin becomes disrupted by a strengthening of the bonds that hold the dead skin cells together. In normal skin activity the bonds are very strong in the deeper living layers of the skin, then as the skin cells move up to the surface of the skin, where they die, the bonds become very weak, allowing them to drop off when the next dead layer pushes through. In acne skin this does not happen. The bonds stay strong, binding more and more dead skin to the surface and ultimately blocking the opening of the pores, where the oil comes out. This causes the oil to get trapped, causing a pocket of oil. The third step is when bacteria, which naturally lives on the surface of the skin in low levels, gets in to the blocked pore and, due to lack of oxygen and light and the presence of food (sebum), is able to rapidly multiply. Finally, when the bacteria reaches high levels the body attacks it, sending in the white blood cells. It is this process that causes the redness and swelling associated with spots.
Adult acne most commonly appears on the face but it can occur all over the body on areas such as the back, torso, neck, shoulders and even the arms, buttocks and legs.
People of all ages can get acne, but adult acne specifically refers to non-adolescents. The condition is on the rise with men and particularly women in their late 20s and 30s, and even their 40s and 50s, developing the condition, even if they did not have spots as teenagers. Adult acne is more common in women than men.