Adult acne and how to prevent flare-ups

beautiful mature woman
By Elis Marcu 25th March 2021 Category: Advice

With the news of an exciting summer on the horizon, it’s natural for people to want to look their best when returning to face-to-face socialising. Although highly anticipated, it could cause feelings of anxiety, especially for those who may not feel as confident in their own skin. 

When it comes to skin confidence, conditions such as acne can be a huge trigger to one’s self-esteem. While many associate the skin condition with teenage years, it’s also common in adults, affecting 50% of women between the ages of 20 and 29, and more than 25% of women between the ages of 40 and 49.* 

To help ease the anxieties of those with adult acne, Dr Firas Al-Niaimi, expert dermatologist for the UK’s leading skin clinics, sk:n, explains what adult acne is, the key causes and the treatments available to help it.

What is adult acne?

Adult acne, or post-adolescent acne, is acne that occurs after age 25. Acne is a skin condition that stems from the pilosebaceous gland. This is the oil gland that is attached to a hair follicle and appears at the opening in the skin. 

When the sebaceous gland is overactive or there is an overgrowth of one commensal type of bacteria, it can lead to inflammation and blockage of pores due to an increase in cell turnover, which in turn results in the clinical manifestations of acne.

acne formation illustration

What causes adult acne?

The majority of the factors that cause acne in adolescents are also at play in adult acne and there is no single cause for this. In some cases, hormones can be the root of the cause by triggering the sebaceous glands to be more active than usual. However, there are a number of triggers that can cause this to happen and very much depend on each individual.


A high intake of milk and dairy, or an increase in calories, can encourage certain growth hormones to stimulate the grease gland to become more active. This will then in turn cause acne to form. Try to avoid ‘binge’ eating high calorie foods and reduce your dairy intake or consider switching to non-dairy alternatives such as almond and soy products. 

A poor diet can also cause low level gut inflammation which leads to a build-up of toxins that can worsen the skin and in particular acne. Therefore, maintaining a healthy gut that is free from toxins and introducing foods that are rich in fibres and Omega-3 will help and be beneficial for not just the gut but also the skin.


Hormones can trigger the grease gland to overproduce and increase the cell turnover at the pore openings, leading to clogging which typically presents with white and blackheads.  In women, this will often happen in the days building up to your period. A helpful tip to manage hormonal acne is to consider using a cleanser twice daily that contains Salicylic Acid (BHA) as this will help to ensure the removal of grease on the skin surface and clear the blocked pores.

Overactive grease gland

In some cases, people just have overactive grease glands. When combined with the presence of bacteria, acne will appear. Using skincare for grease-prone skin and maintaining a healthy diet will help to minimise the over-production of grease and oil.

Bad habits

A habit that is particularly bad for our skin is touching and picking spots. By tampering with the skin, we are allowing more bacteria, dirt and oil to make its way into the pore and effectively making it worse than it was before. 

What’s more, by doing this it can lead to permanent scarring on the skin’s surface which is even more challenging than acne to get rid of. One of the most effective ways to remove acne scarring is through laser resurfacing. sk:n is one of the few places to offer CO2 laser resurfacing, a treatment which removes or reduces scars, warts, and deep wrinkles.

What are the latest ingredients for treating acne?

Niacinamide has become an increasingly popular ingredient that helps a number of skin conditions including acne, and the SkinCeuticals Metacell Renewal B3 Cream works as a healthy barrier.

Metacell Renewal B3 (50ml) Creams & Moisturisers SkinCeuticals The Skin Experts

Buy SkinCeuticals Metacell Renewal B3 Cream

Products that contain salicylic acid, in a hydrating form, such as the sk:n Intense Blemish Lotion, are also useful for treating acne, especially when combined with retinols.

Intense Blemish Lotion (30ml) Moisturiser Sk:n The Skin Experts

Buy sk:n Intense Blemish Lotion

What effect does anxiety have on acne flare-ups?

When people feel stressed or anxious, the body increases its own steroid production. This is what causes skin inflammation as well as activation of the sebaceous glands creating an acne flare-up.

It’s completely understandable that people may feel anxious about the easing of lockdown, especially adults with acne.

There is also no clear sign on whether masks are here to stay. This is something that has had a huge effect on acne, or what professionals now describe as maskne. Maskne causes an acne eruption as a result of the occlusion and humidity from masks

How can adults prevent acne flare-ups ahead of the summer? 

  • Keep your face clean

By keeping your face clean, you remove the bacterial, oil and dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. To get the best results from your face-washing, try double cleansing to ensure all makeup, dirt and access oils are removed. A cleanser that contains glycolic or salicylic acid is best for breaking down any oil. It’s also important to avoid any exfoliants that can dry your skin out.

  • Use make-up wisely

As we return to socialising, it’s only natural that we will be applying more make-up for a confidence boost. While make-up doesn’t directly cause acne, it can contribute to clogged pores if not removed correctly. Poor cleansing methods such as make-up wipes can remove make-up from the top layer but not deep into the skin’s pores. A top tip is to choose oil-free, non-comedogenic products which are formulated to avoid breakouts.

  • Detox

The lead up to the summer is the perfect time to start thinking about switching up your diet. Diet plays a role in causing acne flare-ups and those who indulge in high sugar, fatty and food high in carbohydrates are more prone to these. Between now and the summer, try to eat foods with low glycaemic index values and limit sugary and fatty foods. A diet that is good for general health is good for the skin too!

Need help?

Begin your acne treatment at the UK’s leading skin clinic. All of our treatments are performed in a clinical environment.

Following your consultation, our experts will prescribe you with a bespoke acne treatment plan, which includes a range of home care products. This will ensure you get the best possible results faster.

Find your clinic today!

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