Adolescent Acne Vs. Adult Acne: Is There a Difference?


Facing Adolescent Acne Head on

Getting acne as an young adult is almost a given – approximately 85% of teenagers have a run in with this extremely common skin condition in one way, shape or form at some point during their adolescence.1 This right of passage into adulthood is most commonly marked by clogged pores and pimples. In severe cases, it can manifest into hard lumps or cysts. The good news? There are ways you can prevent its severity, and there’s an array of treatment options available that have only gotten better, less invasive and more efficient over the years. But before we get into that, it helps to understand exactly what’s happening to your skin so you can determine the best treatment options.

First Things First, What is Acne?

Acne by definition is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes different types of spots and bumps most commonly found on the face, neck, back, shoulders, chest and upper arms.2The different types of acne vary widely, with some far worse than others.

So, What Actually Causes Acne?

The simple answer is that acne is caused by clogged pores. But let’s back it up a bit. Inside those pores lie hair follicles that contain sebaceous glands, which make the sebum (or oil) that lubricates your hair and skin. For the most part, these glands make just the right amount of oil, but as our bodies start to mature and develop, a surge in hormones (particularly androgen) stimulate the glands to make more.3 Pores become clogged with too much oil and dead skin cells, trapping in bacteria as it continues to grow. That’s when acne rears its ugly head and the redness and swelling begin.4

There are 4 common types of acne:

Whiteheads: These happen when a plugged follicle remains under the surface of skin, resulting in a small white bump or whitehead.

Blackheads:When pores are clogged by debris on the skin’s surface, blackheads form. They are recognized by their black centre (which contrary to popular belief, is not caused by dirt but by cells and oil in the follicle that oxidizewhen in contact with air).

Pimples:Sometimes referred to as papules, pimples are small inflamed bumps on the skin’s surface, filled with pus.

Nodules: These deeper, painful, less common lesions happen when the infection within the sebaceous gland spreads beneath the skin’s surface.5

Adolescent Acne vs. Adult Acne – Is There a Difference?

Acne is acne no matter how you slice it. Whether you’re a teenager entering puberty or a middle-aged adult, acne is caused by over-productive oil glands clogging pores. The difference lies in what causes that to happen. Let’s take a look at both sides:

Adolescent Acne

Contrary to popular belief, enjoying a chocolate bar or French fries every now and then doesn’t really have anything to do with whether or not you’ll get acne. When it comes to the adolescent variety, it’s really a matter of genes and hormones vs. external factors, like stress or the kind of environment you’re in. So while you can’t control when, if or how you’re going to get it, there are ways to help treat acne to minimize the effects (more on that later).

Hormones – As discussed earlier, during puberty, your hormones go into overdrive triggering your body to make more of a particular type of hormone called androgens (the ones responsible for oil production).6

Genetics – Your genes do have something to do with it. If one of your close relatives was an acne sufferer, chances are you will inherit the same fate.7

Food – There’s been a lot of back and forth on whether certain foods affect acne. One thing we do know, is that eating a balanced diet helps keeps the body at its best so it can fight off inflammation and infection. Some studies have found a correlation between dairy products and acne. Approximately 75-90% of milk and milk products on the market is derived from pregnant cows, hence more hormones (which we know plays a large part).8

Adult Acne

Just when you thought pimples were behind you, it arrives in adulthood rearing its ugly head. And though they may look the same as they did in your teen years (whiteheads, blackheads, etc.), adult breakouts are different from the kind you had when you were a teenager. 

Hormones – While hormones are common to both adolescent and adult acne, it’s the type of hormones that make a difference. Menstrual cycles and pregnancy cause hormonal changes that can worsen acne, making women more susceptible to getting it.9And while some birth control products are known to help relieve acne, some kinds actually make it worse (because of the hormones) so it’s important to talk to your doctor or dermatologist to see what’s best for you.

Stress – For both men and women, physical and emotional stress weakens the immune system and can affect hormone levels, causing breakouts.10This happens because when we get stressed, our bodies respond by producing more androgens (which we know are the same hormones that cause adolescent acne).

Medications – Though most medications don’t typically list acne as a side effect, some can like steroids, lithium and phenobarbital. If you think your medication may be causing your acne, talk to your doctor to see if you can switch to a different medication, if possible. If you can’t change it up, speak to a dermatologist to help you find ways to control it.

The Dos and Don’ts for Managing Adolescent Acne

Like we said, there’s no sense in avoiding the inevitable, but you can arm yourself with everything you’ll need to take on acne.

Do wash your faceChoose a mild, dermatologist-approved cleanser and wash your face thoroughly twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. Avoid scrubbing with a harsh washcloth, using your hands instead to gently work in the cleanser. Finish with a mild daily moisturizer or cream (look for oil-free and noncomedogenic).

Don’t forget the SPF –Some acne sufferers have a sensitivity to the sun. Too much exposure can cause inflammation (or aggravate skin that is already inflamed) making you more susceptible to breakouts. Apply a broad-spectrum, dermatologist-approved sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher.11

Don’t pick – As tempting as it may be, one of the worst things you can do is pick at your pimples. Not only does the pinching and scratching cause micro-traumas to your skin, but you’re bringing all the bacteria and dirt from under your nails onto your face and into your pores. The end result could be worse than the pimple itself.

Do speak to a dermatologist – No matter how mild or severe your acne becomes, it’s always a good idea to speak with a professional to determine the best treatment options. Our new Acne Treatment is a safe, gentle option. While most forms of acne can be treated with over-the-counter solutions, like benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids, some may require more in-depth treatment, such as prescription medication, antibiotics or laser therapies. 12 


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