Woman with acne on her face and upper back

The Low Down on Acne in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

When you think of acne, your mind may wander back to those awkward puberty years. Although acne is most often associated with teenagers and puberty, acne can continue (or start!) at any point throughout your life, including your 20s, 30s, or 40s.


Adult acne is far more common in women than in men. One study found that in adolescence, acne was almost equally split between genders — 53% of acne cases among girls, 47% among boys. For adults, though, 85% of acne cases were among women.


We know that adult acne in your 20s, 30s, and 40s can be frustrating. That’s why we want to help you understand why you’re experiencing adult acne and how its treatment varies from the treatment of adolescent acne.

How Our Hormones Change (and Impact Acne) in Adulthood

It’s no secret your hormones shift and change as you enter your 20s and 30s. Some people even jokingly refer to the 20s as a “second puberty.” As you enter peak child-bearing years, your body adjusts and hormones change. Additionally, menstruation, polycystic ovary syndrome, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the postpartum period can have a major effect on hormonal balance. As you move into your 40s and 50s, perimenopause and menopause can factor into why you’re experiencing adult acne. 


All of these factors contributing to hormonal changes can cause increased oil production, inflammation, and even pH imbalances on your skin. Some of the most notable features of hormonal acne specifically are large, inflamed cystic blemishes around the jawline and chin.


While hormones play a major factor in experiencing adult acne, they’re not the only contributing factor. Bacteria and skincare products can also have a major effect. Physical and emotional stress and genetics can also play a role in the development of blemishes. Research shows that 67% of people experiencing adult acne have a family history of acne.

Skincare Products Cause Acne

What you put onto your skin matters — a lot. Acne on the cheeks, nose, forehead, or around the mouth may mean it’s time to investigate your skincare products. Everything from cleansing products to lotions to makeup can clog your pores. These pore-clogging products are often referred to as “comedogenic.” 

Bacteria Causes Acne 

The outermost layer of your skin houses trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, that make up your skin microbiome


The bacteria that live on your skin are a mixture of good and bad. When the bacteria are in an ideal ratio of good to bad, they help to protect your skin from environmental threats. But when the bad bacteria start to overpower the good, your body isn’t able to as effectively protect itself. The imbalance can ultimately contribute to inflammatory skin conditions like acne.


These bad bacteria can overpower your skin microbiome through transfer from several different objects, including your phone, hands, pillows, sheets, makeup brushes, hair, and more.


Treating Acne in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

Many acne treatments for teenagers are the same treatments used for acne in your 20s, 30s, and 40s. Help banish blemishes by:

Considering Birth Control Pills

You may have heard that birth control pills can help improve your acne. You may also have heard that birth control pills can contribute to acne. Both statements can be true. Some women find success treating their acne with birth control, while others find that going on birth control contributes to their blemishes.


Because acne in your 20s and 30s can be influenced by hormonal imbalances, considering birth control as part of your treatment plan may be a good option. Hormonal birth control can help block androgen hormones, which send sebaceous (oil) glands into overdrive.


Of course, birth control isn’t an option for everyone. If you’re pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or just don’t want to use hormonal pills, there are many other acne treatment options. This treatment also isn’t recommended as frequently for acne in your 40s and beyond.

Avoiding Touching Your Face

It sounds too simple to be true…and it is. Avoiding touching your face likely won’t eliminate your blemishes — but avoiding touching your face can prevent bacteria and other impurities from being transferred from your hands to your skin. And this rule doesn’t apply to just your hands! Try to steer clear of putting your phone up to your cheek and keep your hair off your face when possible.


Make sure your towels, makeup brushes, pillowcases, phone, and other surfaces that regularly come into contact with your face  are freshly washed to help keep bad bacteria at bay.

Choosing Microbiome-Friendly Skin Care Products

Experiencing acne may be a sign that your good and bad bacteria on the skin are out of balance. Luckily, you can re-balance a microbiome that’s out of whack. Gladskin Blemish Gel with Micreobalance® helps bring balance back to your skin microbiome to dramatically reduce the appearance of breakouts.


To maintain your microbiome balance, opt for gentle skincare ingredients that won’t strip the natural protective bacteria and oil on the skin surface. We recommend this microbiome-friendly facial cleansing bar and makeup remover.


Evaluating Short-Term Solutions

Many traditional acne solutions aren’t beneficial for the delicate balance and long-term health of your skin microbiome. However, depending on the health of the skin and severity of breakouts, sometimes these treatments are needed and beneficial short-term.


There are some treatment plans a board-certified dermatologist may recommend to kickstart your acne treatment and see quick results: 


  • Topical retinoids: Topical retinoids are derived from vitamin A and come in creams, gels, and lotions. Retinoids work to unclog pores and exfoliate dead skin cells to prevent future clogged hair follicles. Temporary side effects of topical retinoids include red, peeling skin and increased sensitivity to the sun.  

  • Oral antibiotics: Oral antibiotics help eliminate acne-causing bacteria as well as reduce inflammation. Unfortunately, however, these pills aren’t able to only target bad bacteria. They also kill off the good bacteria working to protect your body and keep its microbiome in balance.

  • Benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid products: Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are two ingredients commonly included in topical acne products. Salicylic acid helps to remove dead skin cells and prevent clogged pores, while benzoyl peroxide has antibacterial effects. These products can be beneficial short-term to help clear up breakouts. However, they can also cause skin irritation, dryness, and peeling skin.


  • Your Acne Journey

    Our skin changes over the decades, and skincare is a lifelong journey. We experience skin changes. If you’re experiencing acne in your 20s and 30s or acne at 40 — whether it’s recurring or for the first time — know you’re not alone. In fact, adult acne is becoming more and more common. By understanding what underlying factors may be contributing to your breakouts, managing hormones, and balancing your skin microbiome, you can be on your way to reducing blemishes.