I Never Broke Out In My Teens, Why Am I Breaking Out Now?

by Emily Linehan on June 09, 2022

Many of us associate acne with adolescence and puberty. Though this association is usually good natured, it can feel really embarrassing when we reach adulthood and our acne hasn't cleared... or when we get acne for the first time as an adult! That’s right, it’s actually very common for women to experience acne for the first time in adulthood, even if they didn’t break out at all during puberty. 

Average Onset of Acne

The reason that so many get acne during puberty is due to that sudden surge in hormones during that time. Hormones are a trigger for acne, but they also are the catalyst for the onset of acne prone skin. To dive deeper into the root cause of acne, check out my blog, What Causes Acne

For men, the onset of acne generally occurs in their early teens and typically dies out in their mid-20’s. This is due to a surge of testosterone during this time, which is an acne triggering hormone.

For women, while acne does start during the teenage years, the average onset of acne is in the early 20’s and lasts into the 40’s or later. This is due to hormonal fluctuations that women have throughout their lifetime. These can be natural fluctuations, or those caused by birth control, pregnancy, or hormone replacement therapy. This is why “adult acne” is so common among adult women, despite being thought of as an adolescent skin issue.

While there are exceptions, (my breakouts started at age 11) the catalyst for genetically defective pores is believed to be a shift in hormones. A major stressful event can also greatly affect hormone balance and is not uncommon to see in adult women who suddenly and severely breakout. 

Hormone Changes

Male hormonal changes are most extreme during puberty, which is why it’s less common to see grown men with acne.

However, that's not the case for women. Women's hormones naturally shift every 7-10 years. In addition, birth control-use, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause also cause hormone fluctuations that can trigger acne.

To add insult to injury, the outside factors that trigger acne are likely making your acne persist and become worse. This is true even if you never had breakouts from these triggers before...once the skin is actively breaking out, these triggers will exacerbate the situation. Some examples of these triggers include:

Increased Stress Levels 

In response to stress, our endocrine system secretes increased levels of cortisol and androgens which escalate our production of sebum (the oil our skin produces). Because our skin’s natural oil is the food acne bacteria needs to grow and proliferate, stress literally adds fuel to the fire when it comes to acne breakouts. If you’re struggling with stress induced acne, here are 10 Ways to Help Clear Stress Acne.

Makeup & Hair Care Products

Did you know there are hundreds of ingredients commonly used in makeup & hair care products that actually cause acne? These hidden triggers are known as comedogenic ingredients which means that they contribute to the formation of clogged pores. Check out my Acne Safe Makeup List, Acne Safe Hair Care List, and my Pore Clogging Ingredients list to ensure you avoid any products containing ingredients that may be contributing to your breakouts.


Though they aren't the root cause, certain foods do have the power to significantly trigger acne breakouts. Because of that, taking a close look at your diet is required to completely clear the skin and keep it clear. For example, when you combine the hormone levels in dairy products with your own cocktail of hormones, this can cause excessive sebum production leading to clogged pores and the perfect breeding ground for acne bacteria to thrive. Here are some helpful articles for an acne safe diet:

Supplements & Vitamins 

In addition, while vitamins & supplements aren’t necessarily bad, if you’re acne prone it’s important to pay careful attention to what type and how much you are taking. You can learn more about this, as well as other healthy habits that trigger acne, here.

How to Get Clear and Stay Clear

Ultimately, it is not uncommon for women to experience acne for the first time as adults. And unfortunately, acne is not likely to clear on its own consistently or reliably. You've likely experienced ebbs and flows in your breakouts that will continue to happen to those with acne-prone skin. In order to clear acne-prone skin once and for all, a holistic approach needs to be taken, combining skincare products and consistently avoiding triggers! If you’re ready to clear your acne, start with my free online consultation. It takes about 15 minutes to complete, and once you submit it I’ll send you personalized tips, suggestions, and a customized skincare routine designed with your skin in mind!

Additionally, here are some skincare tools you can use at home to help accelerate the clearing process:

Icing Your Skin (with Ice Cubes)

Though they are not exactly a skincare tool, I highly recommend ice cubes over ice rollers - and here's why. In general, icing acne prone skin is one of the best ways to help reduce inflammation, hinder the growth of acne bacteria and expedite the clearing of the skin. Here are the reasons why I recommend ice cubes over ice rollers:

Ice rollers do not get as cold as ice cubes which affects how effective icing the skin can be.

Unless you sanitize your rollers before every single use (and ideally before you put them back in the freezer too), they will get dirty... and keep in mind that you are rolling it on bacteria-filled lesions on the face.

On the other hand, ice cubes are one time use, sanitary, and free! So, grab two ice cubes from the freezer and roll them in a continuous motion on the face for about one minute after cleansing (You will see this is Step 2 of your customized skincare routine).

If your fingers get too cold from holding the ice cube, make some "ice pops" with this silicone popsicle mold! You can see these helpful molds as well as other methods for icing your skin in action below!

Light Therapy/LED

Using LED light therapy can be a great way to help reduce inflammation, kill acne bacteria and rejuvenate the skin. While there are many devices on the market these days, unfortunately many are not powerful enough to make a difference in the skin. Therefore, it is really important that the LED Light Therapy you invest in is proven to work.

Two reputable and FDA-cleared companies I recommend for LED Light Therapy are OmniLuxe Clear or LightStim for Acne.

Please keep in mind that in order to reap the benefits, light therapy must be done regularly (in some cases, daily) which might be fun when you first get the light, but the novelty of it can wear off over time. However, if you feel like you are ready to make the investment (both time and money), LED Light Therapy can help accelerate the clearing process!

How to use your LED Light Therapy:
Cleanse your face and follow with your Calm Down Toner, Skin Quencher Gel and moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated.

Apply the LED Light Therapy to your face for the manufacturer's recommended amount of time. I love to use mine before I workout, since I will have just performed my "pre-workout" skincare routine. However, it can be used any time of day that works best for you! After use, follow with your recommended skincare routine based on the time of day you use your LED Light Therapy.

If you’re more of a visual person, check out my Instagram Reel below covering LED Light Therapy!

High Frequency

One of the oldest tools in the esthetics world, High Frequency has been around forever...and for good reason! It is an effective tool to help kill acne bacteria and accelerate the clearing of acne breakouts. The home devices are quite effective (my recommendation is this Handheld High Frequency Device) and can be used whenever you have active acne.

Here is my recommendation on how to use a high frequency tool:
At night after cleansing and icing, apply 2 pumps of Skin Quencher Gel and 2 pumps of your Emme Diane moisturizer to the skin to keep the skin hydrated. You can then use your High Frequency device on any active acne (follow manufacturer's instructions).

Do not use longer than 30 seconds on a single pimple, and no longer than 2-3 minutes total.

If the skin begins to dry out while using it, apply more Skin Quencher Gel and moisturizer (you do not want the skin to feel dry/tight while using).

Immediately after, cleanse your skin again and follow with your toner and the rest of your nighttime skincare regimen.

xoxo, Emme

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