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Sudden Acne Breakouts: Why Am I Suddenly Breaking Out?

Vicky Davis

Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 05/14/2021

Sudden acne breakouts feel like something you should graduate from right around high school commencement. Or at least by college graduation, right?

But 12 percent to 22 percent of American women struggle with acne as adults — far more than the approximately three percent of adult men.

Read on to discover more about what might be triggering your latest round of pimple-palooza, plus how to treat sudden acne breakouts and possibly prevent them in the first place.

What Causes Sudden Acne Breakouts in Adults?

As with many health-related conditions, causes of acne can vary. You can think of the source of sudden acne breakouts in adults kind of like a recipe with a long ingredient list, including any or all of these factors: 

  • Genetic predisposition

  • Hormones

  • Clogged pores (often caused by dead skin cells hanging around too long)

  • Inflammation

  • Bacteria

  • Smoking

  • Diet

  • Hair products, skin care products or makeup that don’t agree with your skin

  • Medications

  • Excessive or infrequent face washing

A few of the triggers for sudden acne breakouts are out of your control (see: the genes you’re born with and the medications you need to take for other reasons), but many zit causes are in your own hands — literally, as with your menu, cigarette use and skincare routines.

Acne can present itself in a variety of ways.

  • Pimples: When dead skin cells, extra oil or bacteria gets trapped in a pore, healthy skin bacteria can multiply, filling a pore with bacteria that makes it swell.

  • Cysts or nodules: Like more severe pimples, the bacteria can become seriously inflamed, tender and painful and possibly filled with pus.

  • Whiteheads: These occur when oil or dead skin cells plug a pore’s opening and create a white bump.

  • Blackheads: These are similar to whiteheads, except the build-up happens inside the pore. This leads to a chemical reaction in the air, which is where the dark hue comes from.

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How to Prevent Sudden Acne Breakouts

Our guide to the best skin care routine for acne is a great place to start cleaning up your beauty strategy. 

In terms of lifestyle habits that can help prevent sudden acne breakouts in adults, lean into low-glycemic foods — those that won’t cause a major blood sugar roller coaster — and try to ease off the cow’s milk (Yogurt and cheese should still be okay.).

Aim to remove all makeup before your sweat sesh at the gym routine, wear clean workout clothes and use a clean towel to mop up perspiration. Shower, or at least wash your face, ASAP after you finish exercising. 

Seek out skin and hair products that list “oil-free,” “non-comedogenic” or “non-acnegenic” on their label, clean your makeup brushes once per week and remove all makeup fully before bed each night. As a general rule, wash your face twice per day with a mild cleanser, plus after any time you sweat. 

We’ve written more about acne caused by makeup, in case you want a little additional reading.

And if you use cigarettes, consider a smoking cessation program. 

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Treatment Options For Sudden Acne Breakouts

Chances are, these lifestyle changes for sudden acne breakouts might clear things up within one to two months. As you attempt to stave off adult zits, you may also want to invest in a cream or wash with one of these active ingredients:

  • Benzoyl peroxide, which combats acne-causing bacteria

  • Salicylic acid, which unclogs the pores

  • Adapalene, which can also clean up pores

If you notice the same issues keep popping up around the same time each month, you might also benefit from one of these best hormonal acne treatment options currently available.  

And if you’ve tried all of these approaches and are still feeling as acne-prone as a pre-teen, explore a personalized acne treatment prescription that’s tailor-made to treat your specific acne needs. Learn more about how you can score your own hers Rx skin acne cream (plus an expert consultation).

9 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Tanghetti, E., Kawata, A., Daniels, S., Yeomans, K., Burk, C., Calendar, V. (2014, February) Understanding the Burden of Adult Female Acne. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3935648/
  2. Acne: Who Gets and Causes. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/acne-causes
  3. Acne: Signs and Symptoms. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/really-acne/symptoms
  4. Can the Right Diet Get Rid of Acne? (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/diet
  5. Is Your Workout Causing Your Acne? (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/workouts
  6. Smoking Cessation: Fast Facts. (n.d.) U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/cessation/smoking-cessation-fast-facts/index.html
  7. Are Your Hair Care Products Causing Breakouts? (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/hair-products
  8. I Have Acne! Is it Okay to Wear Makeup? (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/makeup

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.