Important Information about Acne in Men: Causes & Treatments

The medical term — acne vulgaris — does an excellent job of describing this condition: a common, yet distressing skin condition that plagues the faces of many adolescents. Acne often leaves permanent scars, both physical and emotional. Unfortunately, many men assume that acne is behind them once they reach their 20s.

Adult Acne

The reality is that acne can also affect adults the way it does younger generations. The cause is usually not clear — it could be stress, diet, too little sleep, or several other factors. However, the cause may not be apparent to a dermatologist.

Inflamed spots on the face and maybe even the back are blatantly visible. While the severity isn't necessarily as intense as that of adolescents, it can still get pretty bad. Luckily, there's a lot of acne treatment for teens and adults alike.

The Science of Skin

Skin consists of millions of tiny, almost invisible follicles containing a hair with a shaft. The shaft goes all the way through the follicle and is attached tightly to the root of the hair. A tiny muscular structure called a root retraction bulb lies underneath the follicle, surrounded by connective tissue. A terminal hair surrounds each hair and lies just above the level of the skin surface. 

There's a lot that comes out of those follicles, including sebum (a fatty substance that empties into follicles), the skin's natural oil and water from sweat glands.

Acne occurs when oil from a hair follicle clogs the pore, causing a whitehead (when the oil is under the skin), or a blackhead (when the oil is exposed to the air). Sometimes, really close shaving can cause an infection to happen in the hair follicle known as folliculitis. (This type of infection is not typical acne.)

Acne in Men

It's easy enough to pinpoint what triggers acne when you look at the science: sebaceous glands. They dump a whole lot of sebum during adolescence, then go on to do so as the person gets older. Scientists have shown a strong link between genetic makeup and skin type — more than diet or environment. The kind of skin people are genetically endowed with will determine whether or not acne develops.

Acne Treatment

Acne treatment typically starts by removing dead skin cells in a variety of cleansers. These help the pores to stay open. There are plenty of acne products that are non-prescription and can exfoliate and cleanse the skin, such as lotions, creams, pads and gels.

Most of them have two familiar ingredients:

  • Benzoyl peroxide - This gets rid of bacteria that gets into follicles, triggering infection
  • Salicylic acid - This is similar to glycolic acid. It provides temporary relief unless daily use is in effect. Clogs will be unclogged, too.

A dermatologist may also prescribe:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Antibiotics (oral or topical)
  • Vitamin A


Acne is a problem often associated with adolescents, but adults can get it too. In adult men, acne is usually rooted in genetic predisposition, brought on by an overabundance of sebum. Treatment involves exfoliation, cleansing and dermatologists can also prescribe oral or topical antibiotics.

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