What Causes Acne Around the Mouth?

It seems to be a common consensus that puberty is mostly “dreadful.”


Between the general ages of ten and sixteen years old, young boys and girls are forced to suffer through awkward growth spurts, voice changes, unspoken hair growth, et cetera.

One of the common and often most hated effects of puberty is acne.

Although acne is often associated with teenagers and puberty, many adults (well past the ages of puberty) face this issue, as well.

So what causes adult acne, particularly acne seen around the mouth, and how can we treat it?

Keep reading to find out.

girl finding acne on chin

What Causes My Adult Acne?

There is no doubt that many adults experience acne, especially around the mouth, so what’s causing it

Adult acne seen around the mouth, in particular, could be caused by makeup, cellphones, toothpaste,  or spikes in blood sugar.

Fragrances and waxes in different lip balms could clog the pores around the mouth, causing the skin to create more oil and cause more acne flares.

Toothpaste could clog your pores, as well, due to the included ingredient called sodium lauryl sulfate.

Dirty cellphones are often breeding grounds for sweat, bacteria, and oil, which would trigger acne flare-ups when brought into contact with your face.

With that said, hormone imbalances are a more common cause of adult acne around the mouth. According to Paleo for Women, a leading health website in its field, hormone imbalances are often found in women, who may experience hormonal acne all the time or during specific times of the month.(1)

If experiencing only periodically, it is common for women to have flare-ups of hormonal acne at times of ovulation or during the first few days leading up to a period.

Although not necessarily a cause, it seems that women have a much higher chance of experiencing adult acne than men. 

Allure recently reported a quote from Doris Day, leading author on the subject of acne and dermatology professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, stating that more than 50% of women will experience adult acne, mostly during their 20s and 30s.(2)

In the same article, Allure also quoted Joshua Zeichner, director of research in dermatology at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, who stated that more and more women are experiencing adult acne.

Zeichner theorized that the rise may be due to a combined force of stress, diet, and hormones.

In general, adult acne may also be caused by a variety of things, as described by the American Academy of Dermatology.(3)

These causes may include stress, family history, hair or skin care products, side effects after taking certain medications, or symptoms from a separate, undiagnosed medical condition.

Stress could cause flare-ups of adult acne due to an overproduction of androgens, a type of hormone that stimulates the oil glands and hair follicles within the skin, often leading to acne.

For adults who already experience acne, certain hair or skin care products could be making it worse. Always make sure that your products are either non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic, or oil-free. 

men checks his face for pimples

What are the Symptoms of Adult Acne?

According to Mayo Clinic, there are various signs and symptoms of adult acne, each of which depends on the severity of the patient’s condition.(4)

For example, mild cases may only experience whiteheads (closed and plugged pores) or blackheads (open and plugged pores), while others may suffer from significantly painful lumps or cystic legions filled with pus just below the skin.

Other symptoms may include papules (small, red bumps that are often tender to the touch), pimples (papules filled with pus), or nodules, which are large and painful lumps that are solid and found just beneath the skin.

Adults with acne may also be left with scars if the condition is severe.


Side Effects After Taking Acne Medications

Although separate from the acne itself, many people may also experience side effects after using acne treatment products.

According to Health Line, potential side effects may depend on the method and strength of the chosen treatment.(5)

To be specific, side effects vary between topical treatments, oral medications, birth control pills, or a particular oral medication called isotretinoin.

If using a topical treatment, common side effects often include dry skin and mild irritations; however, these side effects usually only last until your skin adjusts to the product, so you should contact a doctor if side effects last a long time or you experience itchiness, burning, or heavy peeling.

Oral medications such as antibiotics could cause nausea, dizziness, and lightheadedness. If birth control pills are used to manage acne, side effects could include an increased risk of blood clots or high blood pressure.

A particular oral medication called isotretinoin could cause more serious side effects, including depression, suicidal thoughts, affected cholesterol levels or liver function, and potential birth defects for mothers who become pregnant while taking the medication.


How can I Treat My Adult Acne?

The first step involved in treating your adult acne is identifying bad habits that could be contributing to the flare-ups or constant condition.

Several bad habits that could cause adult acne were recently explained in a Cosmopolitan article called Why You Break Out – 13 Surprising Causes of Acne.(6

For example, if you often kiss a man with a beard (or even simply stubble), his sharp and prickly hairs may rub against your face and stimulate oil production, blemishes, or even “beard burn.”

This can be avoided by having him either shave or moisturize his beard with coconut oil.

Another habit that could contribute to your adult acne is eating spicy foods.

These foods often include ingredients such a tomatoes and peppers, which contain acidic lycopene, an irritant which may cause imbalances in pH levels and, in turn, acne breakouts.

Breakouts may also be caused by other foods such as bread or dairy, depending on the individual. If you think a certain food could be causing your acne flare-ups, try cutting it out of your diet for a month and see if your acne subsides.

Surprisingly, using too much acne treatment could also contribute to the severity of your breakouts or flare-ups.

Certain treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur could dry out your face, causing your skin to produce more oil in response.

Overuse of these products could also actually burn the outer layer of your skin, which could make your pimples more prominent and harder to conceal due to added redness.

Smoking could also dry out your skin in a similar fashion, which is a commonly forgotten side effect of such a deadly habit.

There are plenty of good habits to remember and include in your daily routine that may help your acne breakouts or flare-ups subside.

For starters, make sure that all makeup and other skin care products are hypoallergenic, including toothpaste and other cleansers to be safe.

You should also try not to touch your face too much, especially to pop or pick at your zits or pimples.

Touching your face will only spread bacteria and multiply the number of pimples present, and attempting to pop them yourself could potentially push the bacteria further into your skin, achieving the opposite effect than intended.

Dedicate yourself to a set skincare routine each and every day. This routine should involve a thorough cleansing every night before bed and an oil-free moisturizer with SPF in the morning.

Although you should be careful not to overuse, you should always have a spot treatment available, as they can help treat your acne quickly an efficiently, minimizing the risk of scars.

Look into acne treatments that contain Retinol, as this ingredient contains Vitamin A and can help unclog pores while preventing new bouts of acne from sprouting.


Best Adult Acne Treatment Products

There are several different types of treatment products on the market that could be great options for those who suffer from adult acne.

With that said, you should be careful when choosing a new product, as some could irritate your skin and leave your face feeling worse than it did when you first started.

The United Kindom’s Vogue recently quoted Debbie Thomas, a renowned expert facialist, explaining that even the fanciest and most expensive of face creams and acne treatments may still do you more harm than good if your skin isn’t suited for it.(7)

The most important thing is that you find a product that works well for you and your skin, which may involve a few sessions of trial and error to accurately figure out.

To get you started, though, we’ve gathered a small list of some of the best adult acne treatment products on the market for you to look through.

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, 1 fl. oz.

This is an incredibly popular acne treatment product which contains salicylic acid to clear your pores, calamine to ease your redness, and sulfur to draw out impurities from within your skin.

The lotion is also super easy to use, you just dip a cotton swab into the formula and then dab it onto your problem areas before you go to bed.


  • Triple-threat ingredients list
  • Product absorbs quickly into the skin
  • Ease to use


  • Could dry out or irritate your skin
  • Very strong smell

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment Cream with Benzoyl Peroxide

French dermatologists have sung many praises for this stellar anti-acne treatment product.

The formula was specifically designed to minimize and unclog your pores while hydrating and soothing your irritated skin.

Because of its soothing properties, this product could be a good choice for people with sensitive skin.


  • Simple formula containing benzoyl peroxide
  • Good for sensitive skin


  • Could dry out or irritate skin
  • Bleaches fabric

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment Cream with Benzoyl Peroxide

Medicated pads are a popular method for anti-acne treatment and are offered by several popular brands such as OXY, Neutrogena, Clearasil, and Stridex.

BeautyRX offers a high-end, specialized exfoliating pad which could bring significant improvement to people with blackheads.

The pads are soaked in 10% buffered, pH-adjusted glycolic acid, a combination designed to provide a gentle exfoliation.


  • Removes dead skin and reduces pores, fine lines, and brown spots
  • 10% advanced-strength pads
  • Paraben-free and fragrance-free


  • Pads toward the bottom of the container may dry out quickly
  • Expensive price compared to similar products

Should I see a Doctor?

In most cases, it won’t be necessary to visit a doctor or dermatologist for your adult acne.

By following a strict skincare routine using acne treatments, you can usually maintain the condition yourself.

However, if your home skincare routines don’t seem to be working after a month or more of following them, you should speak to your dermatologist.

In these cases, your adult acne could actually be dermatitis, pruritis, or another skin allergy.

Otherwise, a dermatologist would likely be able to recommend a better, stronger treatment product to manage and alleviate your adult acne.

These treatments could involve chemical peels, laser treatments, or standard oral or topical treatments.

According to Web MD, you should especially visit a dermatologist if you suffer from cystic acne, as this is one of the toughest types to treat without the help of a professional.(8)


In Conclusion

In the end, there are many different things that could be causing your adult acne, regardless of where it’s located on your face.

Typically, adult acne, especially around the mouth, is most often experienced by women in their 20s and sometimes 30s.

These acne flare-ups are typically caused by hormone imbalances; although, this may not always be the case. It is usually easy to care for your condition at home with a dedicated skincare routine.

However, you should speak with a dermatologist if your at-home treatments aren’t working after several weeks of applications. In those cases, your adult acne could actually be some type of skin allergy.

Either way, your adult acne should not get in the way of your everyday life and will be easily treatable with some research and patience.