Reviewed by our clinical team
Acne is a condition that affects lots of us – especially in our teenage years. In fact, the NHS estimates that 95% of people aged between 11 and 30 have experienced acne to some extent.
The good news is that, as we get older, acne naturally tends to improve. However, for a small percentage of people the symptoms persist. While adult acne tends to be more common in women, it still to affects 3% of men over the age of 25.
What causes acne in men?
Acne is caused by an excess of sebum, an oily liquid produced by glands in our skin that helps to lubricate the skin and hair. Excess sebum blends with dead skin cells and blocks the hair follicles. These blocked follicles may then get infected by bacteria that lives on the skin, causing painful spots and inflammation.
The exact causes of acne aren’t fully understood, but hormonal changes are thought to play a role. This is why acne is so common during puberty, when levels of testosterone are increased.
The hormonal link is also thought to be why acne is generally more common in adult women than adult men. Acne can flare up during periods and pregnancy and is common in women who have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Is acne worse in men than in women?
You’re more likely to develop acne during your teenage years if you’re a boy. This is probably because of the increase in testosterone that occurs during puberty – though this increase happens for girls too, it’s more significant in boys. The flipside is that men are less likely to experience acne as an adult.
Generally, there isn’t much difference in how acne affects men and women – although men tend to get acne mainly on their face or backs.
What causes back acne in men?
Back acne is common and can affect both men and women. Having acne on your back isn’t anything to do with cleanliness – remember, the cause is overactive glands in the skin releasing too much sebum.
However, there are some factors that may worsen symptoms and cause regular breakouts on the back. These include:
- Regularly putting pressure on the skin e.g. by wearing a backpack
- Wearing tight-fitting clothes that trap sweat next to the skin
- Sweating due to heavy exercise
- Struggling to apply topical treatments
Taking better care of the skin on your back won’t necessarily “cure” the acne there, but you might find that your symptoms improve. Learn more by reading this article: Chest and back acne.
Other causes of acne in men
Certain medications, including lithium and corticosteroids (prednisolone), are known to cause acne or acne-like symptoms, in both men and women.
In addition, misuse of anabolic steroids can cause severe acne. If you’re considering using anabolic steroids to quickly build up muscle mass or improve your athletic performance, you should be aware that your skin is very likely to suffer as a result. Other side effects include erectile dysfunction, infertility, paranoia, aggressive behaviour, heart attacks or strokes, liver or kidney problems and baldness.
Acne treatment for men
If you’re a man struggling with acne, and you’ve found that pharmacy treatments aren’t working for you, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP. There are a variety of prescription treatments available to treat acne in men, including the following:
- Topical retinoids
- Azelaic acid
- Antibiotics (topical or tablets)
If you have severe acne, isotretinoin (Roaccutane) might be an option for you. This is a tablet taken daily that helps to reduce the amount of sebum your skin produces. It inhibits bacteria on the skin and reduces redness and swelling.
Tips for managing your acne
In addition to getting prescription treatment for your acne, it’s also a good idea to follow these tips:
- Use a cleanser for sensitive skin and lukewarm water to clean your skin
- Don’t wash affected skin more than twice a day
- Shower after exercising or if you’ve been sweating a lot
- Use skin products that are non-comedogenic as these won’t block your pores
- Be gentle with your acne – don’t scrub, pick, or squeeze
- If you have acne on your back, use a lotion applicator to apply topical treatments
Get treatment today with Online Doctor