Yes, and it mostly comes down to hormones.
Men and women tend to experience acne differently. Men are more likely to develop acne during puberty and are more likely to develop severe and inflammatory forms of the disease. Acne symptoms tend to peak during adolescence and recede during a male’s mid 20’s. In contrast, women tend to experience less acne and less severe acne than men, but rates of acne actually increase for women in the 20-40 age range. Many women who have never had complexion problems begin to experience acne symptoms during pregnancy, and sometimes acne continues to persist after completion of the pregnancy.
While there are many contributing factors to acne, the main differences between men and women can be traced to hormones. Men, particularly adolescent males, tend to have elevated levels of male hormones called androgens. Androgens include hormones like testosterone. Among other things, androgens stimulate the growth of sebaceous glands, which increases the amount of sebum produced by the skin. Increased sebum production fosters the growth of bacteria that feed on sebum, such as Propionibacterium acnes. Additionally, high levels of sebum production can increase the incidence of clogged pores that block the opening of the hair follicle and encourage the development of acne symptoms like pimples, nodules and cysts.
Androgen Inhibitors and Acne
Androgen Inhibitors are a class of medication designed to block the function of endogenous androgens. Androgen Inhibitors are commonly used in women to treat elevated androgen levels, which can lead to hirsutism (excess hair growth) and masculinization. They are also used in men to treat male pattern baldness and certain kinds of cancer.
Androgen Inhibitors can be an effective treatment for women who experience androgen-dependent acne. Androgen inhibitors have a feminizing effect on men and are generally not recommended for use in males. Androgen inhibitors are often used as part of the hormone therapy involved in male to female sex change operations.
Correlation Between Serum Levels of Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, and Dihydrotestosterone and Acne Lesion Counts in Adult Women. Cappel, et al. 2005.
Acne in Victorian adolescents: Associations with age, gender, puberty and psychiatric symptoms. Kilkenny, et al. 1997.
Post-adolescent acne: a review of clinical features. Goulden, et al. 1997.
Prevalence of facial acne in adults. Goulden, et al. 1999.