“Hormonal acne” isn’t a particular type of acne—it’s just plain old acne. Some refer to the skin condition as “hormonal” because it is caused by hormonal changes manifested in your skin.
Although acne often occurs during puberty, some adults experience it as well: as occasional break-outs, monthly explosions, or chronic patches. Severe acne can affect self-image and self-esteem, which have negative psychological consequences.
What Causes Acne
Acne—not an occasional pimple or bump—occurs when the level of androgens (male sex hormones) increases, causing glands in the skin to secrete extra oil (sebum) around hair follicles. This results in clogged pores. Dead skin cells that would normally rise to the surface of the skin to be washed away accumulate under the plugged pores.
Once the hair follicles are stopped up, bacteria can accumulate; the immune system responds to the bacteria and areas around the follicles become inflamed. Not all forms of acne cause inflammation.
There are five types of acne lesions that can form:
- Comedones – plugs that form at the base of hairs in the follicles; they can be open or closed and are non-inflammatory. Whiteheads and blackheads are comedones.
- Cysts – an infection that occurs under the surface of the skin. These contain pus and appear as bumps on the skin. Cysts don’t come to a head like pimples. They can be sore and linger for a long time.
- Nodules – similar to cysts in that they appear as sore bumps under the skin, different in that they don’t contain pus
- Papules – swollen, raised, red bumps (with no head) on the skin
- Pustules – papules filled with pus; the heads appear white or yellow
Other causes of acne include:
- Medications – corticosteroids, and drugs containing androgens, lithium, or tuberculosis drugs
- Diet – dairy, wheat, and refined sugar
- Household cleaners
- Personal care products
- Internal inflammation
The Role of Hormones
The increase in testosterone and other androgen production naturally occurs at puberty for both sexes, when children develop into young adults. These hormones stimulate the glands that produce sebum. Some areas of the body are covered with the kind of skin whose pores produce more sebum than others. These locations are therefore where acne is more likely to erupt: the face, back, chest, and buttocks.
In women, hormonal changes also naturally occur during menstruation and pregnancy. If you find break-outs occur around your monthly cycle, these changes are most likely the culprit. Additionally, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) can throw hormones out of whack and cause acne.
The area of your body on which acne occurs can indicate its cause:
- Acne around the mouth can be caused by lip and mouth products (e.g., lip balm, mouthwash), certain foods, or saliva while sleeping (drooling).
- Scalp acne can be caused by hair products or styling methods (curling or flat irons, hot hair dryers) that irritate the skin.
- Acne on the back is common because there are lots of hair follicles there. Add friction from clothing and backpacks and this area can become irritated, opening the door for the bacteria that cause acne.
- Pimples on the arm can occur in an allergic response or other irritants.
- Thighs, legs, and pelvic area: type of underwear (cotton is best), shaving or waxing, and irritation caused by damp or tight clothing can all cause break-outs that may not be acne.
Managing Hormonal Acne
Here are a few unwritten rules of managing your acne:
- Rule Number One: Don’t squeeze or pick! Doing so can spread the bacteria that cause acne and cause permanent scarring.
- Don’t touch your face unnecessarily, especially with unwashed hands.
- Avoid irritants and behaviors known to trigger breakouts.
- Use natural personal care and household products to avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals and irritating and pore-clogging ingredients.
- Vitamins A and D are significant contributors to skin health. Make sure you get enough of both.
How to Treat Acne
Beware of over-the-counter acne products that contain harsh ingredients and extraneous chemicals.
Benzoyl peroxide, for example, is undoubtedly effective in reducing acne but it can also cause an allergic reaction or dry out and irritate your skin, leading to other problems.
Acne medications are prescribed in cases of severe acne and those have their hazards as well.
Accutane is one of these—it is known to cause depression and Crohn’s disease. Recent studies have linked tetracycline to autoimmune disease.
Isotretinoin can cause difficulty breathing, dizziness, blurred vision, chest pain, hearing loss, and a whole slew of other terrible reactions.
In addition, another common method of treating acne in women is a prescription oral contraceptive. That approach has implications of its own and is not the optimal solution if clearing acne is its only aim. (11)
Natural acne remedies may take longer than something you can buy in a bottle but they don’t carry the associated dangers with them.
12 Hormonal Acne Remedies
Adolescents are not the only demographic who have acne—adult acne is fairly common, too. Knowing possible causes can lead to its elimination regardless of your age. See the following for some natural acne solutions.
1. Dairy and Acne
Many people are sensitive to the proteins in dairy. They can cause inflammation in the body which, in turn, can stimulate acne. Additionally, non-organic milk can contain hormones that directly interfere with ours- causing a hormone imbalance. Also, a correlation between acne and the consumption of low-fat and skim milk, in particular, has been found.
If you’re going to keep drinking dairy, full-fat milk is less likely to cause acne. But if you do- beware that drinking milk can also stimulate the production of insulin, altering other hormone levels.
2. Avoid Refined Carbs
The American Academy of Dermatologists now recognizes that carbohydrates high on the glycemic (sugar) index contribute to acne. Sugary foods like candy and soda plus items like white bread, potato chips, and white potatoes can all raise blood sugar levels quickly.
When the body produces various hormones to regulate blood sugar, inflammation occurs, and acne appears.
3. Enjoy Sunny Weather
Sunshine is good for the skin, contrary to popular belief. It’s the best source of vitamin D—synthetic vitamin supplements don’t work quite the same. More importantly for acne, the red and blue rays of the sun kill the bacteria that cause it.
4. Tea Tree Oil for Acne
Studies of the use of tea tree oil to treat acne have found it to be at least as effective as benzoyl peroxide (a popular acne medication) with no side effects. In addition, tea tree (melaleuca) oil is a natural antibiotic that kills the bacteria causing your condition.
Tea Tree Oil with Olive Oil Wash
Firstly, olive oil has antibacterial properties and many nutrients that promote skin health. It also removes oil and other toxins from pores and moisturizes skin.
- Mix 3 drops of tea tree oil and 2 tablespoons of organic extra virgin olive oil.
- Use a cotton ball to apply the mixture on the affected area.
- Leave on for 20-30 minutes.
- Rinse with cool water and pat dry. Repeat daily and regularly for best results.
5. Switch to a Low Sodium Diet
While there are no current studies that definitely conclude that high levels of sodium in the diet directly contribute to acne, it is a possible cause. Processed and fast foods contain high levels of sodium. Honestly, as you probably know, these foods are not good for your skin due to the amounts of sugar, synthetic chemicals, trans fats, and lack of nutrients they contain.
Additionally, high sodium levels do correlate to inflammation in the body, which as we know can cause acne and other health concerns.
6. Relieve your Stress
Your body produces various hormones when you’re subjected to stress. So it’s no surprise that chronic stress affects general hormone balance and compromises your immune system.
7. Take Raw Probiotics
Probiotics are absolutely essential for gut, and by extension, whole-body health. Hence, having appropriate levels of “good” bacteria in the body are necessary to eliminate harmful bacteria. Probiotics also reduce inflammation.
In fact, a 2015 study reads: “Probiotic bacteriotherapy can have great potential in preventing and treating the skin diseases including eczema, atopic dermatitis, acne, and allergic inflammation or in skin hypersensitivity, UV-induced skin damage, wound protection, and as a cosmetic product.”
To discourage acne, try these probiotic foods:
- Apple cider vinegar (raw, unfiltered, organic)
8. Eliminate Coffee
Say it ain’t so, joe. Coffee in moderate amounts is good for you—no question about that.
When it comes to acne, however, it’s not such a great thing:
- The caffeine in coffee stimulates stress hormones.
- Coffee can interfere with the metabolism of blood glucose, increasing insulin levels and affecting general hormone balance.
- It stimulates the craving for sugar, which, in turn, causes inflammation.
- Coffee can affect healthy gut flora and lead to inflammation and immune response as a result.
- The drink can contain microscopic fungi that affect estrogen levels and compromise the immune system.
9. Increase Anti-inflammatory Foods
Inflammation in the body can contribute to acne, among other things. It’s even known that chronic inflammation leads to heart disease, diabetes, digestive disorders, and cancer. Adding anti-inflammatory foods will promote overall health and reduce the odds of a bout of acne.
Herbs and Spices:
- Black pepper and turmeric
- Carrots (better when cooked to release beta carotene and vitamin A)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fish (sardines, salmon, other fatty fish)
- Leafy green vegetables
10. Balance Your Hormones
If the root of your acne is a hormone imbalance, there are things you can do to restore things to their proper levels.
- Regular exercise relieves stress and supports the immune system.
- Eat foods that alkalinize the body and help to balance hormone production: beans, lentils, organic poultry and eggs, peppers, cabbage, coconut oil, and flax seeds are a few.
- Adequate, good-quality sleep gives the body a chance to recover and recalibrate.
- Steep herbal tea: chamomile, fenugreek, ginkgo Biloba, lavender, mango leaves, and spearmint are all great options.
- Inhale essential oils
- Take an Epsom salt bath
- Remove endocrine disrupting chemicals from your home.
11. Washing Your Face
Be very careful about what you put on your skin. Chemicals in soaps and facial washes can interfere with your natural oils and hormones and irritate your skin.
- Apple cider vinegar is a natural antiseptic that can unclog pores and remove excess oils.
- Coconut oil is full of vitamins and antioxidants, nourishing the skin. It also contains medium-chain fatty acids that get to the root of the cause of acne.
- Green tea is nutritious and full of antioxidants. Rinsing with green tea can reduce the acne-causing bacteria on your skin. In fact, drinking it supports skin health from the inside.
12. Allergy Test
The cause of your acne may not be hormonal, but possibly an allergic reaction. To start, eliminate dairy and wheat right off the top to make a difference, as these are common allergens. If you notice no difference in your skin, it may be worth a trip to your healthcare practitioner. They’ll be able to determine if you have an allergy or sensitivity of which you may not be aware.
Hormonal acne may be a natural phenomenon but no one likes it. Being mindful of what goes in and on your body will help you to minimize its severity and frequency.