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Your Guide to Handling Hormonal Acne

 

 

Are you breaking out with acne as an adult? You may be experiencing hormonal acne (also known as adult acne). Here are some things you can do about it.

Many of us ladies remember the first time a pimple appeared on our skin. For some of us, it was no big deal. For others, it was just the beginning of a long journey with hormonal acne (also known as adult acne). But what makes hormonal acne different from other types of acne? Will it go away on its own or does it require intervention?

Don't worry, we'll answer these questions (and more) below. We'll also go over some of the most effective ways to reduce skin inflammation and acne scars associated with hormonal breakouts.

What Is Hormonal Acne?

Acne vulgaris is a very common skin condition. It's not usually a problem when you're a child, but when you reach the age of puberty and beyond, you may struggle with it off and on.

Approximately 80% of people develop acne sometime between the ages of 11 and 30. For some of us lucky ladies, acne decides to stay with us into our 40s and 50s. Unlike other types of acne, hormonal acne is primarily triggered by our hormones. That's why many of us experience acne breakouts around our periods, during pregnancy, and around the time of menopause.

Almost everyone is at risk of developing acne at some point. If you're somehow lucky enough to escape it during puberty (which would be a small miracle!) you'll probably eventually experience adult acne. Try not to feel embarrassed when hormonal fluctuations cause you to break out in pimples. We've all been there, girl!

What Does Hormonal Acne Look Like?

A pimple is a pimple, right? Not quite. You probably aren't in the habit of studying your acne, but there is something that differentiates hormonal acne from other types of acne.

When you went through puberty, your acne was probably clustered primarily around your chin, forehead, and nose (also known as the "T-zone"). But when you're experiencing hormonal acne as an adult, you're more likely to get breakouts that are concentrated along your chin, cheeks, and jawline. As an added bonus, you might even get breakouts across your shoulders and back!

Other than location, hormonal acne can look a lot like any other run-of-the-mill acne type. It can come in the form of blackheads, whiteheads, papules, and pustules. You may even develop cystic acne, which is a particularly painful type of acne that forms just below the surface of the skin. If you experience cystic acne, don't try to pop your pimples! There is no way for the trapped fluid to escape, so you'll just end up pushing all the nasty stuff deeper into your skin and causing more inflammation.

What Causes Hormonal Acne?

Acne vulgaris occurs when the pores become blocked by excess oil or dead skin cells, but the condition can be exacerbated by hormone changes. Before you can take the necessary steps to reduce your acne, you need to learn more about hormonal acne treatment and causes.

When you're going through puberty, acne is caused by changes in androgen levels. Androgen hormones are male hormones (including testosterone) that both males and females have.

Like the acne you experienced during puberty, changes in your androgen hormone levels (specifically testosterone) can also lead to adult acne. Hormone fluctuations can cause the sebaceous glands in your skin to produce too much oil. This excess oil can clog your hair follicles and interact with acne-causing bacteria to stimulate breakouts.

Several things can trigger hormonal changes that lead to hormonal acne breakouts, including:

  • Family history of acne
  • Hormone fluctuations in women (especially around pregnancy, menopause, menstrual periods, or after you stop taking birth control)
  • Certain medications (including steroids, lithium, birth control pills, and anticonvulsants)
  • Certain conditions (such as hypothyroidism and polycystic ovarian syndrome)

Contrary to what some people believe, acne is not caused by poor hygiene (though poor hygiene can certainly make breakouts worse). Even if you are very meticulous about keeping your face clean and nourished, you may still experience frequent acne breakouts. When you have a hormonal imbalance, all the face washing in the world won't keep the pimples away.

Does Hormonal Acne Go Away?

Hormonal acne may go away temporarily, but until you address the underlying cause of your breakouts, your acne is likely to return (either regularly or occasionally). If your acne is triggered by something like medication or birth control, it is unlikely to go away unless you stop taking the medication.

Not so fast, though! Before you stop taking any type of medication, you should always consult your doctor. You may need to taper off of certain types of medications or switch them out with other varieties, depending on your underlying health conditions.

If you're given the green light to discontinue a medication that's causing your hormonal acne, congratulations! The next step is to learn how to eat healthy foods that include skin-supporting vitamins (such as vitamin A and vitamin C). You'll also want to follow a regular skincare routine to help you maintain healthy, clear skin.

How Do I Know if I Have Hormonal Acne?

Still unsure whether you have hormonal acne? Here are a few indications that you might.

  • Your breakouts tend to occur during certain phases of your menstrual cycle (usually the week before your period).
  • You have other symptoms of a hormone imbalance (such as unexpected weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, and vaginal dryness).
  • Your acne doesn't respond to traditional acne treatments.
  • You are experiencing cystic acne (these can be large, red, and painful). Don't squeeze them, since they're unlikely to pop and you may develop acne lesions or scarring if you keep messing with them.
  • You're going through obvious hormonal changes, such as pregnancy or menopause.
  • Your breakouts are mainly limited to your chin, jawline, upper back, chest, and neck.
  • You're taking some form of oral contraceptive. Birth control pills can disrupt hormone balance and lead to mild or severe acne.

Another clear sign that you may be suffering from adult acne is if you're dealing with a lot of emotional stress. This type of stress can cause changes in your cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a hormone that's closely associated with oil production in the skin. If it becomes imbalanced, it could cause your body to overproduce oil. As mentioned earlier, excess oil and dead skin cells can clog the pores and contribute to mild or moderate acne. So make sure you take care of yourself and try to minimize your stress if you're dealing with adult acne vulgaris.

How To Recognize Acne Severity

When it comes to adult acne, there are different degrees of severity. Here's how to tell whether you're dealing with mild hormonal acne, moderate acne, or severe acne.

Mild Acne

If you only have occasional breakouts that are limited to small areas of your skin, you probably have mild acne. Mild acne breakouts don't usually cause the skin to get inflamed and red. They also don't normally lead to scarring.

Moderate Acne

Moderate acne causes more noticeable breakouts. These may include blackheads and whiteheads. Moderate acne breakouts tend to be more frequent than mild acne breakouts and they may cover larger areas of your skin. People often take prescription medications to deal with moderate acne.

Severe Acne

Unlike mild and moderate acne, severe acne causes significant inflammation in the skin cells. Blemishes tend to be large, swollen, painful, and red. Severe acne can be widespread on the body and is rarely limited to just the face. Some people choose to take prescription medication as an acne treatment for severe acne.

If you don't want to take medication, we have good news for you! We have a few non-medicinal suggestions for treating the underlying cause of your hormonal acne and minimizing future breakouts. We'll talk about those suggestions a little later in this guide.

What Are Hormonal Triggers for Acne?

There are some potential hormonal acne triggers that you should know about if you're experiencing breakouts. They include:

Insulin resistance

Insulin isn't just a hormone that's important for diabetics. Everyone should understand the role insulin levels can play in hormonal acne and overall health.

Insulin is released by the pancreas and helps to regulate blood sugar levels. When blood glucose gets too high (like it did when you ate that chocolate donut last night), insulin levels spike. This is a natural response to your rapidly increasing blood sugar levels.

When insulin spikes too frequently, your cells don't respond very well to it anymore. To rectify the problem of insulin resistance in the cells, the pancreas secretes even more insulin into the body. The cells become increasingly resistant to insulin and the damaging cycle continues (unless something interferes with it).

Insulin resistance is one of the more common triggers of hormonal acne. When insulin rises, it causes androgen levels (including testosterone) to increase. As a result, the skin produces more oil, which often leads to the development of acne.

Sluggish liver function

Many people are surprised to learn that a sluggish liver can cause hormonal imbalances that lead to adult acne. But the link isn't too surprising once you understand how the liver impacts the health of the skin.

The liver is the body's largest internal organ and it has a lot of responsibilities. Some of those responsibilities include converting T4 thyroid hormone into T3, making bile to break down the fats we eat, and eliminating excess toxins and hormones from the body.

When the liver is unhealthy, it becomes sluggish and is no longer able to remove toxins and hormones from the body efficiently. As a result, the body becomes inflamed and is more likely to experience inflammatory conditions (such as hormonal acne).

Estrogen dominance or deficiency

Women with normal estrogen levels typically have healthy-looking skin. Estrogen binds to the androgen receptors that ramp up oil production in the skin. When you have too much or too little estrogen, your body struggles to regulate its oil production. Adult acne is a common result of estrogen imbalance.

Low progesterone

Low progesterone is a problem impacting many women. Low progesterone levels may be caused by estrogen dominance, lack of ovulation, or poor ovarian function.

One of progesterone's many responsibilities is to regulate testosterone conversion to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). When progesterone levels are low, DHT production tends to become too high. Too much DHT can trigger acne breakouts.

High cortisol

Cortisol is also known as the "stress hormone," because it easily becomes imbalanced in response to high levels of stress. This important hormone also helps to regulate the body's circadian rhythm (i.e. the sleep/wake cycle).

When cortisol levels are high temporarily, they don't generally cause noticeable or lasting issues. But when cortisol levels are chronically high, they can cause inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can lead to conditions like acne.

Low thyroid function

The thyroid gland is located in the neck and releases thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) into the body. When thyroid hormone levels are too low (as seen in cases of hypothyroidism), the body may have trouble converting beta carotene into vitamin A. This may not seem like a big deal, but vitamin A has a lot of important responsibilities, including promoting skin health. When our bodies are deficient in vitamin A, the health of our skin suffers.

Low thyroid hormones can also cause a deficiency of progesterone. This, in turn, can lead to the formation of hormonal acne. Common causes of hypothyroidism include nutrient deficiencies, insulin resistance, family history of thyroid issues, and chronic inflammation.

Excess androgen

Some women experience excess androgen production as a result of a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome. Women with PCOS may experience a variety of symptoms, including skin and hair issues, menstrual irregularities, insulin resistance, and obesity.

If you're not sure whether your hormones are currently imbalanced, there are blood tests you can take to find out. Your body can also give you clues when your hormones are out of whack (see the section "How Do I Know if I Have Hormonal Acne" above to review those cues).

No matter what's triggering your adult acne problem, here's what to know about treatment options and how to avoid hormone imbalances that are causing your breakouts.

How Can I Clear Hormonal Acne?

Some people have success using topical products with salicylic acid to clear hormonal acne. Others may discover that these products work at first, but stop working over time. To clear hormonal acne effectively and for the long term, we need to focus on the cause of our acne: hormonal imbalances.

For those of us with imbalanced hormone levels, hormonal therapy is one potential treatment option. But this type of therapy comes with a wide range of potential side effects. To avoid those side effects, it may be preferable to take natural supplements and make lifestyle changes that can help bring the hormones back into balance.

Some people find great success clearing adult acne by adopting a special diet for hormonal acne. These diets may vary, but most include the following general recommendations:

Do Eat:

  • Healthy fats (such as avocados, seeds, coconut oil, and whole eggs)
  • Vegetables (such as zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and spinach)
  • Legumes (such as kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and black beans)
  • Fruit (such as berries, oranges, bananas, grapes, and apples)
  • Quality protein (such as chicken, eggs, tofu, and salmon)
  • Whole grains and starchy vegetables (such as buckwheat, oats, sweet potato, brown rice, and quinoa)
  • Unsweetened beverages (such as water, lemon water, hibiscus tea, and green tea)
  • Anti-inflammatory spices and herbs (such as parsley, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and garlic)

The list of whole, nutritious foods you can enjoy to combat hormonal acne is a long one. Most people should be able to find several foods from the above list that they wouldn't mind eating regularly.

Don't Eat:

  • Highly processed foods (such as sugary cereals, white bread, frozen meals, and fast food)
  • Milk and other dairy products (such as yogurt, cheese, and milk)
  • Sugary foods and beverages (such as juice, cake, cookies, energy drinks, and candy)

You'll notice that eating whole foods and voiding acne-triggering foods will not only help clear up your adult acne, but will also help you feel healthier and more energetic overall!

How Can I Reduce My Risk of Hormonal Acne?

You can reduce your risk of hormonal acne by taking preventative measures to keep hormonal fluctuation in balance. Sometimes we can't avoid temporary imbalances in hormones (especially during times of emotional stress). But we can eat healthy foods and take supplements to help bring our hormones back into proper balance.

Hertime is a great supplement for combatting a hormonal acne breakout. It contains a variety of hormone-supporting vitamins, minerals, and herbs. You won't find any inflammation-inducing fillers or sugars in Hertime, either. Each user-friendly packet gets its refreshing taste from stevia leaf extract and natural flavors. To learn more about this product and other Mixhers products that can make your skin (and your life) better, head over to Mixhers resources and take a look around!