Just about everyone has experienced a breakout before. When those painful, pesky, and just plain unpleasant pimples pop up it always seems to be at the worst time. But when these aggravating break-outs begin happening on a regular basis, or even worse, simply stay put – you may be experiencing hormonal acne.
Today, we’re going to dive into exactly what hormonal acne is, what might be the underlying cause, and most importantly – how you can banish those bothersome blemishes for good.
What Is Acne?
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when your pores or hair follicles become clogged – causing a build-up of oil and dead skin cells.1 Acne is characterized by:2
- The pathological overproduction of oil, also known as sebum
- Abnormal keratinization of the hair follicles
- The formation of bacterial colonies within these “plugged” follicles
- The release of proinflammatory mediators directed at the skin
This “plugging up” of your pores can occur anywhere on your body, but most often presents on your face and sometimes your back, chest, and/or shoulders. While the mechanism of action is essentially the same, acne is certainly not the same across the board. This distressing condition can affect each person differently and present in a number of different ways.
Let’s take a look at some of the different types of acne.
Types of Acne
The accumulation of oil and shedding skin cells in acne causes breakouts (often referred to as zits or pimples) and can appear as:3
- Whiteheads – plugged closed pores
- Blackheads – plugged open pores
- Papules – small, red, tender bumps
- Pustules or pimples – papules with pus at their ends
- Nodules – large, solid, often painful lumps under your skin
- Cystic lesions – painful, pus-filled bumps beneath the skin
Although we see acne pop up on the surface, it’s often an indicator of an underlying issue. And one of the most common underlying causes of acne – particularly in women – is an imbalance in hormones.
What Hormones Influence Acne?
There are several hormones, that if imbalanced, can cause acne. Let’s take a little deeper look at each of these hormones:4
- Androgens: Androgens are arguably the most influential acne-inducing hormones. These sex steroid hormones stimulate sebum production and acne formation in both males and females.
- Estrogen and progesterone: An excess of either of these hormones can cause an increase in sebum formation and disrupt the balance of other hormones that can also impact the formation of acne.
- Insulin and insulin growth factor: Insulin can stimulate the growth and maturation of the glands that produce sebum. Insulin also creates a positive feedback loop on your adrenals and ovaries triggering them to secrete more androgens – further exacerbating acne formation.
- Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH): CRH not only upregulates the production of cortisol (aka your body’s stress hormone) but also enhances the bioavailability of acne-inducing androgens.
- Glucocorticoids: These steroid hormones provoke acne thanks to their ability to induce and enhance the production of pro-inflammatory mediators in the skin.
With so many hormones that can impact the formation of acne, you’re probably wondering how you can possibly tell which hormones might be causing your acne. So let’s take a deeper look into this.
How Do You Know if Your Acne Is Hormonal?
To truly understand the root cause of acne and determine whether or not your breakouts are being caused by your hormones isn’t always straightforward process. It often requires some detective work and some trial and error. But one of the best indicators to determine if your hormones could be the culprit behind your acne, is to assess whether or not you’ve had any recent shifts in your hormones.
For example, hormonal acne causes can include:
- Puberty acne: Puberty is a time of surging and changing hormones. And during this time (in both males and females), there’s an increase in sex hormones including androgens which are well known for creating and exacerbating acne.5
- Pregnancy acne: Pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period are a whirlwind of hormonal fluctuations. These ups and downs can cause acne flare-ups ranging from a few minor blemishes to full-blown severe breakouts.6
- Menopause Acne: Menopause is marked by a decrease in the production of estrogen and female sex hormones by the ovaries. And while the adrenal glands also produce these crucial hormones, sometimes menopause causes a shift and increase in androgens. In some cases, menopause has also been linked to an increase in insulin resistance. This combination of increased androgens and insulin can trigger the emergence of acne.7
- Stress Acne: Chronic psychological stress can be a less obvious cause of acne.You see, stress is particularly troublesome when it comes to acne because it causes an increase in stress hormones like glucocorticoids and corticotropin-releasing hormones. Secondly, it disrupts the balance of your sex hormones and causes an increase in androgens as well as increases insulin resistance. And finally, stress promotes inflammation and causes an influx of pro-inflammatory mediators that can further exacerbate acne flare ups.8
If you’re concerned you might be suffering from this frustrating skin condition, chances are your number one concern is exactly how to get rid of acne. So let’s take a look at some treatment options.
Hormonal Acne Treatment
There are countless products and medications aimed at addressing acne. From topical creams and exfoliating scrubs that promise to eliminate your breakouts to hormonal birth control aimed at balancing your hormones. And while all of these options can certainly have a place in the treatment of acne, it doesn’t necessarily address the root cause of the problem.
If you’re familiar with the functional medicine approach, you know the aim is to identify and address whatever the “upstream” issue is, rather than to simply treat the “downstream” symptoms. So to truly address the root cause of hormonal acne, you’ll have to also incorporate some lifestyle tweaks that support healthy and balanced hormones. Here’s what I suggest:
Follow an Anti-Inflammatory and Hormone-Friendly Diet:
The food you eat can have a huge impact on both inflammation and your hormones. Inflammation along with spikes and crashes in your blood sugar and insulin levels will aggravate acne flare-ups. So you’ll want to avoid inflammation-promoting and hormone-disrupting foods like:
- Refined sugar
- Refined oils
- Processed foods
- Bread, pastries, and other white flour foods
Instead, you’ll want to build most of your meals around foods that fight inflammation, keep your insulin levels in check, and promote balanced hormones. Focus on foods like fresh fruits and veggies, high-quality protein, and healthy fats.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is the perfect prescription for throwing your whole body out of whack – especially your hormones. Consistently logging inadequate hours of sleep can disrupt the balance of your sex hormones, send your stress and inflammation through the roof, and spike your insulin resistance.
So if you’re on a mission to heal your hormonal acne, getting enough high-quality sleep is essential. Aim to log a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of high-quality uninterrupted sleep each night. Learn more about why high-quality sleep is so crucial and how to get more of it by clicking here.
Stress is sneaky and pervasive – it can slowly chip away at your health and throw your body off-kilter over time. So finding ways to minimize stress as well as developing healthy ways to cope with the unavoidable stress of life is essential. Healthy ways to manage stress might include meditation, connecting with loved ones, or blowing off steam in the gym. Regardless of what works for you, minimizing stress and strengthening your resilience can not only help you clear up your skin but give you a glow from the inside out.
Minimize Your Toxic Burden
We live in an increasingly toxic world – so coming into contact with toxins on a daily basis is inevitable. But if the number of toxins coming in exceeds your body’s capacity to filter them out, these toxins can begin accumulating. As they accumulate they can cause inflammation, burn out your immune system, and disrupt your body’s ability to properly regulate certain hormones.
So taking steps to boost your body’s ability to filter out these toxins and decrease your overall toxic burden can help combat acne flare-ups. Click here to learn more about exactly how you can begin decreasing your toxic burden.
Take Skin-Friendly Supplements
There are a number of supplements that can help give your body an edge when it comes to addressing all of the underlying issues that can contribute to the hormonal imbalances that can cause hormonal acne. Here are a few that I strongly recommend:
- Antioxidants like Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and glutathione
- Hormone Essentials Plus to encourage hormone balance and restore tranquility
- Gut healing supplements like probiotics and Gut Immune
- Supplements that naturally promote healthy sleep like LipoCalm or Dream Powder
These supplements can help give your body the edge it needs to come back to the center and re-balance the hormone dysfunction that’s causing your hormonal acne.
Invest in Quality Skin-Care
While it’s crucial to be intentional about what’s going in your body, it’s just as important to pay attention to what’s going on your body. When used in conjunction with some healthy lifestyle tweaks, investing in high-quality topical skincare can go a long way in getting you that glowing, blemish-free complexion.
When used together, my Micronized BPO Cleanser, Acne Correction Pads, and Acne Control Serum are designed to fight and reverse acne and give you radiant and clear skin. You can even get 10% off your first order of this acne-fighting trio by clicking right here.
Are You Struggling With Hormonal Acne?
Hormonal acne can be frustrating, distressing, and put a damper on your self-esteem. The good news is that acne is often your body’s way of signaling that something’s off balance – and you’ve got all the tools you need to help bring it back to center. I’m a firm believer that when it comes to your health, you are your own best advocate.
You are in the driver’s seat and have a ton of power when it comes to addressing your hormonal acne. If you’re struggling with hormonal acne, start by implementing the steps outlined in this article. And I also encourage you to seek out the guidance of an experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner to help you identify exactly which hormones might be contributing to your acne and help you develop a plan to get rid of it for good.
If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more ways to prioritize your health, head over to my blog – it’s chock-full of up-to-date and easy-to-understand information. And if you want to take it even deeper, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter – just enter your name and email address in the form below!
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about the underlying hormonal imbalances that can cause acne? If you have hormonal acne, what steps are you taking to heal your skin? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- What is Acne? Definition & Types | NIAMS (nih.gov)
- Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update (nih.gov)
- Acne – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
- Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update (nih.gov)
- Teen Acne: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, & More (webmd.com)
- Management of severe acne during pregnancy: A case report and review of the literature (nih.gov)
- Menopausal Acne – Challenges And Solutions (nih.gov)
- The Response of Skin Disease to Stress: Changes in the Severity of Acne Vulgaris as Affected by Examination Stress | Acne | JAMA Dermatology | JAMA Network
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.