Hormonal acne is something that many of us have experienced at one point in life or another. Some of us struggled with acne during your teens (hello, puberty!) and others had clear skin most of our lives until pregnancy brought a new rush of hormones and pimples. Because the 21-Day Clean Program can cause hormonal shifts (most often for the better) it is normal to experience breakouts the first few days of the cleanse as a detox symptom.
Hormonal acne can appear at different stages of life from natural hormonal changes like breakouts during your monthly period or from circumstances such as stress or illness. Let’s take a deeper look at this finicky skin condition and how to stop hormonal acne in its tracks.
What is Hormonal Acne?
Hormonal acne is generally characterized by large, red, painful bumps under the skin, known as cystic acne. These lingering bumps from hormonal acne most often appear on the lower half of the face: the chin, jawline and sometimes around the mouth.
Acne is a result of clogged pores from dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria. Our hormones are a major factor in how much oil is produced by the sebaceous glands, and how quickly the epidermis sheds those dead skin cells.
The hormones known as “male” hormones -- androgens like testosterone -- are most often to blame for hormonal acne. Both men and women have androgenic hormones, but having too many of them will increase oil production increasing the risk of clogged pores.
Insulin and Hormonal Acne
Insulin and insulin like growth factor (IGF-1), are both hormones that influence androgens and acne, so addressing insulin resistance and stabilizing blood sugar are important when looking at how to stop hormonal acne.
Hormonal imbalance can influence androgens and insulin, which is why we tend to see more hormonal acne with the following:
- Menstruation or Ovulation
- Perimenopause and menopause
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Estrogen Dominance
- Adrenal Fatigue
How to Stop Hormonal Acne
If you’re wondering how to stop hormonal acne, check out our suggestions below for lifestyle tips to get your hormones in sync and your skin clear and glowing.
- Easy Does It: Inflamed and irritated skin with hormonal acne is in need of a gentle touch. It can be tempting to try lots of harsh creams, ointments, and treatments like scrubs, peels, and benzoyl peroxide that promise miraculous results, however, many of those products will just further irritate the skin. Using a gentle cleanser, an active exfoliator with alpha or beta hydroxy acids, and retinol can help to manage oil production and clear dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria.
- Stress Less: The stress hormone, cortisol, can ramp up androgens and put the rest of your endocrine system out of whack. You can reduce stress by improving your time management skills, establishing better boundaries, and ask for help when you need it. Most of us can’t eliminate stress altogether, so learning to manage or cope with stress in a healthy way is crucial to balance hormones and an important part of how to stop hormonal acne. Incorporating healthy practices like daily guided meditation and regular exercise can make a big difference.
- Balance Blood Sugar: Sugar and high glycemic index foods can spike insulin and increase cortisol and inflammation -- all factors that contribute to acne. Ditch the sugary foods as well as foods made from refined flours. Swap in long-burning sources of fuel that support stable blood sugar levels like organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats.
Feed Your Hormones to Stop Acne
- Healthy Fats: Hormones are made from healthy fats, so we need plenty of good quality omegas to support healthy hormones. Healthy fats like fish oil, egg yolks, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados are all great options. Incorporate healthy fats into your diet every day.
- Go Green: Green tea is a natural androgen blocker and it is full of acne-fighting antioxidants. Leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts are especially good for clearing out excess estrogen. Including superfood greens in your shakes with an additional greens powder is an easy way to boost your acne-busting greens intake.
- Avoid Food Sensitivities: Certain foods can increase inflammation and cause stress hormones to act up. Foods like gluten, dairy, coffee, alcohol, and sugar are more common triggers, so it can be beneficial to cut these out for a period of time. A 21-day cleanse can help you identify food sensitivities, while cleansing the body from estrogen-mimicking compounds and excess hormones that can cause an imbalance.
- Supplement Right: When looking at how to stop hormonal acne, key supplements can be beneficial in addition to a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. B vitamins and a liver support like N-Acetyl-Cysteine support the liver in clearing hormones. Probiotics support healthy gut flora which helps to metabolize hormones. Vitex, indole-3-carbinol, and selenium also support balanced hormones.
- Visit a Functional Medicine professional: Working with a Functional MD or functional hormone specialist can get you the personalized treatment you need to resolve hormonal acne from the inside out. Some hormonal imbalances like hypothyroidism can benefit from thyroid medication, and others may need specific dietary or supplemental guidance to see improvement.