Do you notice yourself breaking out at certain times of the month while at other times your skin glows? Is your acne often along your jawline or on your chin? You may have hormonal acne caused by a hormonal imbalance.
I cried when I looked at a picture taken on my 21st birthday. I wasn’t crying tears of laughter, remembering the fun times, or even crying over something embarrassing that happened. I cried, looking at the cystic acne popping up all over my face.
My acne kept coming back, and it started a few years after most teenagers already cleared up. Birth control and pregnancy got my skin under control, so I know it was hormonal acne.
I have been on almost every medication to help clear my acne. The more I read about these “treatments,” the more I wonder if any of them could be the root cause of the general unwell feeling I’ve had in the past. We often think of acne as a blemish to our appearance. But it’s a sign of a hormonal imbalance, and we should get it under control for our health.
Estrogen Dominance Acne
Estrogen dominance is one of the most common hormonal imbalances by causing general inflammation in your entire body. Since acne is an inflammatory disease, it can exacerbate your skin.
Signs of Estrogen Dominance Acne
Estrogen dominance may cause your acne if:
- You tend to break during the ovulation phase and about a week before your period.
- You break out the worst around your jawline.
Estrogen peaks during ovulation and then increases again during the middle of the luteal phase. If high estrogen levels are causing your acne, those are the times you’re most likely to break out.
Healing Estrogen Dominance Acne
How do we reduce estrogen dominance and help our skin clear up? The short but complicated answer is to keep our liver healthy! The liver detoxes our bodies, and if it’s busy eliminating toxins, it’s not as effective at removing excess estrogen. Here are some more concrete ways to improve your estrogen dominance acne.
- Clean up beauty routine – This one can be difficult to do when we’re struggling with acne. I know I wanted to dry my skin up and use chemicals to get rid of the acne I hated! But we need to avoid “fake” estrogens in beauty and other household products. These substances act similarly to estrogen in your body. When there are fake estrogens present, it can mimic estrogen, making our body think there are higher levels than there are. Some xenoestrogens to avoid:
- Avoid estrogen-mimicking foods – Soy, flax seeds, and sesame seeds are common phytoestrogenic foods to avoid, especially during the ovulation and luteal phases when estrogen dominance becomes more of a problem. Eating these foods causes a similar situation to the “fake” estrogens in beauty products.
- Avoid dairy – Most dairy in the US contains synthetic hormones and reacts in our body the same way xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens do. Also, dairy aggravates inflammatory acne because it causes an inflammatory response in the body.
Acne From Androgens
Some lucky women have a genetic predisposition to get acne from androgens, like testosterone. Certain women have more sensitive androgen receptors, which activate sebaceous glands. These glands produce oil that can clog the pores and cause acne.
Low progesterone may be another reason you have acne from androgens. Progesterone can “stop” testosterone from converting into an androgen that causes acne. When levels of progesterone aren’t high enough, levels of androgen increase, causing acne.
Symptoms of Acne From Androgens
- Your acne appears all over your face
- Your acne will peak when your testosterone peaks, which is around ovulation and right before your period.
Healing Acne From Androgens
Eliminate high-glycemic carbohydrates for a simple way to reduce acne from androgens. High-glycemic carbs will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. Your ovaries have insulin receptors, and higher insulin levels cause them to produce more testosterone and less estrogen.
If you’re androgen-sensitive, the extra testosterone can break out your skin. So sweets can break out women who are genetically less able to regulate their androgen receptors.
Natural Remedies for Hormonal Acne
Knowing which acne you have can help with healing. But there are other treatments to try as well.
When we have hormonal acne, cycle syncing naturally balances hormones and helps us heal.
Foods and exercises that are suggested during each phase of your cycle help increase estrogen when we need it and eliminate it when we no longer do. Cycle syncing is not a quick fix for acne, but there is no bounce-back effects that we’re likely to get with conventional treatments.
Cycle syncing can feel complex, but once you know the basics, it becomes a lot easier. Balancing our hormones with food is a natural way to eliminate hormonal acne.
Herbs and Supplements for Hormonal Acne
After speaking with your doctor, there are supplements to try that can balance hormones and clear up skin.
- Vitex helps increase progesterone levels and suppresses prolactin. Higher progesterone helps balance estrogen dominance and decrease testosterone. It will help with either type of hormonal acne.
- Licorice and paeony are two herbs that can lower androgens. They are perfect for acne from high androgen levels.
- Fish oil acts as an anti-inflammatory and can help with estrogen dominance acne. The omega-3s in fish oil also balance androgens, so it’s a good supplement for either hormonal imbalance.
- Multivitamin – Many vitamins and minerals will help your body produce optimal hormone levels. I love Thorne’s multivitamin and have a noticeably higher energy level when I take it.
Essential Oils for Hormonal Acne
A study in 2010 tested ten essential oils to see which best killed a bacteria that causes acne. These were the winners:
Adding a drop of one of these oils to your usual face cream could help eliminate acne-causing bacteria. I noticed each of these oils support our hormones during one phase of our cycle. We can rotate these oils through our cycle to help balance hormones in addition to reducing hormonal acne.
- Use cinnamon during your menstrual phase to help ease cramping.
- Use rose otto during the follicular phase to support your increasing estrogen levels.
- Use grapefruit during ovulation to support estrogen elimination.
- Use thyme during the luteal phase to support progesterone production.
Why I Stay Away From Traditional Acne Medications
I’ve tried almost every acne medication available. While they do work, I’m afraid I messed up my health even more by taking them long-term. And I needed to take them long-term because as soon as I stopped them, I’d break out again. They didn’t solve the root issue, a hormonal imbalance.
Accutane for hormonal acne
I’m starting with this one because it’s the strongest medication. Accutane worked well for me, but the fact I needed to do two different rounds means it doesn’t fix the underlying problem causing the acne.
People who’ve been on Accutane know it causes congenital deformities because you need to take a pregnancy test every month to ensure you’re not pregnant. On one drug maker’s website, some of the side effects are:
- Depression or suicide
- Increased pressure in the brain
- Serious skin problems
- Inflammation of your pancreas
- Liver problems
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Blood sugar problems, including diabetes
Accutate is a potent medication that can cause harm while clearing up acne.
Spironolactone is a diuretic that lowers androgen levels by helping your body pee them out. For acne from androgens, this is a quick and easy fix.
The medication is a synthetic steroid blocking the effects of testosterone and other hormones in your body. Spironolactone hides hormonal imbalances instead of fixing them at the root cause.
When I took spironolactone, I no longer wanted any sweet foods, and I craved bacon so much! We ate bacon-wrapped everything for months while I took spironolactone: bacon-wrapped chicken, pork, dates. We wrapped everything in bacon in our household.
Looking back, it was my body’s response to the diuretic. Spironolactone treats heart failure patients who need to remove excess water in their bodies. Since I didn’t need diuresis, the bacon and excessive salt helped my body retain fluid.
I took a daily oral antibiotic for years. I’m not sure whether microbiome was even a word while I took antibiotics for acne. But taking it long-term destroyed my microbiome. When you use a broad-spectrum antibiotic trying to kill the bacteria that causes acne on your skin, you’re also going to kill the healthy bacteria in your gut. Here are some things our microbiome does for us:
- Control digestion
- Control immune system
- Regulate brain function with the gut-brain connection
We need a healthy microbiome to maintain health. Killing it off for something like acne will have consequences that last a long time.
Strengthening our microbiome improves our health and energy. We should cultivate our microbiome to ensure our body works optimally, not kill our health gut with broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Birth control hides underlying imbalances; it doesn’t improve our hormonal health. We’re meant to ovulate monthly, and our hormones should change throughout the month. When we take birth control, we stop our natural cycle, and our hormones are more similar to a post-menopausal woman.
If you come off birth control to have kids, you don’t even know your natural cycle. Women often need to wait years before they’re regulated enough to get pregnant. Here is some more information you should know if you’re on birth control.
I haven’t cried looking at pictures of myself in over a decade now. My skin didn’t spontaneously change, but now my face glows, and I feel energetic after fixing my hormonal imbalance.
If you’re an adult with acne, you likely have a hormone imbalance. Two common hormonal imbalances can cause acne, and fixing these issues at the root source improves our skin. We can use our health tracker and cycle data to help pinpoint what our hormones are doing. Learn how by joining the email mini-course.