Stubborn breakouts aren’t just frustrating, they’re painful and embarrassing. If it feels like no matter what products you try, or how you shake up your skincare routine, nothing seems to work, we literally have felt your pain. Have you read all our tips and tricks about keeping acne at bay, and had no luck clearing up your acne?
Well, here’s a tip: If your pimples are generally concentrated around your chin and on your cheeks, or if they tend to happen in clusters once or twice a month, your habits might not be the problem. In fact, if you’re in your twenties and thirties and still struggling with breakouts, it’s likely your acne is caused by a common culprit: hormones.
What causes hormonal acne?
It’s natural and perfectly normal for hormone levels in your body to fluctuate. For instance, during your menstrual cycle, it’s normal for your body to experience a surge in hormone levels, which can trigger acne breakouts. Aside from menstruation, a range of other situations (ovulation, polycystic ovarian syndrome, birth control, menopause, and pregnancy, to name a few) can cause hormonal acne flare-ups as well. Increases in androgen levels can also cause breakouts, and this increase can be explained by adrenal gland abnormalities, ovarian tumors, or anabolic steroids, among other factors. Even heightened stress can increase cortisol levels, which may throw your hormones off-kilter and cause breakouts.
At its most basic level, hormonal acne is different from other acne because it’s caused by a fluctuation of chemicals inside your body rather than factors outside the body. We know that unwashed pillowcases, air pollution, bacterial build up on makeup tools, poor eating habits, dirty exercise gear, and over-exfoliating can increase the opportunity for acne causing bacteria to clog pores and trigger breakouts. Even though it’s psychological, we understand that not being able to physically see the causes of your acne makes it that much more frustrating.
Hormone imbalances that trigger breakouts also increase the inflammation and sebum (natural oils) production in your skin, which can lead to clogged hair follicles and the increased growth of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes. These bacteria feed on your sebum and dead skin cells, which cause pimples and, of course, further irritate the skin. Unfortunately, pinpointing the cause of your hormonal acne is a little more complicated than using antibacterial soap or disinfecting your yoga mat. To determine the reason for your acne-causing hormone fluctuations it’s best to see a doctor (either your OBGYN or a dermatologist) and make sure they help you to rule out more serious conditions (like PCOS and tumors) as causes of your hormonal acne.
How can I tell if I have hormonal acne?
Visually identifying hormonal acne will likely differ depending on your age. If you’ve just hit puberty, you’ll see hormonal breakouts develop across your entire face.
If you’re in your twenties or older, your hormonal acne will likely be concentrated around the lower third of your face — usually around the bottoms of your cheeks and jaw and on the chin. Hormonal acne can appear in the form of blackheads, whiteheads and smaller pimples, but it’s more likely to rear its head as deeper, more painful cysts that don’t have a visible head but are tender and sore to the touch.
How can I treat my hormonal breakouts?
Choose your facial cleansers carefully — pick one that has salicylic acid and other acne fighting ingredients, not harsh scrubbing beads or granules. Cleansers with lactic and glycolic acids or topical retinols are dermatologist-tested, over-the-counter treatments that may help reduce some symptoms of hormonal acne.
To reduce breakouts as much as possible, make sure all the surfaces and materials that come into contact with your skin — like makeup brushes, towels, bed sheets, and your hands — are extra clean. This will minimize external irritants that may make your hormonal acne even worse.
However, considering some of the conditions that can cause hormonal acne in adults, you should consult an OBGYN or dermatologist. For starters, they can prescribe you a higher concentration topical treatment that has the potential to be more effective, or even recommend a combination hormone birth control pill to treat your acne. It’s also possible that your birth control is causing you to break out, so they may recommend you switch methods or opt out of BC. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s hormonal equilibrium varies, and to properly treat acne-causing imbalances, you may have to go through a trial-and-error process to determine what underlying condition may be causing it. It’s annoying, but it’s an unfortunate part of battling acne.
Treating hormonal acne can be a long, frustrating process. Though it may be tempting to turn to natural “remedies” and supposed quick-fixes, physicians discourage patients from trying these alternative medicines before consulting a professional. The “natural” hormones in over-the-counter acne treatments are often derived from plants, whose chemical makeup is starkly different than that of humans. These fundamental differences in structure, paired with sometimes shaky regulations on supplements by the Food and Drug Administration, make results uncertain, and sometimes even dangerous.
Hormonal acne is sometimes a symptom of an underlying condition. If you see your doctor and can, together, determine the condition that’s triggering your breakouts, you can work together to come up with a treatment plan that’s right for your individual chemical makeup. Although hormonal acne can be particularly tricky and frustrating to treat, the guidance of a professional could help you clear up your skin safely and relatively quickly. Every person’s body is fundamentally unique, which means your acne treatment should be, too.