Hormonal acne is so complicated. Anytime your woes stem from microscopic issues like hormones, vitamins, enzymes, neurotransmitters, or anything that you can’t see with your naked eye, it is going to be complicated.
You may want to slather on anti-acne remedies and wash you face constantly, but the best thing you can do is educate yourself first. Read medical texts and look at pictures on Google image search of all this stuff actually happening so you can get familiar with what goes on in your body.
I’m going to try to give you a greater understanding of the tiny things happening inside your body that can contribute to big issues on the outside of your body. Hopefully you can walk away from this article with some of your questions answered about hormonal acne.
How Do I Know If My Acne is Caused by Hormones?
There are a few tell-tale signs that your hormones might be contributing to your acne. To find out, ask yourself these questions:
- Are your breakouts occurring at the same time each month?
- Are your breakouts always in the same spot? Is it on your chin or your cheeks? You should check out this face-map.
- Are your pimples deep, cystic and painful?
If you answered yes to questions 1-3, your hormones might be causing your breakouts.
Hormonal Acne is Often Caused by Sensitivity to Androgens
Our body balances our hormones delicately to keep everything flowing smoothly. When the hormone balance is offset, the body has to work around it and make due with what it has.
When it comes to acne, the androgen in charge is testosterone. Men and women both produce testosterone (and estrogen) and both sexes need it. But women are often sensitive to extraneous testosterone in their bodies because they can’t use it for their typical functioning. That excess testosterone can’t just sit around, though. It’s in circulation—it has to go somewhere.
Enter the skin. The skin has androgen receptor cells. This is where excess testosterone often goes to be purged. And the skin gets rid of it—with cystic breakouts.
Also noteworthy: testosterone in the bloodstream increases sebum (skin oil) production. Sebum can then clog the follicle and cause the breakout to be even worse.
Take a minute to think about that. Don’t worry. It’ll be okay.
How Does It Get to the Skin?
Hormones are transported in the body through the bloodstream. The bloodstream transmits the hormone—and a whole lot of other tiny things—directly to the skin cells. The excess hormones bind to the androgen receptors in the skin cells and just ride in the cells until they’re out of the body.
So How Do They Get Into the Blood?
There are three basic ways testosterone ends up in the body’s blood supply:
- Increased output of hormones by the sex organs. High blood sugar could increase hormone production by giving excess energy (sugar) to the ovaries. That increased hormone production puts more unuseable testosterone into the bloodstream than needed, and the body has to work to get rid of it. Regulating your blood sugar is a great way to help regulate your hormones. Check your blood sugar and learn about what you could do to regulate it.
- Exercise. Has anyone ever told you not to work out if you’re having cycle-related breakouts? They’re actually right. Hormones are fat soluble, so they’re stored in the body fat. When you work out, you break down body fat for energy. Any stored hormones in that body fat can get into your bloodstream. Mixed with sweating and increased heart rate, you’re creating the perfect environment for a breakout. This is where I personally become concerned with hormones in my food, especially fatty foods like meat and dairy. If you have to choose one thing to eat organic, choose your animal products!
- Stress. I know you’re a little concerned with your acne and all your life stress, but you’re going to need to relax. Why? Because your adrenals release almost as much testosterone into your bloodstream as your ovaries do. If stress and overwork are part of your daily life, try to spend a couple of moments each day in a relaxed state of mind. Laugh, be creative, or meditate. Welcome to de-stressing and taking care of your inner child.
Don’t Worry, You Can Get Help
I suggest you go to a doctor and get your hormone levels checked. Include your blood sugar level and ask about how to test cortisol (stress hormone) levels. See if one or both of them is out of balance.
As always, eating a healthy, plant-based diet full of leafy greens and fresh fruit, drinking lots of water, and sleeping 7.5-9 hours everyday is the best way to help your body stay balanced.
Understanding Acne: The Series
Acne is really complicated. This is part one of a four part series to help us understand what causes breakouts and what we can do about it.
Medscape: Androgren Excess
Mind Body Green: Got Adult Acne? 4 Signs Your Hormones are to Blame
Connections: The Liver's Role in Hormone Balance
Women's Health: Androgen
Diabete Action: Cinnamon and Diabetes
Aub is a certified clinical herbalist and content strategist/creator. She is the co-founder of Dandelion Branding, a digital marketing company that works with brands that are focused on revolutionizing their industries. When she's not working on a project, you can usually find her nosing about in the forest or giving congratulatory high fives to every plant in her house for growing.