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Hormonal Acne: Causes, Signs and Treatment

Hormonal Acne

Hormonal Acne - (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

Story At-A-Glance
  • Acne comes in different forms, and one of them is hormonal. Changes in hormones like testosterone and estrogen can cause the release of additional sebum. This makes the skin oily, which leads to signs of hormonal acne.
  • Hormonal acne can occur in adolescents or adults due to a medical condition, menstruation, or menopause.
  • What causes hormonal acne can vary. Factors that can lead to hormonal imbalance include medical conditions like PCOS, stress, diet, and environmental conditions.
  • Some of the signs of hormonal acne include whiteheads, blackheads, redness, inflammation, cysts, or nodules.
  • There are several effective medical treatments for hormonal acne, so visit your dermatologist to discuss your options.
  • There are also many helpful natural remedies you should consider, such as tea tree oil.

Introduction to Hormonal Acne

What causes hormonal acne is the shifting of hormone levels in the body. In particular, an increase in androgens like testosterone can elevate sebum production, modify skin cell activity, leading to bacteria production and inflammation. This causes pimples and other marks, usually on the face and upper body [1].

This condition is more common in women than men and is likely to occur during menstruation and menopause. It can occur in both puberty and adulthood. Although hormonal acne isn’t usually what causes acne in adults, it often appears in conjunction with other medical conditions [1].

How Hormonal Acne Evolves

Causes Hormonal Acne
When levels of testosterone rise in the body and additional sebum are produced, it clogs the skin pores. The addition of dirt and other impurities in the pores is what causes hormonal acne. As a result, the immune system responds to the addition of bacteria by causing swelling and inflammation in the area of the acne [2]. A study published in the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences examined serum levels of androgen in acne and their role in its severity.

What causes hormonal acne in women is often menopause. Women in menopause experience a drop in the amount of estrogen in their system, and there may also be an increase in testosterone. This may stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce additional sebum, causing acne [2].

Why Does Hormonal Acne Develop?

In addition to the shifts in hormones during times like menstruation, menopause, and puberty, several causes contribute to hormonal acne. The condition called polycystic ovarian cancer is a hormonal disorder occurring in women during their reproductive years. It’s characterized by high levels of testosterone in the body. This increases the development of skin cells and sebum production, leading to acne. One of the primary indicators for diagnosing this condition is signs of hormonal acne.

In many cases, what causes hormonal acne is high levels of inflammation, often created by lifestyle choices and environmental factors that weaken the immune system and lead to swelling in the body. An article published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology discussed the role of inflammation in the pathology of acne.

For example, pollutants and toxic substances in the air such as ozone and sulfur dioxide can increase the number of free radicals on your skin and raise oxidative stress. This results in inflammation, triggering the hormonal process, which is what causes hormonal acne [3].

High levels of stress can contribute to the signs of hormonal acne. When you experience stress, your body releases hormones like cortisol, which cause swelling on the skin. This stimulates excessive production of sebum in the skin and acne formation. A study published in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology found a strong link between stress and the severity of acne among female medical students.

The nutrition you take into your body can have a huge impact on both the development of acne and its severity. According to a review in Dermato-Endocrinology, nutrients impact skin hydration, metabolism, and hyperproliferation of cells.

The omega 3- and omega-6 essential fatty acids play a vital role in eliminating inflammation and must be included in your diet if you are prone to acne [4]. There’s evidence that acne patients have lower levels of the omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid on the surface of their skin lipids [5]

The development of hormonal acne is also associated with eating sugars and refined carbohydrates. This is because they raise blood glucose levels, leading to an increase in insulin and androgen hormones, which is what causes hormonal acne.

If you are interested in how to get rid of hormonal acne, consider a low-glycemic diet that includes items like fresh fruit and vegetables, steel-cut oats, and beans. Researchers have found evidence that this regimen can reduce acne [6].

Hormonal Acne Symptoms

Hormonal Acne Symptoms
These are some of the symptoms associated with hormonal acne:

  • Inflammation – In essence, acne is considered to be an inflammatory condition, so inflammation does play a key role in its pathology on the whole. It is what causes hormonal acne in many cases. It appears at all the stages of acne development, both at the early and late periods. Inflamed acne appears as red and swollen and has pores filled with dirt and dead skin cells. Sometimes an excess of bacteria can cause the condition to occur [7].
  • Acne Location – Hormonal acne has a particular pattern associated with where it appears compared to other types of acne conditions. It tends to occur on the chin, jawline, chest, neck, and upper back.

    However, it may also appear in other locations as well like the shoulders and face. When it comes to the face, you are most likely to find it on the T-zone – the forehead, nose, and chin.

  • Depression – Depression is a possible, not a certain symptom of having hormonal acne. Many people find that this condition affects their self-esteem and often leads to mental health problems.

    According to an article in the American Academy of Dermatology Association, people with acne often have a poor self-image and experience a lower quality of life. Also, they can have feelings of both anxiety and depression.

  • Whiteheads and Blackheads – Both whiteheads and blackheads are pimples, which became inflamed because of the high amount of sebum and bacteria inside. Blackheads have very large pores, which become filled with sebum, and they turn black due to a chemical reaction in the pores.

    With whiteheads, the pores are filled with too much bacteria. This covers the follicle so air can’t enter, and it prevents the chemical reaction. As such, they stay white.

  • Cysts – When cysts form under your skin, you have cystic acne, which is the most severe form. It results from pores that have become blocked and then infected, causing a large amount of inflammation.

    Cysts appear on the trunk and the upper arms but develop most often on the face. They mostly occur for hormonal reasons and are common in adolescents going through puberty. However, they can also appear in adults.

  • Nodules – These are small bumps under the skin, which are larger and more serious than regular pimples. They also delve deeper down into the skin. They may contain a lot of inflammation and appear red.

    These nodules tend to occur on the face and the back, but they can also exist elsewhere in the body. They are considered to be lesions, and they can become very painful. Nodules may last for a longer period than pimples, even weeks or months.

  • Pustules – These are defined as bumps in the skin, which are filled with pus and infected. They usually appear white but may have reddish skin surrounding them. Although they are very much like pimples, they can develop much bigger and, as such, are more serious. Although they can appear anywhere, they tend to grow on the face, chest, and back. Sometimes these pustules can be painful if you touch them.

Methods for Eliminating Hormonal Acne

Get rid of hormonal acne
If you’re reading this to find out how to get rid of hormonal acne, you should know that there are many methods for dealing with this issue.

  • Retinoids – Using a topical retinoid as part of your nighttime skincare routine is an effective hormonal acne treatment. They are potent anti-inflammatories, which can reduce swelling, and they’re high in antioxidants, which repair damage to the skin and protect it from environmental stressors.

    Besides, they increase the production of collagen and elastin in the skin. These substances also help to fix damaged skin, and they make it firmer, which can smooth out marks and abrasions [1].

  • Anti-Androgen Drugs – As some acne is caused by an increase in levels of androgen hormones like testosterone, anti-androgen drugs are an effective hormonal acne treatment.

    They decrease androgen levels in the body, reversing the effect that led to the skin condition. Topical spironolactone has anti-androgen effects, and it is a remedy that is effective in hormonal acne treatment [1].

  • Birth Control Pills – You may wonder how to get rid of hormonal acne on a more long-term basis, and there is a method: birth control pills. These medications combine estrogen with a progestin, which counter the hormones that lead to acne. [8].
  • Salicylic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide – These two substances are so effective that they are how to get rid of hormonal acne. They both eliminate dead skin cells and remove excess oil from the pores. Salicylic acid helps remove blackheads and whiteheads. Benzoyl peroxide is considered one of the best ways to get rid of inflamed acne [1].
  • Antibiotics/Anti-inflammatory Drugs – There are some antibiotics, which are also anti-inflammatory drugs, and they can be very effective at killing the bacteria associated with acne as well as reducing the swelling in the area. These work best when used along with a retinoid or benzoyl peroxide on your skin.
  • Natural Remedies – If you prefer a more organic approach, there are several different natural remedies, which can have an impact on hormonal acne. Tea tree oil is your best bet to remedy your hormonal acne. A study in the Medical Journal of Australia found that it was just as effective as benzoyl peroxide.

Other natural remedies include taking probiotics, as they can do a lot to reduce levels of inflammation in the body. By providing your gut with healthy bacteria, your immune system becomes stronger and can repair damage to the skin and decrease swelling.

Tips About Hormonal Acne

Consistent skin routine

  • Follow a consistent skin routine every morning and every night using high-quality skincare products. In particular, cleanse and moisturize your skin well if you have signs of hormonal acne.
  • As soon as you see signs of hormonal acne, go to a dermatologist to discuss your treatment options for eliminating the problem. The sooner you tackle it the more likely you are to get rid of it.
  • Always protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. UV light can make acne much worse, especially because it can darken it and make it more noticeable. Wear sunscreen anytime you go outside and consider a hat.
  • Don’t overuse a hormone acne treatment on the skin. Most products only require a small amount and using more can do damage like dry out the skin or cause irritation.
  • When you use a hormonal acne treatment, apply it very gently to your skin. Do not rub or scrub your skin vigorously, or you could make your acne worse.
  • Be careful with the products you use for hormonal acne treatment. Choose high-quality natural skincare products, which do not clog the pores and contain effective ingredients.
  • Avoid anything that includes chemicals or harsh ingredients, as it will irritate the skin. There are several natural remedies to treat hormonal acne.

The Final Word

Developing signs of hormonal acne can be upsetting for some people, especially if it occurs when you’re an adult and you thought you had left this all behind. Shifts in hormones may occur and cause acne for many reasons, from a medical condition to stress. 

However, there are treatments to help you solve this problem and restore your skin to health. If you’re interested in how to get rid of hormonal acne medically, consider birth control pills, anti-androgen medication, or anti-inflammatory medication.

There are several helpful natural remedies, some of which are very effective like tea tree oil or alpha hydroxy acids. Besides, it’s a good idea to visit a dermatologist and discuss your medical treatment options, to see if you can find one that’s right for you.

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