Despite how the name sounds, hormonal acne is not a pimple with an attitude issue… Okay, dad jokes aside, what is hormonal acne? Hormonal acne is acne that occurs because of changes in the body’s hormones. The signs of hormonal acne can be sneaky, so you’re going to want to pay attention.
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers that tell the body to take specific actions. These actions are meant to be helpful, like when the hormone adrenaline tells your heart rate to increase so you can escape a bad situation. But sometimes, the effects can be less than desirable like when your hormones tell your skin to produce excess oil leaving you with acne.
Your hormones are on your side, so don’t shoot the messenger (pun intended.) Instead, aim to understand why your hormones are telling your body to form pimples and how you can prevent it from happening.
Signs of Hormonal Acne
Sign #1: You’ve recently come off the birth control pill or hormonal IUD
Post-pill acne or acne after coming off of any hormonal birth control is SO common. So common that I actually have an entire blog post on it that you can read here. To touch on the high level points, post hormonal birth control acne can occur for a few reasons.
Acne from coming off hormonal birth control can either occur directly by the change in hormones or indirectly through other effects of the pill. Nutrient deficiencies and slow detox pathways are common with hormonal birth control: Both of these can effect your hormones as we need certain nutrients for healthy hormones and one of the ways the body detoxifies excess hormones is through digestion and elimination.
Sign #2: You’re always stressed
Cortisol is your body’s stress hormone and it has a number of very important effects like helping you wake up in the morning or increasing the metabolism of glucose. When it comes to acne, increased cortisol (from stress) tells the sebaceous glands in the skin to produce more oil. More oil means more opportunity for the pores to become clogged and subsequently inflamed which is what we know as acne.
Stress also impacts your digestion. Your body may halt the production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid when cortisol is high because it thinks it has to deal with a threat. This can lead to irregular bowel movements, which means your body is not able to properly eliminate excess hormones that can contribute to acne if they continue to circulate.
Sign #3: You have a sugar addiction or you constantly feel hangry
The hormones leptin and ghrelin tell you when you’re hungry or full. These are easily thrown off by lack of sleep! When these hormones are out of whack, it can lead you to insatiably reach for sugar, messing with your blood sugar balance. We know that managing blood sugar is important for controlling acne, so rest up and get into a regular sleep routine ASAP.
Signs of Hormonal Acne: What to Look for
Hormonal acne often shows up in particular areas, so looking at where on your skin your acne tends to appear can help determine if it’s hormonal. In TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), it is common to use a concept called “face mapping”. Face mapping shows us that hormonal acne typically appears on the jawline and lower cheeks (as well as neck and back) and can range from cystic acne to blackheads. This is an incredibly common pattern I see with the clients I’ve worked with for the past 6+ years.
Another common sign you might have hormonal acne is irregular periods. If your periods are irregular in timing, heavier or lighter than usual, if you experience excess clotting, painful periods or other PMS symptoms (like headaches, bloating, etc.), this could be a sign of hormonal imbalance.
Keep in mind, leaning your head on your hands can also contribute to acne in this area, so sit up straight queen!
Potential Causes of Hormonal Acne
Hormonal acne is very common with puberty and menopause, but if you’re in the 2-3 decades between those major events, you can still experience it. The signs explained above like stress, lack of sleep and hormonal birth control are very common lifestyle contributors to hormonal imbalance. But there are some other common causes that are important to note.
Disorders and imbalances in the endocrine system (hormone system) can cause hormonal acne. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and disorders that cause increased androgen levels can cause hormonal acne. I’ve also worked with many clients who experience acne alongside thyroid issues, such as hypothyroidism. If you experience other negative changes to your health as well as hormonal acne, talk to your practitioner ASAP.
How to Clear Hormonal Acne
Clearing hormonal acne is most successful when you attack it from many angles. This means addressing lifestyle habits, diet and ruling out any medical conditions. You can get started with me on optimizing your diet and lifestyle for clear skin with The Acne Protocol or with 1:1 coaching!