Acne is a notoriously annoying skin condition that we have all been plagued with at some point or the other. Those untimely pimples that have a habit of popping up when we’re going to get our period, stressed, anxious or are going through a major life change. This is usually a result of a fluctuation in hormones. Different people suffer from different types of acne, and today we are going to dive deeper into a condition known as hormonal acne.
Hormonal acne, as the name suggests, is a common condition that is usually caused by a sudden change in the hormones in your body. However, it is important to note that hormonal acne and regular acne are not the same condition. A sudden spike or drop in the levels of estrogen or progesterone in your body can cause hormonal acne. It isn’t, however, the only reason. Contrary to what you would believe, hormonal acne isn’t just a teenage problem. It could happen to men and women of all age groups. It's a pesky skin condition that could develop suddenly when you’re expecting your periods, or during periods of increased stress, lifestyle or diet changes, or as a result of your body changing.
A fluctuation in the levels of hormones in your body is the primary cause of hormonal acne. When the levels of hormones in your body fluctuate, they cause a change in the amount of oil secreted by your pores. They somewhat disrupt your optimum sebum levels, thereby causing acne. Another probable cause of hormonal breakouts can be your dietary and lifestyle habits, which we will get into later.
Not sure you have hormonal acne? We asked Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, MD Director, Consultant Dermatologist & Specialist Hair Transplant Surgeon, MedLinks to give us some professional insight on the subject and here’s what he said--“Hormonal acne is usually present on the lower face or jawline, and can also extend to the upper neck. They usually erupt as painful nodules and take weeks to settle and they often leave behind hyperpigmentation or a depressed scar. Whenever a woman has severe acne in the form of nodules, which are resistant to the common treatments, we suspect a hormonal cause. There are some associated signs and symptoms which further point towards a hormonal cause, such as--the presence of facial hair, obesity, oily scalp or dandruff or acne in a female even after the age of 25.”
There are a few signs that your acne and your hormones may be more closely related than you think. How do you know if your hormones are the primary cause of your pimples? Hormonal acne has a few indicators like:
Breakouts are a very common condition for teens. It’s a result of all the additional hormones being flushed into their bodies and the body’s natural response to periods and everything else that’s rapidly changing. Acne at this age usually fixes itself. If you are getting acne in your mid to late twenties, early thirties and so on, chances are it’s probably hormonal acne. Acne at this age is usually harder to treat and a little more stubborn to get rid of.
Hormonal acne is usually present around your jawline and chin area, and this is because this area naturally has more oil and sweat producing glands and pores. It’s what makes it a hot zone for acne. While hormonal breakouts are usually located there, they could also form on your chest and neck.
Hormonal acne is usually those painful, under-the-surface bumps that form for weeks on end. Other types of acne can be blackheads, whiteheads and clogged pores. All of which you can get rid of topically. Cysts are formed by an inflamed pore that’s under the surface of your skin. You can’t see them but you can feel them. They’re painful and often cannot be extracted. Cysts and under the surface pimples usually have the tendency to occur in the same spot over and over again because the area under your skin gets inflamed. Treatment for this kind of acne needs to be done from the inside out because most topical treatments seem to fail.
Are you exceptionally stressed? Maybe you’ve started a new job or a new routine and it’s causing your hormones to be all up in a tizzy. A sudden change in stress and lifestyle patterns can trigger a hormonal breakout.
Most women suffer the occasional pimple here and there during that time of the month. When you get your period, your hormones are on what we women like to call the PMS rollercoaster. A pimple or two at this time of the month is usually considered normal and nothing to be alarmed about. If you suffer from a serious case of acne during this time of the month, you should definitely consult your dermatologist.
What causes hormoanal acne? It’s a question that makes all our heads spin. “The root cause of hormonal acne is overactive androgens (male hormones like testosterone or DHEAS) which stimulate sebaceous glands to produce excessive sebum. The most common condition associated with this is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome/Disease (PCOS/PCOD),” says Dr. Pankaj. Other factors may be:
Everybody is different, while it isn’t certain that your dietary habits may be causing your acne, it’s worth getting into. Some people are lactose intolerant and they don’t even know it because dairy is such a big part of our lives growing up. Try cutting down on milk and milk products for a couple of weeks and see if that helps your acne. Sugar and sugary foods increase inflammation in your body, and acne is caused due to inflammation. Cut down on sugar and use natural sweeteners instead like jaggery and honey. Refined carbs like bread, flour, white rice, pasta, and sodas cause a rise in insulin levels. This increases the activity among the androgen hormones in your body and this spike boosts sebum production thereby contributing to acne. It, however, isn’t necessary that your dietary habits are causing acne, but it’s worth cutting some of these foods out of your daily diet for hormonal acne and seeing if your overall skin improves.
There are broadly two ways for hormonal acne treatment, namely:
Hormonal acne is a little stubborn and difficult to treat, so before you take this approach you should bear in mind that it might take a few weeks or even months before you can see any positive results. Dr Pankaj recommends some pretty simple ways we can keep acne at bay. “In order to treat and prevent hormonal acne, one needs to make some lifestyle changes. Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight, and having moderate physical activity are of utmost importance. At-home care should include washing the face twice a day, avoiding creamy and oil-based cosmetics. Also, one should not sleep with makeup on--always take your makeup off before bed.”
Here are a few home remedies for hormonal acne:
Hormonal acne is caused by an overproduction of oil in your sebaceous glands and inflammation, so using a homemade face mask designed for your skin type can help keep the surface of your skin clean. Face masks with ingredients like honey, aloe vera gel, tea tree oil, turmeric, besan, neem and sandalwood are known to treat acne. Looking for some recipes for homemade face masks? Check out this post.
Keeping your face clean and free of oil and acne-causing bacteria is essential in the treatment of any kind of acne. Hormonal acne shows up as blackheads, whiteheads, comedones and cysts. All of these are a result of the activity that’s going on in your pores so keeping them clean is the only way you can avoid a breakout. Wash your face with a mild cleanser twice a day. Avoid overwashing as this can strip your skin of its natural oils--and this has a terrible effect on your skin. It stresses out your pores and causes them to overcompensate by producing more oil--which in turn leads to acne. Do you see the pattern there? Here are some face washes for acne-prone skin that dermatologists swear by.
Many a times, foods we all love and eat like dairy, gluten and sugar cause inflammation in our bodies and we don’t even realise it. Inflammation is what ultimately leads to acne. If you have a feeling that your food habits might be causing your acne, isolate one of these food groups out of your diet and see if it makes a difference to your skin. And keep your skin hydrated--drink at least 2-3litres of water every day--it’s very important.
Try to squeeze in a workout 3-4 times a week. Exercising stimulates your mind and body, promotes weight loss and decreases cortisol levels. All of this has a positive effect on your mood and as a result, your skin will look and feel better. While you won’t see results immediately, you will notice an improvement in the long run.
Believe it or not, stress can be a common trigger for acne. We all live fast-paced lives and amidst all the hustle and bustle, being stress-free sometimes simply isn’t possible. This is why it’s highly encouraged that you set aside 20-25 minutes of your day to disconnect from it all and meditate or practice yoga. It relaxes your mind, body and soul and makes you feel less anxious. Medically speaking, meditating reduces cortisol levels in your body--the stress hormone. An excess of cortisol levels in your body is responsible for increased oil production.
A more traditional approach to acne is consulting a dermatologist and getting to the root of the problem. This may involve a mix of oral plus topical medication and certain treatments. We asked Dr Pankaj to share some insights on the treatments often prescribed for this form of acne and here’s what he said, “The mainstay of the treatment of hormonal acne is the treatment of the underlying cause. Most effective medications are either the birth control pills or the medications which correct metabolism and cause weight loss. Recently, a few advanced dermatology centres are offering Carbon Facials done by a Q-Switch laser to zap hormonal acne in patients who don’t want to take hormonal medications for certain reasons.”
Oral medication is one of the most effective ways to treat a severe case of hormonal acne. The medication helps tackle acne from the inside-out. Depending on your concerns and blood reports, medications like isotretinoin, birth control and other antibiotics are prescribed by your dermatologist. All of these oral medications help get to the root cause of the acne-causing bacteria and fight inflammation. Over time, your skin gets clearer but as is the case with all oral medication--there is a list of side effects you should be aware of. If you are planning to start any oral medication to treat acne, it’s very important to consult a doctor and speak to him/her about the list of potential side effects.
Dermatologists prescribe various over the counter lotions and creams that relieve inflammation and possibly even help speed up the drying process of the acne. Many topical medications contain ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and tea tree oil are known to help fight acne and inflammation.
When you deal with acne, you also have to deal with the post-acne scars, blemishes and bumps left behind by the pimples. That’s when clinical treatments will really come to your rescue. Dermatologists regularly suggest you to get clinical treatments like laser therapy, chemical peels, extractions and injections depending on the severity of your breakouts. Laser therapy helps in scar fading and fighting inflammation, chemical peels help with skin exfoliation and make those pesky zits go away quicker. Extractions and injections are recommended for blackheads, whiteheads and comedones. While these treatments are considerably more expensive, they are effective. But keep in mind that you need to get a few treatments done for best results.
You can treat hormonal acne naturally by maintaining good skincare habits--like washing your face often, using the right moisturiser and drinking lots of water. You can use homemade face masks to keep your skin free of oil and bacteria. If you feel that your food habits are causing your acne, you can isolate certain food groups and see if that helps ease out your breakouts. You can also use natural ingredients like tea tree oil and aloe vera gel to soothe and heal your skin.
Hormonal acne is very difficult to treat unless you get to the root cause of what is causing the disturbance in your hormone levels. In general, the best way to keep your skin acne-free is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and good skincare habits. Take your makeup off every night and don’t forget to moisturise. Drink lots of water and work out at least 3-4 times a week.
Hormonal acne treatment in adults can be a little harder. That’s because it becomes a little severe when acne occurs when you’re older. Sometimes it might just go away if you take better care of yourself and sometimes you might need medication. Acne in adults can be treated by bringing a balance in your hormones by taking oral contraceptives, isotretinoin (vitamin A) and other antibiotics. Always consult your dermatologist before you start any medication.
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