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The 101 on Acne: How Hormones Can Affect – and Treat – Your Breakouts

Hormonal acne. We’ve all heard of it and over 85% of adults experience it. In fact, one third of dermatologist visits are made by women over the age of 25 suffering with acne. 

It may most commonly appear around your cycle as those deep, bright red mounds along your chin and jawline that make so many of us shudder just to think about, but not always; hormone-related breakouts can pop up (pun intended) in many forms. Hormonal acne is directly affected by – you guessed it – your hormones. Any major life changes that can cause your hormones to fluctuate can spark hormonal acne. It may seem like a big problem to unravel, but don’t worry – once you figure out the root cause of your hormonal imbalance, you will have found the key to determining the right treatment that will kick your acne once and (hopefully) for all. 

Start your skincare routine right with a blemish-busting cleanser: As the first and last step in most skincare routines, cleansers serve a very important purpose. But a cleanser should be able to do more than just deep clean. Veracity's Blemish Calming Cleanser is the first ever cleanser that targets problem areas on the skin while still being 100% hormone safe.

What Is Acne Anyway?

The root of all acne is inflammation that starts deep under your skin in a hair follicle and its surrounding oil gland. It eventually travels up to the skin’s surface where it makes its often red and painful appearance. While the triggers for the initial inflammation are complex, the general key steps to this unwelcome process are: 

  1. A life event (stress, your period, etc.) happens and causes a spike in androgens, or male sex hormones, like testosterone and DHEA.

  2. This spike in hormones (testosterone and DHEA) signals an overproduction of sebum, or oil, which then creates a block in the hair follicle.

  3. The concentrated sebum prompts an imbalance of bad bacteria on the skin, which leads to an overall increase in acne-causing bacteria. 

  4. With an overabundance of acne-causing bacteria now present, your pores continue to get increasingly clogged and inflamed, leading to the development of–you guessed it–acne.

Why Is Hormonal Acne So Much More Common Among Women? 

If it feels like your skin breaks out more often than your boyfriend’s or your best male friends’, you’re not crazy. Hormonal acne is more common in women. There are several root causes that explain this very unfair fact of life. 

The main one is the natural fluctuation of women’s hormones each month. While men’s hormones can also ebb and flow depending on what’s going on in their lives, women experience a more dramatic natural shift each month pegged to the phases of our menstrual cycles. The biggest culprits are the day or two surrounding ovulation, which can cause acne because of a buildup of estrogen and testosterone, and the week before your period begins thanks to the wild ride that your progesterone levels take during this time. 

But it’s not just your monthly flow that can cause an onset of acne. Any influx in androgenic hormones (testosterone and DHEA) can trigger a breakout, as can external factors like diet, stress, and environmental exposures. From stress to increased exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals to pregnancy, women face many life changes that can cause their hormones to fluctuate, making them more susceptible to acne. 

Some Different Life Stages That Can Affect Your Hormones and Your Skin: 

Several common life stages and lifestyle factors can wreak havoc on your hormones and trigger a response that ends in a breakout. Here are a few of the big ones, plus the Veracity products that you can use as hormonal acne treatments to help soothe your skin and bring it back into a happy balance. But keep in mind that treating existing acne is only part of the puzzle. If you can address the root cause of your hormonal imbalance – like trying to lower your stress (we know it’s hard!) – then you can stave off future hormonal breakouts before they start. 

Stress + Acne

Stress-induced acne, which is often seen postpartum but can also happen during any life stage that is particularly demanding, is the unfortunate result of a chain reaction in the body. High stress levels cause a spike in cortisol, which then tells your androgen hormones (like testosterone) to increase. This causes more sebum production, which sets off an inflammatory reaction that results in acne. But chronic stress (the kind you just can’t get relief from) depletes your cortisol, slowing down your natural cell turnover process leaving you with a buildup of skin cells, worsened acne, and a dull and tired complexion. 

Best topical treatment: Regenerating Infusion

Acne + Birth Control

When it comes to acne, birth control methods are a toss up. Oral contraceptives contain a combination of progestin and oestrogen (synthetic forms of progesterone and estrogen) that lower your androgen levels, keeping sebum production (and therefore acne) under control. On the other hand, progestin-only methods, like the IUD, tend to trigger acne flare-ups. Without the combination of oestrogen, this synthetic hormone can stimulate androgenic hormones, triggering the sebum production and inflammation that leads to acne.

Best topical treatment: Inflammation Response

Acne + PCOS

PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in women in their reproductive years. It is characterized by an overproduction of androgenic hormones in the ovaries which causes a myriad of health (and skin) issues. Since PCOS triggers the rise in testosterone and DHEA, the condition is directly linked to persistent acne. Studies show, up to 50% of women with PCOS that exhibit facial acne also have acne that occurs on the neck, chest, and upper back. 

Best topical treatment: Inflammation Response

Acne + Menopause

During menopause, hormones like estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA all decline. Estrogen and progesterone levels fall sharply, while androgen hormones (testosterone and DHEA) decrease gradually creating a “sebum happy” environment. These fluctuations are also to blame for the thick hair growth (also known as hirsutism) that many women in menopause experience on their chin and upper lip.

Best topical treatment: Regenerating Infusion

Acne + EDC Exposure

More questions are starting to arise as to the effects hormone-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, have on skin issues like acne. Emerging research shows that exposure to BPA (found in many types of plastic-made goods) and MEHP (a type of phthalate also found in plastics) can directly stimulate the production of androgens or interact with cortisol levels causing a domino effect that also leads to a spike in androgen levels. Both of these cases of hormonal disruption can lead to acne.

All Veracity Skincare Products Are Hormone Safe and Balancing: Veracity products, from the formulas to the packaging, are scientifically-certified to be clean (meaning they are free from hormone-disrupting chemicals) and safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding. Read our guide to Veracity skincare to find the right products for your skin.

Diet & Lifestyle Recommendations to Keep Hormonal Acne in Check

You may not be able fully eliminate stress from your life or dodge the effects of menopause, but there are some things you can do to help support your hormones and stave off hormonal acne breakouts: 

  1. Reduce your exposure to hormone-disrupting BPA by using BPA-free goods whenever possible. If you want to take this one step further, replace your plastics with glass to entirely eliminate BPA from your home goods. 

  2. When it comes to produce and dairy, opt for organic. This will lessen your exposure to excess hormones and hormone-disrupting pesticides.

  3. We’re all aware of the importance of sun protection. But the way you protect your skin from harmful rays is of equal importance. Mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are much safer alternatives to those containing oxybenzone, a known hormone disruptor.

  4. Use beauty products containing tea tree and lavender oils with caution, since these oils have been shown to have estrogenic and androgenic properties, increasing your susceptibility to hormonal acne. 

  5. Finally, if you suffer from persistent acne that you’re having trouble taming, you may think about making some changes to your diet. Evidence shows that acne patients may benefit from a low glycemic, plant-rich diet.

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