As a person enters puberty, changes happen inside his or her body. This cascade of changes happens to facilitate the growth of an individual. The important drivers of these changes are hormones that the body produces only during puberty.
Some of these hormones are already present in the body in small quantities. During puberty, however, these hormones are in quantities large enough to bring about physiological change.
One particular effect of these hormones, although not intended, is acne. Due to its being caused by androgens, male hormones that could also be present in women, acne attributed to puberty is also called hormonal acne.
One characteristic of hormonal acne is oily skin, reddish raised zits, and sometimes noticeable pores.
Androgens can make the sebaceous glands overwork thus producing more sebum than usual. This can cause irritation in the skin that either makes the pores bigger than usual or progress into an acne that has a higher chance of being cystic or something close to it.
Because of this, hormonal acne proves to be one of the most difficult to treat or maintain. The most effective means of treating hormonal acne is by preventing one from forming. It begs us the question: How do you prevent hormonal acne, then?
Characteristics of hormonal acne
Hormonal acne tends to appear more often in the T-zone in puberty. This includes the chin, nose and the forehead (forming a T-shape).
Adults can also form hormonal acne under certain conditions. Hormonal acne in an adult usually appears on the lower part of the face including the jawline and the bottom of the cheeks.
Like ordinary acne, hormonal acne can take several forms. This includes whiteheads, blackheads, small pimples and cystic acne. Often, hormonal acne appears as cystic acne. This type of acne forms deep in the skin. Unlike regular acne, you cannot see a head or a pus on its head. It’s just a raised reddish bump that may hurt when touched.
Hormonal acne can be caused by the surge of hormones due to the following:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Elevated androgen levels
Menopause and menstruation can cause noticeable changes on the skin depending on when the fluctuations in your hormone occur and how great the fluctuation is. For menopause, fluctuations usually occur for months on end until bleeding stops or symptoms of menopause stabilizes. For menstruation, acne could appear before, during, or after menstruation.
The polycystic ovarian syndrome is more unpredictable. The surge in the hormones cannot be predicted.
Lots of things can cause an elevated level of androgens in the body especially if you are a woman. One of them is taking medication or oral contraceptive. These pills could either introduce androgens or compounds that mimic the functions and actions of androgens in the body.
Hormonal fluctuations affect the skin in the following ways thus causing acne:
- Overproduction of sebum or oil
- Increased inflammatory response of the skin
- Increased chances of pores getting clogged
The main cause of acne that is brought about by androgens is the increase in the production of sebum. Under normal conditions, a thin coating of sebum on the skin does a lot of functions. This includes preventing water loss and maintaining a healthy microbiota of the skin. During the increased production of sebum, the skin becomes susceptible to acne.
Sebum can combine with dead skin cells and fine hairs and block the pores. Blocked pores trap dirt and bacteria inside. In addition, the sebaceous gland continues to produce more sebum. Bacteria inside the pores feed on the sebum while producing byproducts which irritate the skin. In addition, increasing amounts of sebum inside the pores can exert pressure that could aggravate the irritation thus forming into an acne.
Ways to Prevent Hormonal Acne
Hormonal acne, if mild, can easily be treated with over-the-counter medications or are easily treated with conventional and natural treatments.
If the acne is severe, however, you need to take preventive measures that sometimes require the help of a skin expert. That is because severe hormonal acne takes a cystic acne form.
Cystic acne is difficult to treat with conventional medication. That is because, in cystic acne, the cause is deep into the skin where medication can barely penetrate. To treat and prevent acne, one needs oral medication—one that addresses the root of the problem: hormonal fluctuations.
Perhaps the best medication and preventive measure there is for hormonal acne is oral contraceptives. These pills usually contain synthetic versions of hormones or compounds that mimic the function of hormones.
Don’t be misguided, however. You don’t need to have a husband or a family in order for you to take in oral contraceptives.
Oral contraceptives can have anti-androgen properties. That is, they can prevent the body from producing androgens that might aggravate or cause hormonal acne. The market is filled with many types of contraceptives. How do you select one that is intended for hormonal acne?
If you’ve consulted with an expert, usually, they’d help out in selecting the best product for your case. Usually, oral contraceptives that can help with hormonal acne contains ethinyl estradiol, a synthetic compound that mimics estrogen and either one of the following ingredients:
These hormones neutralize the effect of androgens in the pores. They are particularly most useful during peaks in hormonal production such as during menstruation, before menopause or during ovulation.
Make sure that you consult with your doctor before taking any oral medication. Oral contraceptives are effective against hormonal acne but they carry some important risks particularly with people suffering from conditions as hypertension, history of blood clots or blood-clot related hereditary diseases, and even breast cancer. In addition, oral contraceptives must not be taken by a smoker as these combinations can increase one’s likelihood of contracting breast cancer.
Some drugs are designed to decrease the amount of or neutralize androgens in the blood. They carry less risk than oral contraceptives and may have fewer side effects.
Androgens, the hormones attributed to males, serve certain functions under normal amounts. In increased amounts, however, they can cause cystic hormonal acne. This is because, not only does androgens cause an increase in the amounts of sebum produced by the sebaceous glands, they also interfere with the hair follicles thus increasing the likelihood of clogs in the pores.
The most popular anti-androgen drug that is used to treat acne is spironolactone. This drug is initially intended for treating high blood pressure by has anti-androgen properties, as well. The drug interferes with the body’s ability to produce androgens thus limiting its production allowing the levels of androgens in the body to stabilize.
If you don’t want an oral treatment to prevent hormonal acne, retinoids might be a good option for you. Retinoids are derivatives of retinol (Vitamin A), the vitamin associated with great skin.
You can buy lotions, gels, creams and even cleansers that contain retinoids over the counter. If you want to use a stronger version with a more potent dosage of retinoids for your acne, you need a prescription of a doctor. Often, products that require a prescription are the most effective in treating and preventing hormonal acne.
Natural Alternatives for Preventing Hormonal Acne
If your hormonal acne is mild, it is best to avoid oral medications and strong formulations as they carry some risks and side effects. For mild hormonal acne, you can use natural remedies and products that will help clear your breakouts without much side effects.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has mild anti-inflammatory properties that might help with the redness and inflammation of hormonal acne. Studies have demonstrated the power of tea tree oil in relieving inflammation from mild to moderate acne.
You can find a number of over-the-counter products containing tea tree oil such as cleansers and toners. You can also opt for pure tea tree oil which you can use for spot treatment.
However, be warned about potential irritation with the use of pure tea tree oil. An ideal way of using tea tree oil is by diluting it first with a carrier oil such as olive, coconut and jojoba oils. One part of tea tree oil must be diluted to 12 parts carrier oil.
Before using any essential oil such as tea tree oil, it is also important that you perform a skin patch test first to check for potential skin reaction. Apply diluted oil on your forearm. Observe for any reaction for the next 24 hours. If there is no reaction, it is, then, safe to use it on your face.
Alpha hydroxy acid
Alpha hydroxy acids are plant-derived acids that help remove dead skin cells which may clog the pores. Apply it on your skin with a cotton after washing your face. Not only does it prevent pore clog up, it also helps in minimizing the appearance of scars over time.
You can purchase products with AHA over the counter such as facial wash, masks, toners, and creams.
If you want naturally derived AHA, you can use the extracts of citrus fruits such as lemon. You can use the lemon juice as is and apply it directly on your skin or dilute in water. Pure lemon juice might be irritating to some thus diluting it with water helps lessen the irritating effect.
Because AHA helps remove dry skin cells, the skin becomes more sensitive to the sun. When applying AHA on your skin, avoid exposure to the sun. You can also wear sunscreen to protect your skin from UV damage.
Green tea has some anti-inflammatory properties. No, you don’t apply it on your face. Instead, you drink green tea as part of your ways to prevent hormonal acne. Drinking a few cups of green tea a day helps lessen the inflammation in your skin. Over time, you will see the effects of drinking green tea on your skin.
Minor Fixes to your Diet
The link between acne and diet is a hotly debated topic in the research world. However, certain foods affect acne. Foods that have anti-inflammatory effects, like those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can help with acne. In addition, plant-based foods that contain antioxidants also help achieve a clear skin.
Although not all people have adverse reactions to them, you might want to limit the consumption of the following:
- Sugar. It increases insulin which increases skin cell division thus increasing the likelihood of clogged pores.
- Dairy products. They contain compounds that mimic androgens and might aggravate hormonal acne.
- Refined carbs. These are sugar, still.
- Red meats
Some Things to Do
Preventing hormonal acne also requires some skincare routine. This, together with any or a combination of the solutions outlined above, can greatly help in treating and preventing hormonal acne.
Wash your face twice a day
No more, no less. Use mild cleansers. If possible, use non-soap products in your face. Soaps are comedogenic—they leave a residue that clogs the pores and starts the formation of acne. It is important that you use mild cleansers are harsh soap cleansers tend to stimulate the sebaceous glands into producing more oil.
Apply a small amount of product
Not because a cream is said to treat your acne, it doesn’t mean that it can do the task in one application. Don’t over apply. Limit the acne product into a pea-size a day. More than a pea-size amount may cause irritation and dryness to your skin. This could prompt your sebaceous glands to respond by producing more oil which will make your acne-prevention task more difficult.
Yes, UV rays can kill the bacteria that is causing your acne—but UV rays will also irritate and damage your skin causing more harm than good. Wear sunscreen to protect your face from UV damage. Select non-comedogenic and non-greasy sunscreen, as well.
A hormonal acne is a serious form of acne. If not addressed properly, it can progress into becoming a cystic acne which is not only difficult to treat but leaves acne scars that are more difficult to deal with.
Effective medication that addresses hormonal acne also address the hormonal fluctuations. That is, the only way to either treat or prevent hormonal acne is to take an oral medication that would fix aberration in the hormone levels of a patient.
It is also important that one seeks the help of a doctor before taking on any treatment or medication. It is important that all options are explored first to come up with a solution that has the least side effect but produces the most results.