Home Spotlights & Interviews Skin Are Hormones to Blame for Your Acne?


Are Hormones to Blame for Your Acne?

Expert advice on how to keep blemishes at bay.

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Before we even dig into scientific studies or the advice of our experts, I will scream the answer to this question from the top of my lungs, YES!

Having dealt with cystic acne roughly from the time span of 12-22 years old, my heart goes out to anyone dealing with hormone-induced acne flareups. I have tried a countless number of acne creams and purchased way too many foundations in my attempts to cover up my facial insecurities. 

As I’m creeping toward my thirties, my hormones have somewhat settled down, save for the stress or PMS-induced breakout.

Here’s a brief breakdown of how hormones are to blame for many a breakout and several tips on how to deal with hormone-induced acne. 

How Do Hormones Lead to Acne Flare-Ups?
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According to the Cleveland Clinic, hormonal acne develops when hormonal changes increase the amount of oil your skin produces. The hormones being referenced are typically estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. 

Times when your hormones are constantly in flux, include puberty, menopause, menstruation cycles, and pregnancy, which is large part of why hormonal acne primarily affects women.

Acne is caused by clogged pores. Hormonal acne develops when hormonal changes increase the amount of oil your skin produces. This oil interacts with bacteria on the pores of your skin where hair grows (hair follicles) and results in acne.

We reached out to Dr. Ekta Yadav, founder of the popular beauty industry podcast Skincare Anarchy for further insight on the matter. 

“A study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology suggests that acne is caused by an increase in androgen hormones, such as testosterone, which can cause the sebaceous glands in the skin to produce more oil. This excess oil can clog pores and lead to the development of acne.”

According to Yadav studies suggest that other insulin hormones may also play a role in the development of acne. IGF-1 is a hormone that promotes cell growth and division and may contribute to the overproduction of skin cells and oil in the sebaceous glands. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and may also contribute to the development of acne by promoting inflammation and increasing the production of oil in the skin.

Combatting Acne Flare-Ups

While hormones may contribute to the development of acne, Yadav recommends several ways to combat the problem. One way is to use topical treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which can help to reduce inflammation and unclog pores. Another way is to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, which can help to regulate hormone levels and reduce the risk of acne.

In some cases, hormonal therapies may be prescribed to help regulate hormone levels and reduce the severity of acne. These therapies may include oral contraceptives or anti-androgen medications.

More Expert Advice

According to our resident skincare expert Dr. Yelena Yeretsky, there are two things one can do to help with hormonal acne. The first is medical. “Simply put, you go to the doctor, and they treat you, says Yeretsky. “Depending on your problem, one treatment could be a non-hormonal topical medication; or, the doctor will prescribe an oral contraceptive or other hormonal therapy. This is purely medical and should not be treated on your own.”

The second way is more personal approach. Yeretsky recommends a shift in your lifestyle. “Leading a healthier way of life: eating well, getting enough sleep, less alcohol, more water, less stress, will help with stabilizing your hormones and in turn help with clearing acne,” she advises. 

Two Things I Learned on My Own Hormonal Acne Journey
  1. Drying out your skin is not going to solve anything; in fact, it often makes it worse. In an attempt to deal with my larger, more noticeable breakouts, I would go in with drying products, like those infused with tea tree oil (which can be great when used for the right skin types and in proper doses), but for me was a bad idea. Versus drying out the acne spots, I would end up drying up my entire face and disrupting my skin barrier. Since my skin’s natural protective layer was damaged, it reduced my skin’s ability to retain moisture and made the newly produced sebum sit on top of my pores, making my skin look oiler than it was before. Take a note from me, wash your face regularly with non-alcohol based washes, moisturize daily, and invest in products like acne patches to both calm down flareups and avoid touching/aggravating acne spots. 
  2. You touch your face way more often than you realize. Some studies show that we touch our faces at least 90 times a day. All the oil and dirt that your skin naturally produces in addition to touching various objects and surfaces do not help your already sensitive and oil-prone skin. 
Stop Touching Your Face
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Here are some tips from the University of Maryland to avoid touching your face.

  • Tie back your hair. If you’re the type to constantly be fussing with your fringes or playing with strands of hair that fall in your face, use a clip, a scarf, or a hair tie to bring your hair away from your face.
  • Spray perfume or apply a scented lotion on your hand/wrist to get a reminder of when your hands are near your face. 
  • Keep your hands busy. For some people, this could mean a fidget spinner or a stress ball. Personally, I noticed that when I’m wearing a long set of nails, I can play with the edges of my nails as a sensory focus. 
The Bottom Line

“While hormones may contribute to the development of acne, there are several ways to combat it. Topical treatments, healthy lifestyle habits, and hormonal therapies may all be effective in reducing the severity of acne,” Dr. Yadav concludes. 

MEET THE EXPERTS

Dr. Yelena Yeretsky is a world-renowned physician specializing in anti-aging and aesthetic medicine. She is the founder of the NYC West Village-based medical aesthetic practice Clinique YFT and creator of the premiere skincare line Dr. Y secrets. 

Dr. Ekta Yadav, MD MBA MS, is a medical doctor and researcher with qualifications from several institutions including Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Dr. Yadav took her medical training and her love for all things beauty to create one of the most well-known beauty podcasts Skincare Anarchy.