Hormonal Acne Causes and Treatments
Everyone experiences the occasional blemish at some point in life, but those with hormonal acne tend to have it on a frequent basis. This type of acne does not go away after you exit your teen years, and in some cases, it may become worse with age, especially during times when there are fluctuations in hormone levels. Hormonal acne is often very difficult to treat because the causes differ from other types of acne. In this case, acne is just the symptom of a larger problem and not a single issue in and of itself. You must target the hormonal cause to free yourself from this type of acne because many of the usual treatments will not clear your skin.
Looking at the Causes or Hormonal Acne and Why Acne Results
Overactive oil glands produce excessive amounts of sebum which can college on the skin. When this occurs, the pores and hair follicles get blocked and result in a plug. Dead skin cells get trapped when sebum creates a plug and this prevents proper drainage. Sebum is food for bacteria on the skin and when they start to feed, a pimple results due to an infection.
Now, what causes the excess sebum are hormones known as androgen. When you have excessive amounts of androgen, specifically women, you experience a wide array of symptoms once of which is too much oil on your face. Since the cause of excess sebum is internal, external treatments, such as oil-absorbing masks and salicylic acid, will not alleviate the excess oil. The cause of the overproduction of androgens has to be identified and properly treated. Once your body is producing the right amount of androgens, and not excessive amounts, you will notice that your skin is no longer producing excessive sebum.
Other hormonal imbalances may also lead to excessive sebum production. If any single hormone in the body is out of balance, it can cause a wide array of signs and symptoms. The following are possible causes of a hormonal imbalance that may lead to excessive sebum causing acne:
- Emotional stress
- Synthetic environmental hormones, such as the xenoestrogens present in plastic
- Contraceptive pills (these may also be used to balance hormones)
- Physical stress
- Hormones in animal-based products and foods
- Poor nutrition and bad diet
- Genetic predisposition
There are several hormonal imbalances that tend to cause acne as a symptom. All of these are associated with the imbalance of different hormones. These imbalances include:
- Adrenal fatigue and adrenal stress with elevated levels of cortisol
- Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Estrogen dominance (low progesterone)
- Insulin resistance
The primary group of hormones that are responsible for the production of sebum include androgens. These are male hormones, such as testosterone, more specifically, DHT. Hormones do not work alone, but they work together as a team and the performance of one impacts the performance of another. Because of this, while excessive androgens, specifically in women, can lead to excessive sebum production and acne, why someone has elevated levels of androgen differs. For example, you may simply have a strict androgen imbalance, but someone else could have increased levels of the 5 alpha reductase enzyme. This enzyme works to control testosterone in the body (even women have small amounts in their bodies) and if it causes higher than normal levels of testosterone, this can lead to acne due to excessive production of sebum.
Methods for Treating Hormonal Acne and the Hormone Imbalance Causing It
Medical treatment is usually necessary to get your hormone levels under control and keep them balanced and maintained. However, there are a few things you can start doing now to reign in your hormones and improve your overall health. These methods include:
- Reducing your stress: This is certainly easier said than done, but it is not impossible. When you are experiencing significant stress for a prolonged period of time, your adrenal gland makes excessive amounts of cortisol and this hormone can increase androgen levels in the body and result in hormonal acne.
- Eat a balanced diet: Cut out the junk food and make the majority of your diet fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. You want to eat a diet that is low on the glycemic index.
- Get essential fatty acids: These nutrients may be beneficial in balancing your hormones and reducing the levels of androgen in the body. Some research concludes that not getting enough essential fatty acids in your diet may increase your risk of acne.
There are some supplements, herbs, nutrients and foods that may be helpful for acne. Consuming these provide you with a wide array of nutrients that your body requires for optimal health and functioning. These supplements and nutrients include:
- Flaxseed oil
- GLA that comes from evening primrose oil
- Grape seed oil
- Omega-3 fish oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
The nutrients that may help with hormonal acne include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin A
- B vitamins, specifically vitamin B6
The herbs that may help to treat hormonal acne include:
- Holy basil
- Milk thistle
There are some herbs and nutrients that may help to reduce natural androgen levels. These are considered to be natural anti-androgens and they include:
- Green tea extract
- Pumpkin seed oil
- Soy isoflavones
- Alzelaic acid
- Saw palmetto
- Spearmint tea
- Emu oil
- Beta sitosterols
The correct dosage is highly individualized to the patient. Talk to your doctor before adding any of the supplements to your diet and ask your doctor to help you in determining the best dose for you. Remember that while herbs and supplements may be natural, natural does not automatically equal safe so you must speak to your doctor before using them.
To determine the proper medical treatment for hormonal acne, your doctor will perform some blood work to assess your hormone levels. Your doctor must identify the offending hormone to ensure proper and successful treatment. Your doctor will also want to know about your personal and family history, the symptoms you are experiencing and he or she will perform a physical examination.
Prescription medications exist to block certain hormones and work to lower their production. This may involve elevating certain other hormones so they can work in the body to reduce the level of the offending hormones. There are several medications your doctor may prescribe to reduce androgen levels in the body, including:
- Spirolactone: This medication is usually the one that doctors try first because it is relatively inexpensive and the risk of adverse effects is quite low for most people.
- Cyproterone acetate: This is a very potent antiandrogen medication. It is not available all over the world and doctors in the United States do not prescribe it.
- Flutamide: This medication is a type of nonsteroidal antiandrogen medication.
- Oral contraceptives: There are a number of oral contraceptives that may be beneficial in lowering androgen levels.
- Finasteride: This medication inhibits DHT production.
Other medications may include:
- Leuprolide acetate
- Nafarelin acetate
Hormonal acne is not the easiest type of acne to treat, but with the right mixture of methods, patients can achieve better skin. It is important to follow your treatment regimen exactly and alert your doctor to any adverse events. Make sure to take good care of your skin to prevent other types of acne from also occurring.