Just when we thought puberty's passing took unsightly teenage acne with it, we were introduced to a new wave of hormonal acne in our 20s. Right around the time of our periods, acne flares up along our jawline, cheeks, and forehead (okay, everywhere), adding insult to injury. It's just one more thing we can hold against men (sorry, fellas).
Looking on the bright side, though, hormonal acne is, indeed, preventable. But back to the downside: You need to make some lifestyle changes to do so. After all, these breakouts are coming from the buildup of excess testosterone in the body, so you need to get to the root of the cause instead of solely piling on potions. To figure out how to crack this skincare code, we tapped experts in the industry for the exact steps you need to make hormonal acne nonexistent. Take a look at their tips below.
Annie Tevelin, founder of SkinOwl says, "when it comes to hormonal acne, the body inhabits a strong sensitivity to androgens, and more specifically, testosterone. Roughly 50% of women aged 20 to 29 will experience adult onset hormonal acne." To make sure hormones are the root cause, Tevelin suggests running an "in-depth hormone panel blood test and test it throughout the month to make sure your hormone levels are stable." Because the hormonal cascade fluctuates depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, she suggests testing several times throughout the month.
Change Your Diet
"Studies have shown that dairy can worsen acne," says Jeremy Fenton, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "Dairy has been shown to stimulate testosterone production in people who consume it, and spikes in testosterone can worsen acne. Dairy also naturally contains its own hormones such as estrogen, which can exert their own impact on a person's hormonal balance." The worst culprit, believe it or not, is fat-free dairy. Fenton explains that because fat has been removed from the dairy, this concentrates the food items and causes them to be absorbed by the body faster, meaning hormonal spikes occur more quickly.
Foods high in sugar are also to blame. Says Fenton, "I would recommend avoiding refined flour, sweets, and processed carbohydrates. The exact mechanism isn't known for certain, but we believe that these refined carbs lead to an insulin spike, which causes a hormonal cascade that can increase inflammation and oil production."
Ever heard of a stress zit? Being on edge is not only bad for your mind-set, but it also aggravates your skin. Says Fenton, "Stress triggers the release of a variety of hormones that can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Inflammation is a major part of acne—that's what leads to those large and deep red cystic pimples. Anything you can do to reduce inflammation will be helpful for your acne. Get plenty of sleep, exercise, and practice relaxation techniques."
Try an Oral Contraceptive
If you're comfortable, and if a gynecologist says you're a good candidate, oral contraceptives can help balance out your hormones, including those that are responsible for acne. "Certain OCPs have even been approved by the FDA to be used in the treatment of acne," explains Fenton. "If you are already on birth control, or thinking of going on it, make sure to ask your gynecologist for an OCP that will also help your acne."
Stick to a Gentle Routine
"Even when your skin is doing well, you should continue your preventative skincare routine," says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, board-certified NYC dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital. "That means in addition to regular daily sunscreen or sun protection, continue using your topical retinoid such as Differin Gel, and if your skin is not irritated and can tolerate an exfoliator, try alpha-hydroxy acids or salicylic acid two to three times weekly. In addition to clearing existing acne, Differin Gel will also help to prevent future breakouts from forming by increasing skin cell turnover to minimize clogging of pores." Additionally, Fenton recommends using an OTC acne wash and noncomedogenic moisturizer regularly.
See a Dermatologist
Especially if topical treatments aren't working, seeing a skincare professional will help you approach treatment in the best way possible. "If you’re very congested, acne extractions can be helpful mid-cycle, as well as a steroid injection in hormonal cysts to decrease the inflammation quickly," says Levin. "If your outbreaks cannot be controlled with topical treatments, then oral medications are available such as Spironolactone, which is an anti-androgen medication."
Once you've got your acne under control, use this guide for getting rid of scars.