What's not to love about Zendaya? Practically an earth angel, she's multitalented, smart, socially conscious, and way more graceful than probably most people in their early 20s could hope for. (Just us?) Well, like most 21-year-olds, Zendaya is not exempt from the horror that is hormonal acne. You may be under the impression that her skin is flawlessly glowing 365 days of the year, but in true Zendaya fashion, she kept it real yesterday, letting her 14 million Twitter followers know that she's so over it.
"My hormonal breakouts popping up every month unwelcome, just when I think I got my skin on lock," she tweeted along with one of the internet's favorite America's Next Top Model GIFs. Naturally, the multi-hyphenate received a flood of comments from Twitter users who share the same sentiments. Celebs, they're just like us.
This is how the hormonal acne story unfolds: Just when we think puberty's passing took unsightly teenage acne with it, we're introduced to a new wave of pimples 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.
Looking on the bright side, though, hormonal acne is, indeed, preventable. But back to the downside: It requires some lifestyle changes. These breakouts are coming from excess buildup of testosterone in the body, so you need to get to the root of the cause instead of solely piling on potions. If you're also dealing with hormonal acne like Zendaya and want 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.
"When it comes to hormonal acne," says SkinOwl founder Annie Tevelin, "the body inhabits a strong sensitivity to androgens, 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 you "run 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 removing fat from the dairy concentrates its 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. "I would recommend avoiding refined flour, sweets, and processed carbohydrates," says Fenton. "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 mindset but also aggravates your skin. "Stress triggers the release of a variety of hormones that can trigger an inflammatory response in the body," says Fenton. "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 midcycle, 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."
Now that you're squared away with some options for your hormonal acne, shop Byrdie-editor favorites for getting rid of these flare-ups below.
Once you've got your acne under control, use our guide for getting rid of scars.