If you're prone to hormonal breakouts, the surprising solution might be in your diet. That's because hormonal acne can look similar to standard breakouts, but the source can be difficult to pinpoint. According to experts, there are some good-for-your-skin foods you can incorporate into your diet to help alleviate some of the symptoms of hormonal breakouts. At the same time, experts agree on certain foods you should limit to control your acne.
We spoke to dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee, dietitian Farah Fahad, RD, and nutritionist Elissa Goodman to find out exactly what foods to eat and avoid as part of a hormonal acne diet.
Meet the Expert
- Sandra Lee, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of SLMD Skincare.
- Farah Fahad, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and founder of The Farah Effect.
- Elissa Goodman is a holistic nutritionist and lifestyle cleanse expert based in California. She is the creator of the cleanse, "S.O.U.P. – Superfoods. Organic. Uniquely designed. Prepared with Love." Goodman is also the author of Cancer Hacks, a best-selling story about her journey with cancer.
What Is Hormonal Acne?
Hormonal breakouts are the result of our estrogen and progesterone levels dropping as our testosterone stays the same. As Goodman explains, this causes our glands to produce more sebum—leading to oily skin, which is a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria. This can happen as we approach menstruation or sometimes when we eat certain aggravating foods.
Lee notes that in general, there is no special zone in the body that you can use to determine what “type” of acne a person has. That being said, higher levels of testosterone in women can lead to breakouts predominantly in the chin, jaw, and neck area. "Higher levels of testosterone are often seen in women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), a fairly common condition where females have polycystic ovaries viewed on an ultrasound, which trigger increases in testosterone," she explains.
The Link Between Hormonal Acne and Diet
While hormonal acne can be exacerbated by diet, healthy foods aren't always the be-all and end-all solution. "Unfortunately, even those assigned female at birth with healthy eating habits cannot fully change the relationship between hormones and outbreaks, but they can minimize them through a healthy diet and by maintaining a healthy weight," Goodman says. "How you eat can heal and restore hormone balance or it can completely throw you out of balance and keep you there." Fahad agrees, as she says, "there are specific foods that have a strong effect on hormones in the body more so than your daily green juice."
Some research shows that people who maintained a low-glycemic diet may develop fewer pimples and that such a diet will minimize spikes in glucose levels that lead to inflammation, which, in turn, can lead to an increase in sebum (aka oil) in our skin.
Foods to Eat for Hormonal Acne
- Healthy Fats: "Healthy fats are great for your skin, your heart, your brain, and your hormones," Fahad says. "Throw some coconut oil into your sugar-free matcha or sauté some broccoli with olive oil." You can also get a good dose of healthy fats from wild-caught salmon, grass-fed butter, and avocados.
- Cruciferous Vegetables: According to Goodman, this family of plants may help combat the increased ratio of testosterone to estrogen and progesterone. They also boast excellent nutritional value that's essential to your diet at any point in your cycle. Seek out kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, arugula, and collard greens.
- Probiotics: "Probiotics assist in helping the body eliminate toxins (excess hormones) and waste," notes Goodman. "Your skin is your largest organ and largest eliminator of toxins. By supporting digestion with probiotics, toxins are more likely to break down in the liver before they accumulate and overwhelm the skin." There are plenty of ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet to help with acne. Fahad recommends fermented veggies, krauts, kimchi, or kombucha, but warns, "just don't drink too much, as kombucha has hidden sugars."
- Adaptogen Herbs: "These herbs promote hormone balance and help decrease excess stress," explains Goodman, who says her favorite adaptogens are ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and holy basil. Fahad also recommends maca or lucuma as healthy additions to your diet.
- Omega-3s: As Goodman explains, omega-3s "are vital for proper cell function, especially for hormone function, as these are the building blocks for hormone production." She says to load up on rich sources of natural Omega-3s like wild-caught fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and grass-fed animal products (but steer clear of oils high in omega-6 like safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean, and peanut).
- B-Vitamins: Goodman and Fahad both call out foods rich in vitamin B—like sweet potatoes, yams, and dark leafy greens—for balancing hormones. "Your ovulation period is a great time to load up on vitamin B and zinc in hormone-free meat," Fahad says. Goodman also recommends gluten-free whole grains and legumes.
Foods to Avoid for Hormonal Acne
- Cow's Milk: Lee says that cow’s milk (but not necessarily yogurt or cheese) can lead to increased breakouts. "We believe this is due to the elevated hormones in milk, and hormone fluctuations can increase acne breakouts," she says.
- High-Glycemic Index Foods: Things like pasta, white bread, and sugar-loaded drinks may trigger hormonal acne. Swap with healthy alternatives like quinoa, barley, and flavored water.
- Fast Food: No surprise here—fast food is typically loaded with unhealthy oils and processed ingredients that don't do acne any favors.
Will the Same Diet Help Different People Control Acne?
Everyone's body is different and a person sticking to one diet may help clear up their acne while the same diet may not work for someone else. Lee suggests maintaining a low-glycemic diet—including lots of fresh vegetables as well as some fresh fruits, beans, and steel-cut oats—to help minimize pimples.
Topical Tips for Hormonal Acne
Even though your hormones are an internal matter, you still need to ensure you're taking care of your skin externally, by cleansing every morning and night. Lee also recommends incorporating benzoyl peroxide, an effective antimicrobial agent that helps with hormonal acne as well as inflammatory acne, into your skincare routine.
The Final Takeaway
Treating hormonal acne can be a long, frustrating process, but there are things you can tweak in your diet to help you along the way. Make sure you load up on foods that have a low glycemic index and try to eat homemade meals as much as possible. If a switch-up in diet and over-the-counter products aren’t working, a visit to your dermatologist may be necessary to come up with a helpful treatment plan.
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