Acne! This four-lettered word brings along a series of unpleasant and frustrating experiences that have the capability to overpower some of the other more important events in our lives. And, if you thought this shall pass once we bid adieu to our teenage years, think again! Adult hormonal acne is a lot more common than you’d expect and the same fluctuating hormone levels that we experience as teens are to be blamed this time around too.
Hormonal Imbalance And Acne
As indicated by the term itself, hormonal acne is caused by fluctuation in the levels of your hormones. To be fair, apart from a few external factors like pollution, bad skincare habits etc. most kinds of acne are caused by hormonal changes within the body. The most common period in which this tends to occur is during puberty. But, hormonal acne can re-appear at any age, especially among women, owing to a lot of factors including the menstrual cycle and menopause.
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What Causes Hormonal Acne?
Acne in its most basic form is a condition caused by a combination of dirt, excess oil, and dead skin cells leading to clogging of the pores. So what role do hormones play here? Our body is continuously at work to ensure there is a hormonal balance maintained so the various bodily functions are carried out smoothly. When this balance is disturbed, and there is excessive amount of a particular hormone (testosterone), our skin, being the largest of all organs, is sure to bear the brunt of this imbalance.
1. Primary Causes Of Acne
- Sebum or the skin oils are necessary to nourish the skin and push out dead skin cells. But, excessive testosterone triggers the sebaceous glands in the skin to expand and produce unnecessary amounts of sebum, which leads to the onset of a damaging chain reaction.
- Due to the excessive oil secretion, the dead and damaged skin cells, which usually are shed from time to time, get overly sticky and accumulate. Testosterone also tends to alter their growth. This, along with dirt, gets clogged up in the hair follicles with no way out.
- The excessive oil and clogged pores provide the best kind of breeding ground for the acne-causing bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes to multiply and cause an infection.
- As a reaction from the immune system towards fluctuations in hormones and acne-causing bacteria, skin inflammation is observed.
2. Role Of Hormones In Acne Formation – How Hormones Affect Acne
- The Role Of Androgens – Androgen, even though is the male hormone, is produced by both the genders and increases during puberty. Among the androgens, the hormone testosterone is required in small quantities by women for various bone and muscle development activities as well as the overall well-being. But, the female body doesn’t react too well to testosterone in excessive quantities, leading to acne breakouts by overly triggered oil glands, as they are sensitive to testosterone.
- Menstruation – A woman’s body goes through periodic fluctuations in hormones during her menstrual cycle. This fluctuation is the reason behind some women experiencing frequent breakouts when they are expecting their monthly period.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – This is another condition that affects a woman’s hormonal levels by producing androgens in higher than required amounts and cutting down on the essential female hormones. As a result, the excessive male hormones lead to acne breakouts on areas like the face, chest, and upper back.
- Menopause – During menopause, there is an inevitable decrease in the production of female reproductive hormones as the ovaries stop producing any more eggs, leading to an end of the monthly menstruation cycle. Due to such hormonal changes in the body and an increase in androgens, as compared to the fall in female hormones, some women tend to experience acne during this period in their 40’s or 50’s.
Treatment Of Hormonal Acne
Such internal imbalances are curable, and hormonal acne treatment is rendered depending on the severity of the breakouts, bearing in mind that there are no quick-fix hormonal acne solutions.
Mentioned below are a few traditional ways to undergo hormonal acne treatment.
(A) Traditional Treatments For Hormonal Acne
- Oral Contraceptives – Yes, in certain severe cases, taking oral contraceptive pills (i.e. birth control pills) is a proven and successful hormonal acne solution. A certified dermatologist’s consultation and a prescription are necessary before going in for such a hormonal therapy. This includes screening the patient for contraindications like the history of blood clots, high BP, breast cancer, etc. The ingredients in these pills work in clearing acne by controlling the androgen hormones, which are primarily responsible for causing breakouts. These pills can be used independently or as a combination with other anti-androgen drugs.
- Anti-Androgen Drugs – This is another effective hormonal acne medication that is proven to work by acting against the male androgen hormone and bringing it to a normal, acceptable level in the female body.
- Retinoids – If the severity of your hormonal acne ranges between mild to moderate with the presence of inflammation, topical retinoids might solve your problem. These are essentially derived from vitamin A and are present as an ingredient in a lot of OTC gels and lotions for acne clearance. But, to see a recognizable difference, a prescription strength formulation is proven to work more effectively.
(B) Moderate Acne May Be Treated With Antibiotics
If your doctor deems you unfit to go the contraceptive pill way to combat acne, or if you are not willing to take the pill because of its side effects, you can also undergo an antibiotics course for a minimum period of three months, to treat hormonal acne that is moderately severe in its nature. Some of the antibiotics prescribed include –
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Hormonal Acne Diet
The importance of feeding your body the right kind of nutrients and nourishing it well cannot be emphasized enough. The quality of your food intake will always directly reflect on your largest organ, i.e. your skin. So, it particularly becomes imperative for a person prone to hormonal acne to learn to feed his/her body food that supports hormonal stabilization. There is no such fixed ‘hormonal acne diet plan’ but here are some diet do’s and don’ts that will help you fill the gap in your diet with the necessary supplements and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
- Omega 3 – These are essential for fighting inflammation that occurs as a reaction to the acne-causing bacteria and also otherwise ensures overall healthy and clear skin. You can find your omega-3s in walnuts, almonds, and supplements like fish oil and flaxseed oil.
- Beta Carotene – This is an antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A on consumption, which then helps with the reduction in acne, wrinkles, and sun damage. Sources of beta-carotene include carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Selenium – Found in mushrooms, almonds, oatmeal, etc. selenium is an antioxidant, which regulates the skin cells’ activity for an overall smooth and clear appearance. It can also be consumed as a supplement complex with other vitamins.
- Zinc – This mineral has anti-inflammatory properties that also fight the acne-causing bacteria, thus minimizing the effect of hormonal imbalance on the skin. Studies indicate many women being zinc deficient. This mineral can be found in poultry, oysters, seeds like sesame and pumpkin as well as in beans.
- B Vitamins – These are essential for the skin’s regeneration process and vitamin B6 in particular fights inflammation and excessive production of sebum, thereby making B-complex supplements instrumental in fighting hormonal acne.
- Magnesium – Supplements that combine magnesium with calcium help in regulating certain proteins in the body that cause the skin to inflame. Calcium is also beneficial for regeneration of skin cells.
- Probiotics – This healthy microbiome (bacteria) help with skin inflammations and also strengthen the body’s immunity against pathogens that harm the gut as well as the skin. A healthy gut ensures healthy skin.
- High-Glycemic Foods – These break down rather easily and quickly in our body after consumption, and this leads to an insulin spike, which raises blood sugar levels in our bloodstream. This triggers hormonal fluctuations and inflammations. The following are some of the food items with a high-glycemic index, which need to be avoided to prevent hormonal acne – pasta, white rice, white bread, and refined carbs.
- Sugar – Sugary treats and drinks are such a major contributor to hormonal acne by spiking our system’s blood sugar levels. Acne-causing bacteria also tends to feed on the excessive sugar present in our bodies. Therefore, moderation is key if you do not want your skin to breakout.
- Dairy Products – Consumption of products like cheese, milk, etc. can cause the hormonal levels in our body to swing, thus risking a breakout. Also disturbingly enough, cows today are injected with severe growth hormones in order to be able to give more milk, and the milk we eventually consume contains these, thus creating havoc in our system.
- Red Meat – Red meat consumption can be linked to hormonal acne because of its capability to increase the testosterone levels in our body.
Hormonal acne can lead to plenty of distressing times, but the good news is that appropriate treatment that is right for you can help you get rid of such breakouts completely. So, do not fret and get the help you need. Follow this up with a healthy and mindful diet to ensure that your skin doesn’t flare up, and the hormones are kept in check.