This article looks at how hormones affect acne and helps you understand the different types of hormones that are often linked with adult acne.
Due to a number of factors including birth control, diet, products we come into contact with every day and blood sugar imbalances more women are suffering from acne in their 20s, 30s and even 40s! As more and more women suffer from acne, they are turning to harsh prescription creams, birth control, antibiotics and harsh cleansing products in a bid to banish the breakouts. Unfortunately, if you’re suffering from hormonal acne then NONE of these so-called ‘treatments’ will work. They’ll just dry out your skin, meaning your body will pump out more sebum to compensate (topical creams and lotions), or just mask the symptoms by faking hormone balance (birth control) or if you’re really lucky, they’ll totally destroy the good bacteria in your gut making way for a nice dose of gut-related acne to accompany your hormone-related acne (antibiotics)!
How hormones affect acne
Acne is cause by four factors that when combined create the perfect recipe for a breakout:
- Increased sebum (oil production) in the skin.
- Increased keratin (a protein that forms the rigidity of the skin) production and faster skin cell growth.
- Increased inflammation in the skin.
- Increased number of acne-causing bacterium Propionbacterium acnes (P.acnes).
Unfortunately, hormones – particularly androgens – play a key part in the over-production of sebum, keratin, inflammatory response and skin cell growth meaning that if our hormones are out of whack, it could easily be causing imbalances in our skin too!
The Three Main Hormones:
Oestrogen: Oestrogen is the main female sex hormone which is responsible for a whole host of different functions. It effects how our skin looks, how strong our bones are and the regulation of the female reproductive system.
Testosterone: Even though testosterone is a male hormone, healthy women also produce small amounts of this hormone. It’s produced by the ovaries and helps to regulate sex drive (libido), energy and mental state.
Progesterone: Progesterone is a female hormone and is touted as the ‘oestrogen balancer’ and ‘sister hormone’ to oestrogen. Progesterone is important for the regulation of ovulation and menstruation. Low progesterone levels are thought to be partly responsible for PMS symptoms such as mood swings, breast tenderness and feeling bloated.
What hormones affect acne
Studies have shown that high androgens levels in both men and women can contribute to increased sebum production which can result in acne. Testosterone is the androgen that most of us will be familiar with. If you suffer with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or excess facial/body hair, cystic acne, deepening voice or irregular/infrequent periods you may be suffering from testosterone dominance.
Testosterone isn’t the only androgen that we need to watch out for…we also need to be aware of our levels of DHT and DHEA/DHEA-S. Our adrenal glands enable us to deal with stress whether it’s an injury, disease or a relationship drama. It’s in the adrenal glands that the hormone DHEA is primarily produced. This hormone starts off life as DHEA before it gets transported into the blood stream where it can be converted into DHEA-S. Too much stress on the adrenal glands can lead to an excess of this androgen which could cause hormone imbalances and acne breakouts.
While many people assume that testosterone is the only androgen hormone to affect acne, this isn’t the case – far from it! It’s actually DHT that is often the sole culprit of hormonal adult acne in women. DHT is a much more potent form of testosterone that further stimulates the development of male characteristics (excess hair growth, increased acne, stopping of menstrual periods etc). DHT occurs as a byproduct of testosterone and often results from too much testosterone being produced in the female body.
However, it’s not just androgens that can cause acne. When it comes to hormones it’s all about balance, and if one type of hormone starts to increase, it’s likely that other hormones will increase too in an attempt to keep things balanced. Every hormone is affected by the level of another so it’s important to focus on balance rather that reduce one particular hormone.
Hormone imbalance is particularly common when it comes to Oestrogen – in today’s society, it’s more and more common for men and woman to suffer from elevated oestrogen levels due to our exposure to every-day toxic hormone disrupters. When this happens it can cause problems with other hormones, such as progesterone, as our bodies struggle to maintain a healthy balance.
Oestrogen and acne
Oestrogens promotes healthy skin and the development of breasts, periods and pregnancy but you know the saying? You can have too much of a good thing. Excess oestrogen becomes toxic in the body and can lead to a whole host of problems including breast cancer, infertility and acne! But it’s not our own, true oestrogen we need to be worrying about – it the ‘xenoestrogens’, ‘estrogen mimickers’ or ‘endocrine/hormone disruptors’ that can cause us hormone troubles. Chemicals we’re exposed to everyday such as cleaning products, preservatives in skin care and plastic containers act like natural oestrogens within the body. These oestrogen impersonators trick the body into thinking they’re natural hormones – allowing them to contribute to oestrogen excess, which can result in an increase of androgens and can even block the effects of our own true, natural oestrogens.
To limit our exposure to excess hormone disruptors we should consider the following:
- Consider your birth control! Many forms of contraception, especially the pill, contain high concentrations of synthetic oestrogen that can build up over time in our bodies.
- Bispheno-A – Found in plastic bottles and in the lining of many food cans and juice cartons – avoid this toxic xenoestrogen where possible.
- Choose organic fruits where possible to avoid the effects of pesticides and try to always buy organic when it comes to the Dirty Dozen.
- Avoid heated plastics whereever possible.
- Avoid phthalates – an ingredients used in cosmetics such as mascara and nail polish to increase wear and flexibility.
- If eating animal products – opt for organic, grass-fed, hormone-free produce.
- Use glass or ceramic to store/consume foods and liquids.
- Avoid beauty products that contain parabens and opt for certified organic brands that use approved preservative systems.
- Avoid artificial fragrance and colourants – this includes deodorants, synthetic scented candles and air fresheners – use an oil burner with a few drops of your favourite essential oil instead.
- Avoid perfumes that contain phthalates and petrochemicals (unfortunately this doesn’t leave you with many options!) Check out my favourite, Eden. These guys make designer replica perfumes here in the UK with natural and organic essential oils and NO synthetics, parabens or phthalates! They’re amazing and smell just like the real deal – except with no nasties!
- Watch out for hormone replacement therapy as it contains synthetic oestrogens – opt for a paraben-free progesterone cream instead.
How do I balance my hormones?
As well as actively reducing your exposure to xenoestrogens, there are also plenty of other natural ways you can restore balance within your endocrine system including giving your liver some extra love, drinking spearmint tea, exercising and introducing some hormone balance herbs! Head over to this post to read my top tips for balancing your hormones naturally!
Peace, Love & Clear Skin