If you’re struggling with oily skin and acne, you can pretty much guarantee that you also have higher than normal levels of androgens. Excess androgens go hand-in-hand with acne and the only real way to clear blemishes is to reduce androgens within the body.
While you may think of testosterone as the main ‘acne baddie’ that needs to be lowered, there’s actually another, more potent, androgen hormone that works alongside testosterone which is the real hormone that causes acne, and that hormone is DHT – or Dihydrotestosterone.
How to reduce androgens naturally and clear acne
DHT is produced when there’s too much free testosterone floating around our blood (often caused by stress, PCOS or insulin resistance). An enzyme in our body called 5-alpha reductase converts testosterone into DHT and when DHT levels get too high, it causes causes oily skin, acne breakouts, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, PMS, irregular periods, hirsutism and sometimes even male pattern baldness.
How to reduce androgens naturally and clear acne
Even though testosterone is often thought of as the ‘male hormone’, women also produce testosterone in small amounts. However, we are sooo much more sensitive to androgens than men are. Even the slightest increase can send our skin crazy! This is why many blood hormone tests will show “normal” levels of testosterone – you can still be in the normal range but many women are more sensitive to androgen hormones so while the pharmaceutical world may consider your results in a normal range – it could still be high enough to cause problems with your skin.
In pretty much all cases, excess androgens is the number one thing causing your acne.
Remember, in pretty much all cases, excess androgens is the number one thing causing your acne. That’s the easy bit! The hard bit is working out WHY you’re suffering from excess hormones and WHAT you can do to reduce androgens and clear acne!
How to reduce androgens internally
In women, androgenic hormones are produced in the adrenal glands or in the ovaries. Androgen excess can often be categorised into three different segments, and sometimes one person could suffer from all three at one time:
- Ovarian androgen excess – often caused by PCOS and/or insulin resistance
- Adrenal androgen excess – often caused by excess stress or a genetic condition
- Androgen sensitivity – often caused by inflammation and/or use of the contraceptive pill
When addressing the issue of excess androgens, the goal is to reduce ovarian or adrenal androgen production using the tips and tricks outlined in this article. By following these steps, you will be able to reduces the level of androgens and prevent the conversion of testosterone to DHT, therefore blocking the co-factors that lead to acne breakouts.
Reduce androgens by quitting sugar
This is the first and most important step you need to do. To reduce androgen levels in females naturally, there has to be a dramatic reduction of sugars and unhealthy carbohydrates. That’s right, I’m talking cake, doughnuts, sandwiches, burgers, crisps, sweets, soda, desserts. Consuming high levels of sugars and carbs leads to high insulin levels which triggers the ovaries to produce excess androgens.
Ultimately, the best way to keep insulin levels in check and prevent excess androgens is to eat a very low sugar diet where you’re getting plenty of protein a day and LOTS of healthy fat – like seriously lots! Eat a lot of healthy fat, then double it – then you’re probably about right! You can get tips on adding more fat to your diet here and here.
Reduce androgens by exercising more
The impact of a regular exercise on our overall hormone and whole body health is extremely powerful.
According to a 12-month study carried out by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the loss of body fat in conjunction with moderate intensity exercise caused an impressive reduction in androgens, testosterone and free testosterone. This shows that if you struggle with weight (especially round the belly area) alongside acne, then reducing you body weight and increasing muscle mass can go a long way to helping you reduce androgens naturally.
Combining a healthy diet high in healthy fat/protein and free of processed foods, unhealthy carbohydrates and sugars in addition to moderate exercise, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week should ALWAYS be the starting point towards getting your skin back on the right track.
Exercise plays such a key part in the journey to clear skin and you don’t have to become a total gym-bunny to reap the acne banishing rewards! Start with little changes like going for a 30 minute walk after work or grab a skipping rope, put on some tunes and giving yourself a 15 minute workout in your garden. It won’t be long before all the small perks, such as enhanced mood, increased confidence, better sleep and reduced stress, will have you glowing in a way you never thought was possible.
Reduce androgens by drinking spearmint tea
Spearmint tea is among one of the most popular herbal tea for correction of excess testosterone. A study carried out in Turkey showed that women suffering with PCOS who drank 2 cups of spearmint tea every day for one month showed a significant reduction in the level of excess androgen.
After the treatment, the women showed a significant reduction in free testosterone and an increase in luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and estradiol. There was no change reported in DHEAS levels so it’s unlikely that spearmint tea will be effective if your acne is caused by adrenal androgen excess, but could be a beneficial treatment if you have PCOS or ovarian androgen excess.
Reduce androgens by taking anti-androgen supplements
There are supplements that can help to reduce androgens naturally but it’s important to remember that you can’t cheat a poor diet and stagnant lifestyle and your supplements should always be secondary to healthy food and lifestyle choices.
The way that most these supplements work to reduce androgens is their ability to inhibit the activity of the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase. As I mentioned before, the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase is what converts testosterone into the more potent, acne-causing DHT. By blocking the activity of this enzyme, you can reduce the conversion of testosterone to DHT and reduce your breakouts.
Zinc for acne
Zinc is the most effective and reliable acne mineral of all time. Study after study has concluded that treating zinc deficiency can also treat acne. In one study, scientists analysed the bloodstream of 94 acne patients and 56 control patients. They discovered that zinc deficiency was far higher among the acne patients. Zinc is vital for wound healing, inflammation control, metabolism of testosterone and vitamin A function, so it plays an vital role in hormone management and acne. Zinc also improves ovarian function and increases progesterone production. Progesterone is a natural androgen blocker and many women find increasing their progesterone levels alone works wonders for clearing their acne. Read more about the progesterone/androgen link here.
For zinc to be effective it is really important that you purchase a supplement with maximum bioavaiability that contains either Zinc Picolinate, L-methionine or Zinc Gluconate – other forms of Zinc just aren’t absorbed by the body. I like to get mine in the form of this multi-vitamin.
Reishi for acne
One study exploring the anti-androgenic effects of 20 species of mushrooms found that Reishi mushrooms had the strongest action in reducing androgens. The study found that Reishi mushrooms significantly reduced levels of 5-alpha reductase, preventing the conversion of testosterone into DHT. As well as being well studied, there are also countless case studies online of others who have seen excellent results by supplementing with Reishi, not only for its androgen blocking abilities but also for its excellent liver detoxifying qualities.
I’ve searched high and low for recommendations on how much Reishi should be taken each day to be effective and the closest advice I can find is to take between 1-1.5g a day. You can take it as a capsule or as a powder and mix it into a smoothie – taking it in powder form is usually the most cost-effective.
Peony & liquorice
Peony and liquorice is a relatively unusual supplement that is quite hard to come by but I first came across it after reading Lara Briden’s book The Period Repair Manual. However, it’s pretty awesome at balancing hormones as Peony reduces testosterone production but also boosts the activity of the enzyme “aromatase” which converts ‘bad’ testosterone to ‘good’ oestrogen. Liquorice reduces serum testosterone in women and contains phytoestrogens that block androgen receptors. Together, these two herbs works together to normalise hormones.
A popular strategy for balancing hormones is to create a healthy balance of true, good oestrogens and progesterone alongside lowering excess androgens such as testosterone and DHT. Whilst diet has a major role in this, DIM is a natural compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and sprouts that helps the body to metabolise oestrogen properly as well as being a potent anti-androgen.
Cod liver oil
Cod Liver Oil suppresses androgen production and contains bioavailable vitamin A and D – a nutrient that most of us aren’t getting enough of yet is so so important for clearing acne that I recommend all my clients take it for a minimum of 3 months. Alongside reducing androgen production, the bioavailable vitamin A found in Cod Liver Oil also helps prevent dead skin cells from clogging pores, reduces oil production and protects fats from oxidation (oxidised fats cause serious inflammation).
Vitamin D plays a key role in healing and preventing acne by cooling inflammation, smoothing the skin, improving mood, boosting your immune system and helping to control insulin response, yet so many people just aren’t getting enough vitamin D each day! Studies into vitamin D deficiency have shown that more than half the population of the UK are deficient in vitamin D with 16% suffering severe deficiency during the darker winter months so it’s really important to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D all year round – not just during the summer months.
Many Cod Liver Oils are a pile of cr*p (Seven Seas, Mollers, Carlsons etc) so make sure you’re taking the highest quality source that isn’t refined and contains a decent amount of vitamin A and D that will have the desired effect – ideally 5,000iu of vitamin A for best results.
Other herbal supplements that have been show to reduce androgens in studies are:
- Chaste Tree (Vitex)
- Black Cohosh
- Saw Palmetto
There’s no need to spend all your money and buy every one of these supplements in order to reduce your androgens to a level that gets your skin under control. As I said before, diet and exercise should ALWAYS be your starting point and if you want to start on supplements, I would start with this multi-vitamin and cod liver oil, then try Reishi if you feel you need an extra boost.
How to reduce androgens externally
Whilst good skin care is important when it comes to healing acne naturally, it’s more important to focus on reducing androgens from the inside rather than concentrating just on skin care. However, there are a couple of key ingredients that can give your skin a little extra boost in the androgen fighting battle.
When it comes to acne skin care – there 4 key areas that can help to heal your skin from the outside:
- Calming and soothing ingredients – Aloe Vera, Jojoba and Rosehip oil
- Anti bacterial ingredients – Tea Tree and Raw Honey
- Topical antioxidants ingredients – A/Retinol, B3/Niacinamide and vitamin C
- DHT blocking ingredients – Green Tea, Sea Buckthorn Berry, Saw Palmetto and Liquorice Extract
DHT blocking ingredients work in the same way as they do when you take them internally – they inhibit the activity of the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase which stops testosterone from being converted into acne-causing DHT.
Reduce androgens with green tea extract
Green Tea can have a significant impact on skin DHT levels as studies (here, here and here) have shown that Green Tea inhibit the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT in the skin!
While you can take natural DHT blockers internally via Green Tea tinctures and supplements, using a topical solution is actually a much more effective way of blocking the hormone conversion at a surface level.
Reduce androgens with sea buckthorn berry extract
While most of you will know my love for Green Tea extract, there a new ingredient in town which I’m pretty excited about! Sea Buckthorn Berry extract has been shown in studies to have a significant reduction in androgen activity and oil production in the skin. After just one week of use, there was a 17% decline in sebum production which by week eight, became a 45% decline in oil production! That’s not far behind Green Tea which was shown to reduce oil production by 60% – just imagine what could happen if you combined these two star ingredients together?
Despite Sea Buckthorn Berry extract’s success in scientific research, it’s still not that easy to find! I’ve found a few products which contain Sea Buckthorn Seed oil…but the oil isn’t the same as the berry extract and doesn’t have the same positive effect on acne and oil production. You can tell the difference between the two instantly; seed oil is an egg yolk shade of orange, while the berry extract is a far more intense shade of red.
However, I’ve recently discovered Wild Beauty Apothecary’s Harmony Bloom Oil which is a totally acne-friendly facial oil that contains, yup…you guessed it – Sea Buckthorn Berry extract! This oil is absolutely gorgeous and I got in touch with the founder Yelena, to provide some extra information on this awesome ingredient!
When choosing ingredients for my Harmony range I wanted to create products for skin with imbalances. Having struggled with adult acne, my aim was to cater for skin that is oily, combination and prone to breakouts.
Sea Buckthorn berries are a powerhouse of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. No wonder why in Europe and the East it has been traditionally used for food, medicine and skincare, and it is still used today.
For our Bloom Oil I use organic Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae Rhamnoides fruit extract) which is obtained using CO2 extraction method. It offers a highly concentrated extract of the whole berries. The CO2 method allows supercritical fluid extraction using low temperature and without a need of any solvent or diluent.
A dark orange colour of the extract indicates abundance of antioxidants such as provitamin A carotenes and carotenoids. It is also rich in vitamin E, C and essential fatty acids. All these goodness makes Sea Buckthorn a powerful beauty berry that has ability to promote regeneration of skin cells, heal wounds, protect from free radicals and assist skin to clear hyper-pigmentation, which is extremely useful for post acne scars.
Sounds pretty awesome doesn’t it? This oil is super light, yet so nourishing. I was so excited by this facial oil I broke my “no oil” experiment and I’ve been using it at night to give my skin a little extra support against excess DHT! Despite not using any oils on my skin for 3 months, my face is loving this product just once a day before bed.
For more information about managing DHT for clearer skin, read my blog post “how to reduce DHT and 5-alpha reductase activity to clear acne.”
Has this article helped you work out what is causing your excess androgens and acne? Let me know your story in the comments below!
Peace, Love & Clear Skin,