It’s that time of the month, and like clockwork, you’re breaking out. “Ugh, it’s just hormones,” your girlfriend says as you complain about another pimple. Your BFF is right, but there’s more to the story. Instead of just chalking it up to “hormones”, let’s get to the root of those imbalances and why they are there in the first place. In this article, I’m diving into the causes of hormonal acne and what to do about it.
5 CAUSES OF HORMONAL ACNE
1- ANDROGEN IMBALANCES
Androgens are the class of sex hormones produced by the ovaries, adrenals, and testes. Testosterone being the principal androgen hormone. And it makes sense because androgens are responsible from bringing on puberty and increasing sex drive. As you know, us ladies also produce testosterone, just at lower levels than men.
Acne can happen when androgen levels are elevated due to stress, adrenal fatigue, or dysregulated blood sugar.
To keep androgen levels balanced, sip on some Spearmint tea (one of my favorite recs by holistic acne doctor Shannon Curtis) and avoid processed sugars to keep blood sugar stable.
2- ESTROGEN IMBALANCES
If you find that you always get acne before your period, it can be related to estrogen imbalances—(a hormonal imbalance that is getting increasingly more common among women). Listen, we all have hormonal fluctuation, that is normal! And hormone fluctuation can even be the reason for adult acne. Before the week of your period, estrogen and progesterone both start to fall, while androgen levels stay the same. Healthy estrogen levels are needed to keep androgens balanced. If estrogen levels are too low or too high compared to progesterone, androgenic acne can lead to the dreaded premenstrual acne.
Let’s talk about low estrogen levels first. As estrogen levels fall the week before your period, you may experience carbohydrate and sugar cravings. This is because your body wants to make up for the drop in estrogen-stimulated serotonin. We need to be careful here because processed foods, especially those high in sugar and carbs, can contribute to acne and mild hormonal acne.
Now let’s dive into estrogen dominance.
Estrogen dominance happens when estrogen levels are elevated in relation to progesterone. In today’s world, our bodies are bombarded with xenoestrogens (estrogen-mimicking chemicals) from every angle: Conventionally farmed food, mainstream cosmetics, your favorite perfume, plastic bottles, pharmaceutical medications, and tap water. Elevated estrogen levels can result in an acne breakout and hormonal breakout, bringing me to my next point: liver stagnation.
3- LIVER STAGNATION
Our liver is responsible for over 600 roles, including metabolizing hormones like estrogen. If your liver function is sluggish, especially phase 2 liver detoxification, you can experience hormonal imbalances (ie excess estrogen) and hormonal acne.
Your liver can be sluggish as a result of many things, one of them being overuse of prescription drugs. Yup, that even includes the birth control pill. Because the liver is in charge of detoxing drugs, when it is overburdened by excess hormones from the birth control pill/oral contraceptive, it can become sluggish impacting gut health, hormone balance, and skin health.
One of the main signs of hormonal acne resulting from liver stagnation is PMS, irritability, and acne right before your period. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the liver governs feelings of anger and irritability. If you experience these emotions pre-period (or really any time throughout your cycle) it’s crucial to support your liver for healthier skin.
4- POOR LYMPHATIC DRAINAGE
Your lymphatic system is another major detox pathway. When you experience poor circulation and lymph flow to your pelvis, you can experience pelvis stagnation in the uterus and ovaries. As a result, progesterone production may be out of whack, causing hormonal imbalances and acne. Dr. Shannon Curtis recommends abdominal massage, releasing physical blocks (think bowel movements), and emotional distress. Daily movement, massage, and warm lemon water in the morning can also help with lymphatic drainage.
5- EMOTIONAL STRESS AND ADRENAL FATIGUE
At the root of the root is emotional stress and a dysregulated HPA axis. Emotional stress and adrenal fatigue are some of the most disregarded hormonal acne causes. Most of the clients we work with are struggling with adrenal fatigue, and it’s not uncommon to hear complaints of acne and skin issues. And on top of this, serious emotional distress.
At the root of adrenal fatigue is a dysregulated HPA axis. Think of your HPA axis as your stress system. It can fall out of balance and function poorly after chronic bouts of stress and emotional turmoil.
As you’ve learned, the adrenals are one part of the endocrine (hormonal system) responsible for producing androgens. Stress and negative thoughts (I’m ugly, I’m not worthy, I’ll have acne forever) can lead to elevated levels of androgens, resulting in hormonal acne.
To heal a dysregulated HPA axis and adrenal fatigue, major lifestyle changes are in order.
One of my favorite ways to jumpstart a stress regulation practice is by using adaptogens. Adaptogens are plants that help you better adapt to stressors and regulate hormones. Our Beauty Collagen Complex contains both ashwagandha and schisandra to make you more resilient.
THE 5 FIXES
1 – REGULATE YOUR EMOTIONS AND NERVOUS SYSTEM
Get ready to be shocked by this hormonal acne treatment. You may be hearing a lot of talk about the nervous system recently, and thank goodness! Healing our nervous system is the first step to healing anything. When our stress system is out of whack, so is our precious nervous system. These days, most of us are stuck in fight or flight mode (sympathetic) and don’t know how to get back to rest and digest (parasympathetic). In the sympathetic state, our bodies can not heal, our adrenals can not reset themselves, and our HPA axis can not come back online properly.
Emotional rollercoasters can be a result of many things, but at the root, they can be caused by a belief system we set in childhood. Becoming aware of our negative thought patterns and beliefs is step 1. We can’t fix what we are not conscious of.
Whenever you hear yourself whispering unworthy thoughts, rewrite them.
- “I’m not good enough”
- “My acne is ugly”
- “I’ll never heal this”
- “I am unworthy of love”
- “I do not match society’s beauty standards”
Instead, ask yourself what you need.
- “How can I give myself love today?”
- “How can I nourish my body? What foods would feel really good to me right now”
- “My body is capable of healing itself, it just needs love and support. What can that love and support look like today?”
Journaling is a powerful practice for getting to the root of emotional distress and lingering trauma. The moment you begin to embrace your skin just as it is, is oftentimes the moment it starts to heal.
Here are my favorite ways to regulate the nervous system:
- Left nostril breathing
- 4:6 ratio breathing
- Hand over heart
- Passionflower, lavender, skull cap teas
2- CONSUME HORMONE BALANCING FOODS
Nourish your system with hormone-balancing foods. We already dove into the best foods for balancing blood sugar, which in turn help with hormone regulation. Other foods I love for hormone balance include:
- Adaptogens like ashwagandha and schisandra
- Pumpkin seeds
- Bell peppers
- Wild salmon
- Flax seeds
- Sunflower seeds
3- BALANCE BLOOD SUGAR
Keeping blood sugar levels balanced will help curb cravings, stabilize androgens, reduce stress, and regulate the nervous system. Make sure you are consuming healthy fats, fiber, and protein with every single meal. Eat a consistent 3-4 meals per day, and never skip breakfast. Also, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but black coffee is not breakfast.
Favorite foods for keeping blood sugar stable:
- Coconut (milk, cream, oil)
- Avocado (fruit, oil)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews)
- Sweet potatoes
It’s also crucial to make sure that you are getting enough water! You should be drinking at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day for a healthy hormone and organ (hello, our skin is our largest organ!) function.
If getting in water is hard for you (it was for me!), then I recommend trying a yummy electrolyte powder. We formulated our Hydration Superfood Energy exactly for this reason. It’s packed with skin-loving vitamins, superfoods for gentle detox, and electrolytes for deep cellular hydration. Oh, and it’s a delicious strawberry kiwi flavor that makes drinking water a cinch.
5- PRIORITIZE SLEEP
Chances are if you are struggling majorly with acne, or any of these root causes mentioned above, then you are struggling with adequate sleep.
Whether it’s insomnia or never fully getting into the deep sleep detox phase, poor z’s can further hormonal imbalance and acne.
Prioritizing sleep can look like:
- A nonnegotiable bedtime routine
- Eliminating blue light as soon as the sun goes down
- Self-massage before bed
- Nighttime meditation or breathwork
- Going to bed the same time every night
I know how hard this can be for new moms, so getting your sleep in wherever and whenever you can is everything. This means asking for help! There is no better way to be a mother than taking care of yourself and getting your sleep in.
I hope this article has helped you understand the deeper causes of hormonal acne. I hope we helped dispel the myth of oily skin and acne causing bacteria.
Whether you have moderate acne or severe acne, taking charge of your hormones can help you feel empowered and beautiful.
If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. Which tips are you going to start using? I recommend starting with 1 tip that resonates and focusing on that for 1 month, before adding a new tip.
Shop the Superfoods we mentioned in this article, here.