Hi! I’m Jessica Gremley, Founder and CEO of Natural Acne Clinic. This blog post is a personal one for me as it took 15 years of education and research to figure out how to clear my own hormonal acne.
I launched NAC out of my passion to share the truth about acne and how hormonal acne can be treated naturally. With each client we serve, my hope is to debunk misleading myths and incorrect information about how hormonal acne can be cleared once and for all because I was able to do it for myself.
When we consume the wrong information, we often think the “natural” approach will not be as effective as a more harsh treatment like Accutane. Not true!
Harsh topicals, birth control pills, and pharmaceuticals can destroy the body from the inside out and are not the only option. Honestly, these are pretty old-school approaches that don’t consider the whole body as we do at NAC.
The American Academy of Dermatology has found the onset of adult acne is becoming increasingly common in women in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. Studies show that up to 50% of women in their 20’s and 25% of women in their 40s struggle with acne triggered by hormonal changes in the body.
Pregnancy, diet, stress, and menopause can cause hormonal imbalances triggering acne on the jawline, chin or lower cheek. It can often appear red and inflamed causing some amount of pain.
The Link Between Our Hormones and Acne
Before we get to the three best natural treatments for hormonal acne, let’s first discuss how hormones trigger breakouts. Bear with me for a moment while we have a mini biology lesson!
Hormones have a major role in the development of acne. Although the exact mechanism behind their powerful influence is unknown, we do know that androgen hormones gum up the follicle by triggering oil production.
Androgens are the so-called “male hormones” and are present in males and females. The testes, ovaries and the adrenal glands all produce androgens. The most well-known androgens are testosterone and its breakdown product is dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
This is all important because research has shown there are androgen receptors in the base of the oil gland and also in the cells that line the pores! If there are high levels of testosterone floating in the body, they are highly capable of binding to these receptors.
To put it simply, when these hormones attach to the oil glands (aka receptors) in the skin, they trigger the gland to produce more oil as well as feed the bacteria. Then, an inflamed acne lesion is well on its way to the surface of your skin.
The key takeaway is that by lowering androgen and testosterone levels in the body, the skin will not produce as much acne or not produce ANY at all.
So how does Estrogen play into all this?
Estrogen and testosterone frequently act like a teeter totter. As one goes up the other goes down.
Hormonal acne is an elevated androgen/testosterone and low estrogen issue. It is not an elevated estrogen problem. Therefore, taking herbal supplements that “block” estrogen, such as DIM, will make your acne worse and increase testosterone causing cystic breakouts. I do not recommend DIM for hormonal acne for these reasons.
So it makes sense that if you lower androgen levels, the skin will not produce as much oil—and your acne will improve!
Hormonal Acne Causes
Your Diet May Be The Culprit
Food is one of the primary contributors to fluctuating or increased hormone levels in our bodies.
The typical American diet is acidic and high in saturated fats, processed grains, meat fats, and refined sugar. It is also low in fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, fiber, and antioxidants. Research has shown that this can cause an imbalance in testosterone and androgen levels, respectively. Therefore, a healthy diet is one form of natural treatment for hormonal acne. Another way to balance hormone levels is by taking certain herbs and vitamins. Both these items are discussed in more detail below.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition in which women have an imbalance of female sex hormones. It is linked to low levels of estrogen and progesterone and high androgen levels (male hormones typically found in small amounts in women).
It is not completely understood why or how the changes in hormone levels occur. This hormonal imbalance causes the woman’s ovaries to not release eggs. Instead, they form very small cysts.
Symptoms of PCOS include lack of a period, irregular period, body hair growing on the chest, naval, face or around the nipples, hair thinning on the head, acne, dark skin markings around the neck, armpits, groin or breasts as well as decreased breast size.
The increase in androgen levels is responsible for causing these male-characteristic symptoms. It makes the skin oilier than usual and causes breakouts on areas like the face, chest, and upper back.
If you think you may have acne triggered by PCOS, please contact your physician for testing and diagnosis.
Low Dose Birth Control Pills
These tablets and devices are low in Estrogen and, therefore, tend to increase the bodies Androgen levels as the Estrogen drop. Think of a teeter-totter…as one goes down the other goes up.
As a general rule of thumb, those with the potential for higher androgenic symptoms should be avoided for people prone to acne because they promote breakouts. As an acne sufferer, it is critical to speak with your doctor about selecting a form of birth control that is higher in estrogen and lower in androgen potency.
SOLUTION: Take out the IUD or come off the low-dose birth control pill and switch to a safe tablet if you are on birth control for a said reason. Here at Natural Acne Clinic, we are not proponents of using birth control pills or devices to “balance” hormone levels or to clear acne. With that said, it is ok to be on certain types of birth control to prevent pregnancy and keep your skin clear.
How to Get Hormonal Acne Treated and Get Clear Skin Naturally
Take Your Vitamins and Herbs
While hormonal acne is stubborn, there are some easy strategies you can take to balance hormones for acne relief naturally and it starts with vitamins and herbs.
Vitex for Acne
In women, hormonal acne typically manifests along the jawline and chin. If this sounds familiar, taking Vitex for acne may be a successful treatment.
Vitex agnus castus, also known as Chasteberry, is a “woman’s herb” that’s been traditionally used for hormonal imbalances. It’s been used for menstrual symptoms of low progesterone in the luteal phase (the part of the cycle that starts at ovulation and ends the day before your next period). These symptoms include depression, crying, mood swings, acne, nervousness and anxiety.
Vitex has also been used as a natural remedy for treating such symptoms of high estrogen levels as pain, tender breasts, bloating and heavy periods.
Current research shows that Vitex can support healthy hormone levels and relieve pre-menstrual symptoms. It can also be an effective natural hormonal acne treatment.
How does Vitex for Acne Work?
The Vitex herbs act upon the pituitary and hypothalamus glands by increasing luteinizing hormone (LH) production and mildly inhibiting the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This results in a shift in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, with a rise in progesterone. The ability of the Vitex to increase progesterone levels is an indirect effect.
Vitex itself is not a hormone, but rather an herb that helps the body balance natural estrogen and progesterone. By balancing the estrogen, the androgens then come into balance as well.
The best way to take Vitex for acne is by taking it first thing in the morning between 7-8am. That is when your pituitary and hypothalamus glands are active to regulate female sex hormones. You can expect to feel the full benefits of taking vitex for acne within 3-5 months.
We offer an organic, vegan and therapeutic-grade Vitex that is designed for hormonal acne treatment.
Saw Palmetto is a small palm with fan-shaped leaves and sharply toothed stalks, native to the southeastern US. Supplements made from the berries are used to decrease inflammation and are found to decrease the uptake of testosterone in the body. These effects are likely attributed to natural anti-androgenic effects, which block the actions of testosterone in the body, which in turn can help reduce acne breakouts for women and men.
While Saw Palmetto is primarily marketed towards men, it can be used by females as well! For women, this herb is recommended if periods are more than 36 days apart or for females with signs of excess testosterone like dark, coarse hair growth on upper lip, chin, naval or areola, PCOS diagnosis, skin darkening on the underarms, or overweight with small breasts.
Saw Palmetto can also be used as a natural replacement for Spironolactone when prescribed for acne because it is a natural androgen reducer.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have also been shown to be an effective hormonal acne treatment. Not only do these essential fatty acids soothe your body’s inflammatory response to excess sebum and bacteria, but they also help balance acne-causing hormones such as testosterone and androgen.
Taking Clove Hill SkinOmega-3 in addition to eating foods high in Omega 3’s can be an effective hormonal acne treatment.
2. Hormonal Acne Diet
In 1984, the first study was conducted in Finland that showed a diet-hormone connection.
Decrease your intake of saturated fat:
In 1984, the first study was conducted in Finland that showed a diet-hormone connection. In one six-week study, Dr. Esa Hamalainen and her team showed that by switching from a diet high in saturated fat to one with 38% less fat and more polyunsaturated fats (nuts, seeds, fish, algae, leafy greens) caused a significant reduction in androstenedione (precursor to testosterone) and testosterone in the blood.
Increase fiber consumption:
Yes, eating fiber can help clear your skin! One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that diets high in refined carbohydrates resulted in higher incidence of acne. Research shows that a high fiber diet can decrease blood testosterone, DHT and DHEA—androgens that trigger hormonal acne.
In America, the average daily consumption of fiber is 13 grams. The recommended daily dosage is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. So switching from white slices of bread, rice and pasta to high fiber, whole wheat foods can help lessen the severity of acne.
Stay away from cow’s dairy (especially cow’s milk):
Research shows that dairy can cause acne due to high levels of iodine. While milk itself does not naturally contain iodine, farmers give their cows iodine-fortified feed to prevent infection. They also use iodine solutions to sanitize cow udders and milking equipment. As a result, the iodine gets into the milk itself.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology consuming dairy – specifically, low fat/skim milk — is much higher in teenagers who have acne. Safer options are goat and sheep milk.
Increase alkaline foods and decrease acidic foods:
Meat-based proteins coffee, alcohol, sugar and processed grains – all foods that are a big part of the typical American diet—are acid-forming in the system. This leads to a condition called acidosis. Acidosis is the technical term for over-acidification. The main symptom of acidosis is fatigue.
Other symptoms include loss of enthusiasm for life, loss of sex drive, poor sleep quality, depression and tiring quickly both mentally and physically. Advanced stage symptoms of acidosis include sensitivity to cold, low blood pressure, hypo or hyperthyroid and low blood sugar.
These symptoms are caused because the main minerals that are required to nourish the nervous system, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, are the very same minerals that the body uses to neutralize acids!
Studies show that alkaline foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains help neutralize these acids Just by eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains in replace of meat, sugar and other processed foods you will not believe how amazing you feel in just a few days!
3. Stress Reduction- yes, it does affect our hormones!
These days, starting from kindergarten, the pressure is on. We all experience it and try our best to reduce it.
And if you’ve notices extra pimples during times of stress, you’re not alone. Research shows there’s a definite link between stress and acne breakouts.
Simply put, stress activates the adrenal glands to produce extra androgen hormones which eventually results in inflamed acne breakouts in acne-prone skin. These extra hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands in the skin and trigger a breakout.
The stress-hormone connection is more of a problem for women than it is for men because they produce most of their male hormones (androgens) in their adrenal glands. Men, on the other hand, produce most of their male hormones in the testes and only a very small amount in the adrenal glands.
Men’s primary hormone is testosterone so when they get stressed and the body produces extra testosterone, it does not have as big of an impact as it does for women. Since women produce about one-tenth of the amount of testosterone as men, a sudden surge of additional testosterone can have a significant impact on the body—and the skin.
What’s more, stress also causes high levels of acidity. Eating more alkaline foods neutralize these acids while also reducing cortisol levels.
To protect our adrenal glands from this surge of androgens (testosterone), we have to protect them! The Adrenal Stress Formula is one of the easiest ways to prevent that spike of androgens from affecting our skin and triggering a stress breakout.
Don’t Underestimate Nature’s Healing Power
As you can see, I am very passionate about the topic of hormonal acne because it is often not discussed by mainstream skincare professionals when treating blemished skin.
Although there are wonderful topical products on the market (and on our shelves at Natural Acne Clinic), addressing hormones is a huge component for achieving lifelong clear skin. Not only have I successfully done this for myself, thousands of NAC clients have as well, and so can you. Let us show you how!