What is Adult Hormonal Acne and How Can I Treat it?
You’re 40 years old, you look in the mirror, and you’re covered in acne like a kid going to the prom. You ask yourself: what on earth is going on? Am I going through some sort of reverse hormonal metamorphosis? You never had acne as a teenager and you went through all your college years without blemishes. Yet now, at 40, you’re presenting in board meetings with huge, enflamed zits that are impossible to conceal. One of our Simply Dermatology patients was struggling with these exact kinds of unprecedented breakouts for months and didn’t know what to do about them. Although she didn’t know it at the time, she was experiencing something called hormonal acne.
Before visiting us, this patient’s acne had become so disruptive to her life that she visited her primary care doctor. Although they performed an extensive workup, they couldn’t find anything wrong. They referred her to an endocrinologist who did a hormonal workup and found that all of her hormones were within a normal range. She was beginning to lose hope for a solution—her doctors told her nothing could be done. Still desperate to try and defeat her newfound acne, she tried all the over-the-counter remedies: salicylic acid cleansers, benzyl peroxide washes, acne patches, Bioré strips, and facemasks. She dotted her pimples with toothpaste at night, got facials every month, and never slept with makeup on. In fact, she was beginning to give up on makeup all together. Her skin had become so dehydrated from all of her attempted remedies that her cover up started looking flaky, making her pimples even more noticeable. All in all, none of her attempts at calming her skin helped. Her acne was resilient and without any apparent cause.
Although our patient was dumbfounded by her uncontrollable pimples, we frequently treat patients with adult hormonal acne in our practice at Simply Dermatology. It’s not unusual to start breaking out in your 30s or 40s, but it can be a total shock to the system if you never had acne as a teenager or adolescent. Because they haven’t battled breakouts in their past, people experiencing them for the first time in adulthood often don’t know how to get rid of hormonal acne or treat pimples, and they often don’t even know where to go for help. It’s important to understand the nature and root causes of hormonal acne, and we at Simply Dermatology can help you to manage it.
How We Approach Hormonal Acne Treatment
Hormonal acne occurs when there is a slight imbalance or fluctuation in our levels of estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, and blood work may not always show these types of abnormalities. More often than not, lab results for people struggling with hormonal acne will be completely normal.
So, how do we tackle hormonal acne if it seems all of a patient’s hormones are in the normal range? There are several different angles we like to take, such as implementing diet modification, supplements and vitamins for hormonal acne, a good skin care routine, and topical prescriptions. Oral medications are sometimes necessary to bring skin back into balance as well. Check out this video of Dr. P on News 12
Diet and Hormonal Acne
While you may think you eat a really good, clean diet, (and perhaps you do!) if you closely analyze what you’re consuming on a daily basis, you might find you are missing certain nutrients, or you might notice a pattern in the types of foods you are eating. There are several food groups that you should avoid if you’re looking for how to treat hormonal acne naturally. Eating even small amounts of particular types of food on a daily basis can lead to long-term problems in regard to managing your acne.
Foods Groups to Avoid if You’re Wondering How to Get Rid of Hormonal Acne
Why Gluten is Bad for Hormonal Acne
Gluten—especially modern-day gluten—is extremely inflammatory. Contemporary gluten is developed with the hybridization of the wheat grain many times over, yielding wheat that contains complex, difficult to digest, and as already noted, inflammatory gluten. Ingesting even tiny amounts of inflammatory gluten every day will worsen your hormonal acne over time. Because hormonal acne is an inflammatory condition, it will respond well to a low-inflammatory diet.
Refraining from eating gluten will help to reduce inflammation in the body and assist in treating hormonal acne. Not only will reduced inflammation help to eliminate acne, it may also be beneficial for other conditions that are related to chronic inflammation. However, what makes cutting gluten out tricky is that it’s not only found in items like bread, pasta, and cereals. Gluten can also hide in less obvious places, including packaged salad dressings and soy sauces.
While you do have to look out for secret traces of gluten in foods, the good news is that, generally, making the transition to a gluten-free diet is not too difficult nowadays. If we were having this conversation 15 years ago, it would’ve been much harder to find tasty substitutions for foods containing gluten. Now there are an abundance of fantastic gluten-free options in the food industry. For example, there are brown rice pastas, lentil-based pastas, excellent gluten-free breads such as canyon, and many baked goods (as well as entire bakeries!) that are gluten free.
However, you’ll want to exercise caution when purchasing gluten-free items. Just because a food is gluten free, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Many gluten-free baked items are just as loaded with sugars as those that are not gluten free. You’ll also want to avoid sugar if your goal is to eat a low inflammatory diet and obtain clear skin. Aim toward eating mostly whole foods in your hormonal acne diet plan. The more whole foods you have in your diet, the healthier you will be. Try not to buy too many processed foods. Instead, a lot of nutritionists encourage focusing on shopping for fruits, vegetables, dark, leafy greens, and fewer packaged items. Packaged foods are the ones that are highly processed with large amounts of sugar that can lead to elevated glycemic levels and inflammation in the body.
Why Sugar is Bad for Hormonal Acne
Sugar is often a main ingredient in hormonal acne causes. It can a major problem for those dealing with hormonal acne because of how it affects the body’s glycemic index. When your sugar levels spike, your body releases a compound called insulin-like growth factor. Insulin-like growth factor can stimulate and cause an imbalance in your hormones, which can lead to hormonal acne flare-ups. We at Simply Dermatology recommend eating a low-sugar diet, and there has been a vast amount of research to substantiate this suggestion. Of course, we all crave something sugary occasionally. Try to opt for natural sweeteners such as honey, agave, and maple syrup, as these have lower glycemic indexes. Just don’t forget: sugar should be consumed in moderation!
Why Dairy is Bad for Hormonal Acne
Consuming dairy can also make it difficult to sustain a low-inflammatory diet. Dairy, especially cow milk-based dairy, is very inflammatory, as is whey protein, which is found in cow milk. It’s important to know that whey is often used as a protein source in power bars and protein shakes. In our practice, we commonly meet patients with new, onset acne who have recently started drinking whey protein shakes. Like with gluten, the inflammatory nature of whey can stimulate acne flareups.
We recommend replacing whey protein with plant-based protein when using it in shakes and other meal recipes. Plant-based proteins are an excellent alternative to whey for a hormonal acne diet as they provide equal amounts of protein and will not induce acne or inflammation. Some of our favorite brands of plant protein are Aloha and Vega, both of which taste delicious! We do say it’s always better to get protein and nutrition from actual food rather than powdered drinks, but if for your lifestyle or diet requires you to utilize protein powders, we recommend trying one of these brands.
Another issue with cow milk is the naturally occurring hormones present within it. These hormones are meant to help calves grow rapidly within the first year of their lives. Even if you opt for organic, grass-fed cow milk, these hormones will still be present—they are not added hormones, but are physiologically occurring for the purpose of stimulating growth. For the average person, ingesting these hormones isn’t problematic. Many people can have cow-milk based products as often as they want. But for those dealing with hormonal acne, the growth hormones present in cow milk can cause acne flare ups. Ingesting hormones from a cow can negatively impact someone with a hormonal dysregulation.
Often people don’t realize how frequently they’re consuming cow milk-based products. Because many people have just a little bit of these sorts of foods every day—a yogurt, for example, a piece of cheese, or a splash of milk in their coffee—they won’t even realize eating these foods might be affecting their skin. Even if you only have a bit of dairy here and there, consuming cow milk-based foods on a daily basis may be arousing your acne.
We often find that when patients refrain from eating dairy for three months or so, their skin will clear. Sometimes, though, because dairy is so prevalent in most of our diets, patients will revert to intaking small amounts of dairy. They will add some milk to their cereal, for example, and not notice any significant flareups. What they don’t realize is that flareups won’t occur on the same day, and may not even happen the next day. They might happen three days later, and because of the lag in time from the point at which patients ate dairy to the time that they experienced a flareup, they won’t realize what the cause was.
There are so many dairy substitutions out there that, like with gluten, it’s really quite easy to switch to buying dairy-free products. One brand we love for dairy substitutions is Khalifa. They have delicious almond milk that tastes very similar to cow milk. Another brand we propose trying is Oatley, an oat milk-based brand that is great for those who have nut allergies. It tastes delicious and works great in coffee and tea as well. The initial transition from drinking cow milk to non-dairy milks can be difficult because most people’s taste buds are so used to having regular milk, but making this switch can truly be one of the best hormonal acne treatments. And often, once they have non-dairy milk a couple of times, they acquire an appreciation for it. We often hear from patients that, when they try cow milk after having had non-dairy milks for a few months, they don’t enjoy the taste anymore. It’s funny how that works!