You know how virtually every teenager seems to go through at least some kind of acne phase? It’s no mystery: as teens, our hormones are still in flux, shifting wildly from moment to moment as the body tries to achieve equilibrium. This hormonal imbalance leads to an increase in oil production that gives acne-causing bacteria a comfy place to grow. Hormonal acne generally shows up on the cheeks and chin as painful blemishes that feel like they’re deep under the skin. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female—as a teen, you’ll probably suffer from some kind of hormonal acne.
If you’re struggling with adult acne well past your teen years but well before menopause, your hormone levels might be out of whack. You’re absolutely not alone. I have loads of adult clients who still regularly experience painful breakouts. While topical medications and treatments are vital to keeping acne-causing bacteria at bay, I also recommend an internal approach. Consider seeing a doctor to get your hormones checked. Your acne may be a symptom of a more serious internal imbalance. Some of the most common conditions that cause hormonal acne in women include:
What it is: A condition in which the endometrial tissue that normally grows inside your uterus begins forming in areas outside of your uterus, including the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Displaced endometrial tissue goes through the same cycle as it does when inside the uterus; it builds up, breaks down, and sheds. However, because the excess tissue outside of the uterus has no means of exiting the body, it becomes trapped and can cause ovarian cysts, scar tissue, and infertility.
Symptoms: Severe cramping, menstrual pain, excessive bleeding, nausea, and fatigue.
How it causes acne: In some women, endometriosis causes a surge in androgens, a type of male hormone that increases oil production, leading to painful blemishes.
What to do: If you think you might have endometriosis, book a consult with your OB/GYN immediately. She’ll be able to test you for the disease and recommend treatments.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
What it is: A hormonal disease in which the ovaries become enlarged and develop fluid-filled cysts.
Symptoms: Infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excessive hair growth on the body and face, acne, and weight gain.
How it causes acne: Androgens, again! PCOS produces androgens that can cause breakouts, facial hair, and hair loss on the head.
What to do: If you think you have PCOS, book a consult with your OB/GYN. She will be able to perform an ultrasound to see if you have cysts on your ovaries.
What it is: Your thyroid is an important hormone-regulating gland in your neck. If you have hypothyroidism, this gland doesn’t produce enough of something called thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone controls your body’s metabolism, which includes your body temp, heartbeat, and how well you process calories. Not enough thyroid hormone and all of these processes slow way down. While it can be caused by numerous factors, hypothyroidism is usually caused by an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and can be treated with medication and diet change.
Symptoms: Fatigue, depression, weight gain, mood swings, hair loss, and dry skin. How it causes acne: Low thyroid hormone often occurs in tandem with diminished progesterone receptors. Low levels of progesterone can cause acne.
What to do: Your doctor will be able to do a blood test for low thyroid hormone, and can often get a sense of whether you’re at risk through a simple neck exam. If you do have hypothyroidism, you can work with an endocrinologist to re-balance your hormones.
If you don’t suffer from any of these conditions, but still experience hormonal adult acne, consider seeing a holistic practitioner. Diet changes and herbal remedies may help bring your body back to internal balance.