Here’s What You Can Do About Hormonal Acne

Hormonal fluctuations or imbalance can cause overproduction of oil in your skin leading to hormonal acne. Fortunately, there are natural solutions you can try.

Woman touches her chin with hormonal acne lesions.

Hormonal acne is caused by excessive oil production in your skin caused by hormonal fluctuations. It leads to bacterial infection and inflammation in the form of lesions, papules, or pustules more commonly known as acne or pimples. Many of us have experienced teenage acne and have thought of it as part of puberty. It can be disconcerting when we still have acne as adults. 

Some dermatologists point out that those with hormonal acne may find that pimples tend to appear around the jawline. However, like regular acne, hormonal acne may also be found on the neck, back, shoulders, and chest. Some of these may be whiteheads or blackheads, and others may be more pimply in appearance (papules and pustules). In severe cases, they could even be cysts.

Why Do Some People Get Hormonal Acne?

Woman sleeping soundly in her bed
Poor and insufficient quality sleep can cause imbalances that lead to symptoms including hormonal acne.

Imbalances in hormones can lead to hormonal acne, making your sebaceous glands produce too much oil. This clogs your pores and creates a “friendly” environment for bacteria to thrive.

Hormonal acne tends to affect women more than men, as women go through hormonal changes quite often. This occurs with hormonal changes during a menstrual cycle, pregnancy, when taking hormonal birth control, menopause, and hormone-related diseases like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

One trigger for hormonal acne is an increase in androgen, which is a male sex hormone called testosterone, to the point where it triggers too much sebum in skin glands. It can lead to clogged pores and infection, followed by inflammation. Increased progesterone during different phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle may also lead to clogged pores. Some experts think it could be due to the hormone’s ability to raise body temperature, leading to excessive sweating that clogs pores. This causes acne before and during a period.

While androgenic hormones generally are stable in menopausal women, reduced levels of oestrogen can create an imbalance, leading to hormonal acne.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), certain lifestyle factors are seen as the culprit that accumulate pathogens and instigate the inflammatory condition we know as hormonal acne.

Real Health Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew explains that there are several factors that can cause hormonal acne. These include work stress, poor work-life balance, inadequate rest, poor emotional and mental management, unhealthy dietary and other lifestyle habits.

Yang Excess or Yin Deficient body constitutions can cause the formation and accumulation of pathogens like Fire, Dampness, Phlegm, Stagnant Qi, and blood clots within the superficial meridian channels of the skin,” he explains.

“The Lungs are also affected since the skin is closely related. Other organs affected are the Liver, Heart, Spleen, Stomach, small and large Intestines and Kidneys. It’s especially apparent in both the Liver and Kidneys as they are primarily involved in hormonal production, secretion, and functions.” 

Natural Solutions for Hormonal Acne 

With our busy lives in the modern era, hormonal balance tends to be an exception rather than the norm. Hormonal imbalances or fluctuations often stem from a lack of proper rest, inadequate nutrition, and too much stress on the body.

There are dermatological interventions such as retinoids, antibacterial creams, and even synthetic hormonal treatment for hormonal acne. However, these may come with side effects ranging from mild to severe ones.

Here are some natural solutions that you can consider to nourish your skin: 

Topical prevention of bacterial growth  

At the superficial level, you can start by making sure you maintain skin hygiene, but without stripping your skin in a way that damages the skin barrier. Make sure your face towels, makeup brushes, and cosmetics don’t become breeding grounds for bacteria. Consider washing towels and brushes weekly and discarding used makeup every six months.

Instead of harsh moisture-stripping toners and cleansers, opt for skincare made from natural ingredients such as lemon juice, green tea, and banana peel, especially for oily skin. Don’t overdo it, however. The goal here is to keep the skin environment in balance to make it inhospitable to bacteria.

Loquat fruits and leaves on a loquat tree.
Loquat leaves (pi pa ye, 枇杷叶) are used in Chinese herbal medicine to help combat acne.

Re-balance stress, sleep, and diet 

Too much stress, low-quality sleep, and poor diet can throw your body off balance, which is critical to your body’s optimal and proper workings. While addressing these factors might not seem to directly affect the skin, they are in fact integral to helping your body rebalance itself, and healthy skin is often a result. 

Research in numerous countries has also shown that a low-glycaemic diet leads to less prevalence of acne. For example, in the United States, a study involving 2,258 patients placed on a low-glycaemic diet for the purpose of weight loss discovered that 87% of patients had less acne by the end of the study. The researchers believe that a high sugar diet rampant in society today contributes to inflammation in the body caused by spikes in blood sugar levels, including inflammation that leads to hormonal acne.

While it is still unclear how, some research has also shown that cow’s milk or dairy products may increase or worsen acne. In a Malaysian study, 88 patients recorded their food consumption in a food diary for three days. The researchers found an association between acne and high consumption of cow’s milk and high-glycaemic foods that they didn’t see in patients without acne.

Woman touches her chin with hormonal acne lesions.
If your body is off-balance due to stress, a low-quality diet and lack of sleep, it could result in hormonal acne.

The TCM Approach to Hormonal Acne 

“TCM can help with hormonal acne through herbal medication, acupuncture, cupping, bloodletting, gua sha (scraping) and tuina. These are formulated carefully by a TCM physician to specifically address every individual’s unique body constitution. It’s best to consult a TCM physician for proper assessment,” advises Physician Yew.

There are several herbal formulas that have been efficient in reducing regular and hormonal acne. This is because holistic medicine addresses the body as a whole. It tackles the root cause of the imbalance rather than superficially treating the symptoms.

One such well-known formula is Pi pa qing fei yin (枇杷清肺饮), whose Lung Heat-clearing main ingredient is loquat leaves (pi pa ye, 枇杷叶). In TCM, it clears Heat from the Lungs to stop coughs, and soothes the Stomach to relieve nausea.

Modern pharmacological studies show that the triterpenoids in the leaves have protective effects on the skin. It inhibits melanogenesis, bacterial growth, and promotes collagen production. 

Acupressure at Home

At home, you can try TCM acupressure self-massage using your fingers or a blunt object such as a massage stick.

Physician Yew suggests these acupoints to ease symptoms of hormonal acne:

  • Qu chi (LI11, 曲池): Dispels Fire and Dampness
  • Chi ze (LU5, 尺泽): Dispels Fire and Dampness
  • He gu (LI4, 合谷): Dispels Fire, Dampness, Phlegm and Stagnated Qi
  • Nei guan (PC6, 內关): Rids the body of Fire, Phlegm, Stagnated Qi and blood clots
  • Zhong wan (RN12, 中脘): Rids the body of Fire, Dampness, Phlegm and Stagnated Qi
  • Xue hai (SP10, 血海): Rids the body of Fire, Dampness, and blood clots
  • Yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉): Removes Dampness and Phlegm
  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里): Removes Dampness, Phlegm and Stagnated Qi
  • Tai xi (KI3, 太溪): Removes Fire and regenerates yin (passive energy) to nourish Kidneys
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太沖): Dispels Fire, Stagnated Qi and blood clots; regenerates blood to nourish Liver

The therapeutic effect from massaging acupoints is usually mild and temporary in nature, and it’s best to follow this up with a visit to your TCM physician for further evaluation and treatment.

Hormonal acne when you’re an adult is a different challenge than when you were a teenager. While over-the-counter medicines can help with some of the symptoms, natural remedies and holistic approaches tend to be more long-lasting in their benefits, with less side effects.

References

  1. myHEALTH – Ministry of Health, Malaysia. 2015. Causes of Acne. [Accessed 20 May 2022]. 
  2. Tufts Medical Center. Adult Acne 101.  [Accessed 20 May 2022]. 
  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Can the right diet get rid of acne?  [Accessed 20 May 2022]. 
  4. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Hormonal Acne. [Accessed 20 May 2022]. 
  5. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2017. The Potential of Triterpenoids from Loquat Leaves (Eriobotrya japonica) for Prevention and Treatment of Skin Disorder.  [Accessed 20 May 2022]. 
  6. Flo.Health. 2021. Hormonal Acne: Causes, Types, and Treatments. [Accessed 20 May 2022]. 
  7. Anas Brasileiros de Dermatologia. 2019. Adult female acne: a guide to clinical practice.  [Accessed 20 May 2022]. 

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