Getting a handle on hormonal acne
Now you know why your Multani mitti facials don’t work
The lipstick effect used to be a great mood booster. All I needed was a dab of bright lipstick to unleash my inner Miranda Priestly. But this hack went kaput when I entered my mid-20s. My deep tints started calling more attention to the redness on my face, making people notice the deep-red zits on my jawline more than the Ruby Woo on my lips.
I tried everything — from applying dadi’s DIY neem and amla paste to slathering on papaya pulp. Every time I heard an influencer speak about a new acne treatment on Instagram, I ordered it that very second, looking for a shining beacon of hope.
Absolutely nothing worked. I had no idea whether my adult acne a result of stress, my diet, hormones, or my skincare routine(s) backfiring.
I finally visited a dermatologist who told me that I had a hormonal imbalance. Really? After spending a bomb on skincare products, this is what I get? Not fair.
“The first sign of hormonal acne is that this type of acne is most often very resistant to conventional treatments,” says Dr. T.N Rekha, Oliva Skin and Hair Clinic. For some people, Healthline reports, hormonal acne takes the form of blackheads, whiteheads, and small pimples that come to a head, or cysts.
Hormonal acne v/s run-of-the-mill bumps
While we outgrow the fantastic metabolism we had at 16, we never really leave behind those pesky pimples and zits. A telltale sign of hormonal acne is that it hits after you’ve entered your 20s. “Such acne outbreaks usually happen after 25, just when the regular pubertal acne stops. It occurs when the body produces excess androgens or when the existing androgens start exhibiting more activity even within normal limits” explains Rekha.
Higher insulin levels also contribute to acne by stimulating the oil (sebaceous) glands, making them secrete more sebum and delaying the shedding of dead skin cells. This can clog pores and multiply the number of bacteria already present in them, triggering acne formation.
“In case of standard acne you see the distribution all over the face, but hormonal acne is limited to the lower part of the face — especially the chin and jawline” explains Dr. Rekha.
Hormonal pimples also tend to pop up on the same site repeatedly, making them more inflammatory and chronic. A clinical approach that focuses on lifestyle and dietary changes, targeting the internal root cause, is more beneficial than topical treatments.
Keeping hormonal acne at bay: the expert way
Steer clear of those oil-control cleansers
“In acne-prone skin, the skin barrier function is often impaired. Over-washing the face strips the skin of its natural oils, leading to rebound oil secretion as the oil glands work to rectify it” explains Dr. Dilshad Shetty, Oliva Skin and Hair Clinic.
“Rather than going for strong glycolic or salicylic acid-based cleansers, people with hormonal acne should go for milder, gentler face washes,” recommends Rekha.
Gentle cleansers provide the right amount of hydration while safeguarding natural oils. “Most acne treatments tend to dry the skin, especially if used in combination with oil-free cleansers, so we try to maintain a balance giving a gentle, non-foaming cleanser” says Dr. Shetty.
Add non-comedogenic products to your routine
Think of clogged pores like your skin wearing the wrong bra size — it causes unnecessary discomfort and irritation. Just like your boobs feel trapped, dead skin cells also remain in the pores, resulting in acne.
Gel-based formulations are better suited to acne-prone skin as they are lighter than creamy formulations. Those with hormonal acne can also go for skincare products with lesser concentrations of alpha hydroxy acids like lactic acid. Niacinamide-based products can also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the skin, explains Rekha.
Look for non-comedogenic ingredients that aren’t likely to congest your pores.
Press pause on DIY skincare treatments
DIY treatments and home remedies offer good solutions for mild, pubertal acne. But in the case of hormonal acne, there is always an underlying cause at play, explains Rekha. There is a discrepancy that needs attention. So, your toothpastes, haldi and lemons will just irritate already inflamed skin. Once that latent cause is treated, the breakouts automatically come under control without the need to run your kitchen dry.
Seek a dermatologist’s opinion
Hormonal acne can be a sign of a hidden medical problem such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or thyroid. Menopause can also trigger hormonal acne due to an increase in testosterone levels. It’s always better to consult a dermatologist as they can provide accurate medication after conducting tests and scans to check any possibility of a disorder.
Add anti-acne superfoods to your diet
Those burning mini-volcanoes on your face need much more than just topical treatments to cool off. The man behind Bella Hadid’s gorgeousness, Dr. Charles Passler told Mind Body Green that filling 20% of your plate with bitter foods regularly can give you amazing benefits such as improved skin quality and reduced symptoms by balancing hormones.
“The Ayurvedic approach is all about adding bitter foods such as zucchini, olives, broccoli, raab, kale, fenugreek, and basil to your diet as they have antibiotic, anti-parasitic, and antiseptic qualities which can really help control hormonal acne. Moreover, the international diet plan is all about consuming foods rich in magnesium, zinc, vitamin B complex, and vitamin D,” recommends nutritionist Aakriti Arora.
Look out for superfoods such as spinach, dark chocolate, eggs, watermelon, chickpeas, and probiotic greek yoghurt, while scrolling through Zomato next time.
Follow this hack to curb PMS cravings
Ever felt like warm, chocolate-chip cookies are the only thing that can make all your problems go away? Yes, during PMS (and in life). We’ve all been there. Sugary foods can boost feelings of happiness in that moment, but the sad truth is that this comfort comes with a price that our skin has to pay. “Fluctuating blood sugar levels is the reason we crave sugar while menstruating” explains Arora.
Just like our mood, our skin also see-saws due to hormonal fluctuations, leading to increased oil production and acne flare-ups.“Period acne can be managed by avoiding natural and added sugar five days before the cycle and during the period. A great hack to control these cravings is to increase your protein, zinc, and magnesium intake that time,” recommends Arora.
Cut back on dairy
Milk and clear skin are like oil and water — they just don’t get along. The natural function of cows’ milk is to help their baby calves grow rapidly. “Both cow and buffalo milk are loaded with growth and reproductive hormones, triggering acne,” says Arora.
Milk holds high levels of androgens such as testosterone and IGF-1(Insulin Growth Factor), which are some of the key causal factors of acne. “Nowadays cows are also being injected with extra hormones to increase their milk production. Adulterated dairy is one of the main reasons why PCOD/PCOS has also become an undeclared pandemic now” she says.
Can’t have your chai without milk? Switch to a dairy-free alternative if you want to heal your hormonal acne.
“Lactose-free or plant-based milk are some better alternatives for those with acne-prone skin. Fortified plant-based milk is also rich in vitamin B and D, which are really beneficial for hormonal acne and people usually see a difference within the first week itself,” exclaims Arora.