Hormonal Breakout - What Is It?
This is part of our series on acne prone skin, for educational purposes. If you’ve missed our previous articles, you can find them here and here.
When I was going through puberty, I would get terrible acne outbreaks. I had many trips to the dermatologist to help figure out a treatment. One thing that helped pull me through these awful outbreaks was my mom telling me, "it will go away when you're an adult. Don't worry."
Unfortunately, my mom was wrong.
The Whos, Whats, Whys, and Wheres of Hormonal Breakouts
What is hormonal breakouts?
While my skin has gotten better as I got older, my breakouts have never completely gone away. As it turns out, I get hormonal breakout, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: breakout caused by fluctuations of hormones in the body.
The levels of sex hormones in our bodies, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, fluctuate all the time. However, when there is an imbalance in the body (such as when you're going through puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause) this balance of hormones can cause flare-ups (mots of the time around the chin area).
Who can get hormonal pimples?
The short, and unfortunate, answer is anyone. Hormonal pimples are usually thought of as a “teenager problem” because teenagers’ hormones are raging and changing as they go through puberty, which is a prime environment for acne outbreaks.
However, once out of puberty, women tend to suffer from hormonal breakouts & pimples more than men, due to the high fluctuations of hormones throughout a woman’s life and something called androgens.
So what are androgens?
Androgens are commonly thought of as the male sex hormone. Everyone has estrogen, progesterone, and androgens (testosterone) in their systems, but at different levels. These levels fluctuate throughout the month, especially for women in response to their menstrual cycles.
Androgens stimulate the production of sebum (skin oils), which plays a significant role in the formation of acne. Men's systems are used to androgens, as they are their main sex hormone. However, women's systems are not, and during their cycle the level of androgens increases, causing oilier skin and more acne breakouts due to the fact that their systems can't use it. Androgens find their way out of the body via acne.
This is part of why some women (like me) suffer from acne breakouts well into adulthood, usually around the time of their period.
Hormones in a woman’s body fluctuate regularly, usually around menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Hormonal breakout can appear during any of these times (which is why you might have noticed you break out more around the time of your period).
While these fluctuations are normal, that doesn’t make it any less annoying when your face starts breaking out!
While it is possible to have pimples and blemishes across your entire face, neck, chest, arms, and back, hormonal breakout has a few popular hang out spots that can be a sign that your breakout is a hormonal problem. Hormonal breakout in women outside of puberty usually appears on the lower jawline, cheeks, and chin. These pustules tend to be cystic in nature (find out more about cystic pimples here, tender, and painful to the touch.
Hormonal, cystic breakouts can often feel dry and even flakey on the top layers of skin, even though you’re able to feel the pustule underneath.
2-Ways To Rethink Your Routine
#1. It’s impossible to scrub or wash your hormonal pimples & blemishes away. Stop over-treating your skin.
Hormonal breakouts, pimples and blemishes are not due to any diet, oily skin, or being “dirty,” so let that lighten your load a little bit. Hormonal breakout is simply due to your hormones, so no amount of scrubbing your face can get rid of it (in fact, it may make it worse and more likely to scar).
Lighten up on your skin treatments when you have an outbreak, and treat your skin gently and with care. Over-treating your skin will just make it drier, and can even get rid of some of the healthy bacteria that your skin actually needs.
#2. Stick to your routine and prescribed medication (if you have one).
If you have some medication or a set routine that was recommended by your dermatologist, stick to it. You’re not doing yourself, your body, or your skin any favors if you don’t finish your medication or go against what your doctor said.
We’re creatures of habit, after all, so make your [prescribed] skin care routine a habit, and see if your skin responds. If it doesn’t, make sure to let your doctor know.
What can you do about it?
Make an appointment: And better sooner rather than later. If you seem to always have a breakout, or have been dealing with it for a long time, make an appointment with your dermatologist and ask them to test your hormone levels. They are trained to deal with these situations and can even prescribe you some medications (if necessary) to help handle your acne.
To sum up:
It's not just teenagers that suffer from hormonal breakouts, so you're definitely not the only one! Hormonal skin issues come from androgens, and women are more likely to have hormonal acne than men, as their systems don't need testosterone, which can trigger a hormonal acne outbreak. Hormonal breakout usually appears along the jawline, is cystic, and is tender to the touch. Outbreaks tend to occur when there are fluctuations in hormone levels, which for women is around the time of menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
Making an appointment with your dermatologist is the only way to tell for sure if you have hormonal acne, and it’s better to do that sooner rather than later.
Try not to over-treat your skin, as this can sometimes make acne worse, dry out your skin, or even get rid of helpful bacteria. If you were prescribed anything by your doctor, make sure to stick to that plan.