Female Hormones and Acne: A Definitive Guide
If you’ve ever asked yourself why your skin changes throughout the month, or why you get more pimples on your period, then you’re not alone.
Fact checked by Grzegorz Stanislawski, MD
Hormonal acne can be one of the more misunderstood and frustrating cases for people to treat, especially for women. Many believe that hormonal acne is resigned to the teenage years and all the big changes of puberty. However, our bodies are constantly shifting and growing, and hormonal changes will happen throughout your life.
In our previous article, we talked about the causes of hormonal acne overall, particularly about androgens, the “male” sex hormone, and how they influence your skin.
Now we’re going to look more in-depth at the “female” hormones of estrogen and progesterone. We’ll go over what they are, what they do, how the fluctuations of these hormones influence acne across your cycle, pregnancy, and menopause, and what you can do about it.
So, let’s get started!
What are hormones anyway?
Yes, they’re so much more than just mood changers. Hormones are essentially the chemical messengers of the body. The human body has over 50 different hormones as part of the endocrine system, and they are crucial actors in influencing your growth and development, metabolism, reproduction, and many more.
So...what makes hormones female or male?
Female hormones are those that are more prevalent in females and are crucial to female sexual development, the main two being estrogen and progesterone, each having complex and differing effects on your body.
While androgens are present in both males and females, female systems are not as well equipped to handle increased levels that occur during the menstrual cycle. This leads to oilier skin and more acne breakouts.
What are estrogen and progesterone?
Estrogen is a hormone that essentially tells a female body to develop with female secondary sex characteristics, including inducing breast growth, body hair, regulating the menstrual cycle, and more. Progesterone is more specifically involved in the process of regulating pregnancy and the menstrual cycle, particularly during the ovulation phase.
Both of these hormones together are vital players in keeping your reproductive system running on schedule, and their fluctuations throughout the month are completely natural and just a part of the process. However, our bodily systems are so interconnected that these fluctuations can have secondary effects that we might not like so much.
What is hormonal acne?
“Androgens are, without a doubt, the most important hormones controlling sebaceous gland activity. Acne is the classic androgen-mediated skin condition.” - Co-Founder Dr. Grzegorz Stanislawski.
While androgen increases have a more crucial impact on acne-causing oil production, natural dips in estrogen and progesterone production in the body have been linked to an increase in irritation and pimples on the skin.
This happens when excess production of sebum (an oily substance meant to lubricate your hair follicles) clogs up your oil glands and causes bumps and redness. If you’d like more details on just how exactly acne forms on your body, check out our article on acne-prone skin.
Why am I getting more acne before my period?
For adult women, these fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can have a strong influence on acne flare-ups. One study from 2014 found that a whopping 65% of women reported flare-ups right before their period, with just 17% reporting increased flare-ups during.
So, why is this happening at that stage specifically?
Well, right before your period starts is when your levels of estrogen and progesterone make a steep drop. This drop sends a signal to your oil glands to secrete additional sebum.
Want to learn more about how your period influences your acne? Check out our app to get personalized insights into your skin health through our cycle tracking system.
Birth control and Acne
A lot of women have noticed that their acne flare-ups have decreased or disappeared when going on the pill, but why is that the case? Contraceptive pills that are meant to prevent pregnancy can also have the effect of regulating your hormonal acne, as these pills work by introducing additional estrogen and progesterone into the body. The increased presence of these hormones prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg cell and makes changes to the lining of your uterus.
So essentially, the pill is regulating your hormones for you throughout your cycle, keeping them at a steady level and preventing the drop associated with stimulating that pesky excess sebum, makes sense right? That’s why certain forms of contraceptives are used to treat hormonal acne symptoms.
But for many, the pill isn’t a good option for a variety of reasons, and quitting the pill can end up creating a lot of unintended side effects regarding acne flare-ups. Our article on post-pill acne goes into more depth on the subject and what steps to take.
Acne while you’re pregnant
Many women experience more breakouts during the early phases of their pregnancies, with one study finding that 40% of pregnant women who visit a dermatologist present with acne symptoms. Rather than a drop in estrogen and progesterone, during pregnancy the main culprit is an increase in androgen levels during these phases that, you guessed it, stimulate the production of sebum.
Acne and menopause
Many women report an increase of acne flareups while going through menopause, the body’s end of menstruation. This is due to the same fluctuations that occur before your period, that drop in levels of estrogen and progesterone. This is a completely natural reaction and can be managed through medications.
How do I treat hormonal acne?
If this is all making you feel a bit hopeless to the waves of your hormones, don't worry! While hormonal acne can seem difficult to treat, there are many ways to help you manage your symptoms.
The best first step is always to get in touch with a dermatologist and work with them to figure out which solution is the best for you and your skin.
It can often take a combination of approaches to tackle your symptoms effectively, but having a consistent skincare routine is crucial.
Just remember, there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to managing your skin health. It’s your skin, and only you know how it feels best!
Arora MK, Yadav A, Saini V. Role of hormones in acne vulgaris. Clin Biochem. 2011 Sep;44(13):1035-1040. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2011.06.984. Epub 2011 Jul 6. PMID: 21763298.
Ju Q, Tao T, Hu T, Karadağ AS, Al-Khuzaei S, Chen W. Sex hormones and acne. Clin Dermatol. 2017 Mar-Apr;35(2):130-137. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2016.10.004. Epub 2016 Oct 27. PMID: 28274349.
System Akvile Skin Health Program
There's more to life than skincare, but tell that to anyone dealing with difficult acne prone skin!
We believe that everything has an impact on your skin's health. So, our app offers:
A 6-week skin health program designed by experts
A face scan to monitor your progress
Skincare and lifestyle tracking
We believe in demystifying skincare
There is no one-size fits all solution for acne prone skin: even though pimples form the same way every time, the factors that lead to breakouts are different for everyone.
We’re all about finding what works for you and helping you to exclude one possible trigger factor at a time. Download our app and start your journey with us, today.
Let's be friends!
Subscribe to our emails to get your hands on exclusive content, guides, and skincare wisdom!