How to know if your acne is hormonal

Hormones

If you’ve ever tried every trick under the sun to manage your acne but haven’t been able to find a good fix, then you’re definitely not alone.

Fact checked by Grzegorz Stanislawski, MD

System Akvile guide to post-pill acne

It can be super frustrating to try and figure out the root cause of your acne. After all, without a clear understanding of what’s causing it, how can you treat your skin?

There are so many different life factors that can affect your skin health and cause breakouts and blemishes, and hormonal acne can be one of the more confusing and difficult to treat.

Hormonal acne can be defined as breakouts of pimples, cysts, and other skin irritations due to fluctuations in the levels of certain hormones in your body, the most impactful of which are your levels of androgens. (1)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, we know you’re wondering what exactly hormonal acne looks like for you. We’ve put together a checklist to help you understand your acne’s causes, and how you can treat them.

If you find that one or more of these apply to you, then it might just be your hormones to blame.

Our Hormonal Acne Checklist

1) Your breakouts are happening only once a month (for the ladies)

If you notice that your breakouts are mainly occurring once a month, particularly right before your period, then your acne may be influenced by the hormonal changes that occur during your monthly cycle. Right before your period, your levels of estrogen and progesterone drop (2), sending a signal to your skin’s oil glands to produce more sebum and clog up your pores. This can be super frustrating, but one of the more easy cases of hormonal acne to identify.

How you can treat your period acne:

It’s best to consult your dermatologist first, but certain forms of oral birth control may help regulate your hormones throughout the month and prevent the dip associated with breakouts. For more in-depth info, check out our article on period acne where we go into detail on everything you need to know about its causes and how to treat it.

Want to learn more about how your period and cycle influence your acne? Check out our app to get personalized insights into your skin health through our cycle tracking system.

2) You’re going through puberty

If you’re in your teenage years (or even your early 20’s), then you’ve probably noticed that your body is going through all sorts of changes.

During puberty, androgen (the growth hormone) is flaring in your body. While this helps with all of the natural processes of growing into your adult body, it also has that awkward side effect of causing lots of unwanted blemishes. (3)

In fact, around 80% of teenagers and young adults deal with acne at some point, so it’s pretty much a near-universal experience.

How you can deal with acne in the teen years:

As always, a combination of approaches is best when dealing with acne, particularly when it comes to the somewhat unavoidable acne during puberty.

While topical treatments may be a good first step, if your acne keeps persisting it might be time to try oral hormonal therapies. (4)

3) Your pimples appear around specific parts of your face

If you’ve ever noticed your breakouts only really appearing on certain parts of your face and body, this can actually be a sign of hormonal acne.

Crazy right? But the science backs it up. Specifically, if you notice more blemishes concentrated around your lower jawline (4) and chin as this tends to be the area where many of your sebaceous glands are concentrated.

Face mapping is a useful technique that can help you to understand how exactly to diagnose and manage your breakouts based on their placement on your face. For example, more breakouts on the cheek areas can indicate a more bacterial cause, such as from rubbing against a pillowcase. (5)

Want to track your skin journey? Check out our face scanner to compare and contrast your skin’s condition and track your progress.

How to deal with acne on your jawline:

The usual combination of topical and oral treatments will be the best method to alleviate your symptoms of jawline acne.

While other forms of facial acne might have more simple fixes, like washing a pillowcase or swapping out hair products, hormonal acne unfortunately needs a bit more elbow grease to treat your symptoms effectively.

4) You’ve been dealing with stress

If you’ve been dealing with a lot of stress from work or school (or whatever life has been throwing at you) and you’ve noticed that your acne has been getting worse, then it’s a good chance that your hormones are affecting your skin.

Specifically, cortisol (the hormone responsible for stress) can influence your skin (6) enough to cause breakouts. In addition, your body is more likely to produce androgens (7) during stressful periods, which further contributes to increased skin irritation.

Seriously, when it rains it pours.

Read more about the effects of stress on acne.

How you can deal with stress-related acne:

If your breakouts are occurring because of stress, then it makes sense that lowering your stress levels would be the best way to manage your symptoms right? 

If you’re feeling overworked, or have other unavoidable factors in life that are stressing you out, it’s important to set aside some time to engage in de-stressing activities. One thing to remember is that there is no right way to de-stress!

Whether you prefer meditation and bubble baths, or metal music and concerts, any activity that helps you to relax and take a load off will effectively lower your levels of cortisol and return a healthy balance to your body and skin.

5) Your breakouts are painful

It turns out that the types of blemishes that occur as a result of hormonal acne can actually be a bit different than your regular breakouts. Hormonal acne tends to form a bit deeper in the skin in the form of cysts (8), rather than more surface blackheads or whiteheads.

How to deal with painful breakouts:

When it comes to deeper, more painful cystic acne, simple topical treatments will most likely not be strong enough to have a significant impact on your cysts and clear up your symptoms. In this case, prescribed oral treatments will be your best bet to get to the root of the underlying issue.

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
Personalized statistics

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. 

References:
  • Iftikhar U, Choudhry N. Serum levels of androgens in acne & their role in acne severity. Pak J Med Sci. 2019;35(1). doi:10.12669/pjms.35.1.131
  • Farage M, Neill S, MacLean A. Physiological Changes Associated with the Menstrual Cycle. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2009;64(1):58-72. doi:10.1097/ogx.0b013e3181932a37
  • Tom W, Barrio V. New insights into adolescent acne. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2008;20(4):436-440. doi:10.1097/mop.0b013e328305e273
  • Elsaie M. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2016;Volume 9:241-248. doi:10.2147/ccid.s114830
  • Bhadra P, Deb A. A Literature Review On acne Due to Hormonal Changes and Lifestyle. Research Gate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/ 342216449_A_Literature_Review_Onacne_ Due_to_Hormonal_Changes_ and_Lifestyle. Published 2022. Accessed February 21, 2022.
  • GOULDEN V, CLARK S, CUNLIFFE W. Post-adolescent acne: a review of clinical features. British Journal of Dermatology. 1997;136(1):66-70. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2133.1997.d01-1144.x
  • Deuter C, Duesenberg M, Hellmann-Regen J et al. Psychosocial stress increases testosterone in patients with borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and healthy participants. Borderline Personal Disord Emot Dysregul. 2021;8(1). doi:10.1186/s40479-021-00145-x
  • Marynick S, Chakmakjian Z, McCaffree D, Herndon J. Androgen Excess in Cystic Acne. New England Journal of Medicine. 1983;308(17):981-986. doi:10.1056/nejm198304283081701
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