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Acne is never fun, but hormonal acne is a special type of awful. Hormonal acne is another term for adult acne, which impacts an estimated 80% of the adult population at some point in their life. Most of those who experience hormonal acne are women. Simply put, if you have hormonal acne, you aren’t alone.
Like many types of acne and skin blemishes, hormonal acne is caused by the overproduction of sebum, according to the Cleveland Clinic. To have healthy skin, you need sebum. But an overproduction of the oily substance in skin glands can clog pores and cause pimples. What causes an overproduction of sebum? Most often, hormonal changes cause an excess of pore-clogging sebum, hence the term hormonal acne.
The bad news is hormonal acne is inevitable for some of us, like women with PCOS and trans men undergoing HRT. People using steroid medication and those discontinuing birth control are also highly likely to develop hormonal acne. Basically, any health-related shift in your hormones can trigger hormonal acne — and, yes, that includes your period.
“Some of the common clues to indicate adult hormonal acne is cystic acne along the jawline or chin area and acne that flares in sync with your menstrual period,” Dr. Jeremy Fenton of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City tells In The Know by Yahoo. “Unfortunately, it’s difficult to treat without oral medications.”
Although hormonal acne is hard to treat, there are some potential ways to lessen the symptoms and clear up your skin. And when you are in the midst of a flare-up, even the slightest solution is helpful. Here are the four best ways to treat hormonal acne, according to experts.
1. Try over-the-counter skincare products with acne-fighting ingredients.
If your first instinct upon seeing a breakout is to browse acne treatments, you’re not actually far off. Over-the-counter topical treatments are a great place to start when treating hormonal acne, according to Dr. Fenton. But you won’t want to just grab the first thing you see in the drugstore.
“When choosing topical treatments, stick with more gentle treatments,” Dr. Fenton says. “Women with adult female hormonal acne can cause their acne to flare if they are too aggressive with topicals. You can start with an over-the-counter acne wash or topical gel that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid. This will help remove the dead skin cells and clear out pores.”
Dr. Fenton often recommends Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash, which contains salicylic acid. The popular formula is gentle but exfoliating, helping to address hormonal acne effectively without irritating the skin.
Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash, $7.30
“If your skin can tolerate it, an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide gel or wash can also be helpful for its antibacterial properties,” Dr. Fenton adds. “You can also try the over-the-counter adapalene gel nightly.”
For these more aggressive treatments, Dr. Fenton recommends Differin Gel, an adapalene gel that is a topical retinoid treatment.
Differin Gel, $13.47
2. Make sure you are using a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
While many causes of hormonal acne are impossible to avoid, some skincare practices—like using a pore-clogging moisturizer—can worsen the condition. Sure, you’re likely not seeking a moisturizer that will clog your pores, but now is the time to research your go-to skincare.
“Stick with non-comedogenic moisturizers that are less likely to clog your pores,” Dr. Fenton advises.
One dermatologist-approved non-comedogenic moisturizer is Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion for Dry Skin, which is formulated for sensitive skin and contains hyaluronic acid.
Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion, $18.37
Another option is the Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Night Cream, which contains both glycolic and hyaluronic acids. The formula also promotes cell turnover, helping to even skin texture and reduce the appearance of acne scars.
Caudalíe Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Night Cream, $69
3. Talk to a dermatologist about prescription medication options.
If over-the-counter medications aren’t solving your skin woes, Dr. Fenton says topical prescription medications can also be helpful for hormonal acne woes.
“There is one medication, spironolactone, that does work very well for [hormonal acne],” Dr. Fenton says. Spironolactone is actually a high-blood pressure medication that can be prescribed off-label to treat hormonal acne.
Another popular prescription medication to treat hormonal acne? Birth control. According to The American Academy of Dermatology Association, the birth control pill “has been found effective at treating blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and acne nodules and cysts.”
4. Consider changing up your diet.
Even if you find a good topical or oral treatment option for your hormonal acne, the issue may not resolve entirely. Dr. Fenton says hormonal acne may be “more responsive to dietary changes,” like reducing dairy intake, eating less sugar and cutting out highly processed foods.
According to The American Academy of Dermatology Association, some evidence suggests that some dairy, particularly skim milk, may influence acne. Emerging data also suggests that “high glycemic index [GI] diets may be associated with acne,” the association says. High GI foods include white bread, potatoes, white rice and, yes, those highly processed foods.
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