As a 10-year-old girl I was warned that down the line I would be joining a club that every female joins at some point, and that every month thereafter I would have to suffer the cramps, chocolate cravings, and general feelings of bitchiness that come along with membership. As if those perks weren’t great enough on their own, I also get to enjoy the two to three ginormous pimples that accompany Aunt Flo. It doesn’t matter how good I am about my diet or keeping my stress levels under control. Hormonal acne still strikes every month.
And it’s not just me; I can spot a fellow PMS-er a mile away by the huge zit on her chin. You see, hormonal acne isn’t like all other types of acne. It’s often along the jawline, chin and neck and is usually cystic with big, red, painful bumps. It’s exactly these types of bumps that can’t be hidden, no matter how good your concealer is. So of course the one question that goes through my head as I dramatically look to the heavens is “Why?!”
How Hormonal Acne Works
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a New York dermatologist and Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, explains, “As hormones rise, they can stimulate oil production from the skin’s sebaceous glands. This translates into clogged pores and pimples.”
To unclog those pores, Dr. Josh and Board Certified Manhattan/New Jersey dermatologist Dr. Rebecca Baxt recommend starting with over-the-counter products that contain benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, like the Baxt Cosmedical Acne Kit ($50, cosmedical.com). If you don’t see these ingredients making much of a difference in your monthly flare ups, it might be time to consult with a dermatologist about prescription topical creams or antibiotics.
Rebecca also suggests birth control pills or spironolactone for controlling hormones in women. What about those of us who don’t want to step into pill territory? “I often use injections for the cysts, [or] creams, washes and chemical peels, and for some patients laser or light therapy.”
While the options are endless, my money is not, and shelling out cash once a month for these treatments seems a bit daunting. For me, birth control pills did keep my monthly breakouts at bay, but as soon as I stopped taking them, my not-so-little friends were back, which left me looking for another option.
Light At The End Of The Tunnel
Although I’ve tried a number of products with the derm-recommended benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, I wanted something that was specifically targeted toward hormonal acne. I found a hero of a product in Medik8 BetaGel ($80, aylabeauty.com). As soon as I started using the sample bottle I received, I noticed an immediate change in my skin. Not only did it take down my massive chin bumps, but it also cleared up the smaller spots that were elsewhere on my face. And here’s the highest compliment a beauty editor can give a product: Once my sample bottle was dry, I bought a new one.
I asked Dara Kennedy, founder of the online beauty boutique Ayla, about the product, since she’s the only US retailer who carries it. “BetaGel is particularly unique, because it calms skin quickly and reduces the discomfort often experienced when skin is stressed,” says Dara. “It also doesn’t dry skin like typical treatments for acne-prone skin.” Apparently it’s the combination of azelaic acid, salicylic acid and vitamin B3 that makes it such a keeper.
The Take Away
Pay attention to the ingredients in your zit-zapping products. They should include benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. If they don’t, try some that do, and watch how your skin reacts over the next couple of months. If your skin doesn’t submit to these ingredients, make an appointment with your local dermatologist. He or she will be able to walk you through other options you haven’t tried yet.