Almost all of us suffered through those awkward teenage years when we were plagued by acne. Whether it’s an occasional blemish or horrendous constant break-outs, having pimples is pretty much a right of passage that starts to clear as we get older—but unfortunately, not all of us grow out of breakouts. Yup, acne can become a persistent problem that only gets worse in adulthood.
Adult hormonal acne is one of the most frustrating things to deal with. How are you supposed to feel confident as an adult when your face is still acting like it’s going through puberty? And no matter what you do, you feel like nothing is working to give you the smooth, flawless complexion you’ve always wanted. We wish we could wave our magic wands and make all the acne in the world disappear, but unfortunately we can’t. What we can do, however, is provide you with a list 10 things to know about hormonal acne that could really help you out in the long run.
1. Adult hormonal acne is more common than you think
We normally associate acne with being a teenager, but research shows that over 50% of people in their twenties and 25% of people in their thirties suffer from acne. You’re not alone!
2. Hormonal acne is most prevalent around the chin, mouth, and jawline
Teenage acne tends to pop up in the T-zone area (forehead, nose and chin), but adult hormonal acne will almost look like a beard, appearing on the lower part of your face.
3. Male hormones are the problem
Androgens, which are male hormones found in both men and women, are a huge contributing factor to the presence of acne. With hormonal acne, androgen levels can be either elevated or normal, but in both cases they overstimulate the oil glands, therefore causing acne.
4. Painful, cystic bumps are normal
If you’re experiencing sensitive, almost cystic bumps, it’s probably hormonal. Hormonal acne tends to produce deep and painful pimples that don’t come to a head. It’s important to remember not to pick at these spots, as these are the most likely to leave a scar.
5. Topical treatments don’t work well
In some cases of hormonal acne, breakouts can be quite resistant to topical treatments. This is because the problem is coming from within your body, and not from what’s happening on the surface. In the cases where acne doesn’t respond to creams or face washes, it may be best to seek professional medical advice.
6. You can have your hormone levels checked
Hormonal testing can be done to specifically check for any hormonal imbalances that may be causing acne. Doctors will then be able to provide a more targeted treatment. This can be especially helpful for people with moderate to severe acne that is also accompanied by other hormone-related issues, such as weight gain and hair growth.
7. Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common cause
If you’re experiencing acne along with facial and body hair growth, irregular periods and trouble controlling weight, polycystic ovary syndrome may be the cause. PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that often causes small cysts to grow on your ovaries. In addition, it also results in a slew of other hormone-related problems. If the symptoms we mentioned sound familiar to you, it’s time to visit a doctor.
8. Oral contraceptives can help regulate your hormones
A common way to get hormones under control and to clear up acne is to go on the pill (Sorry, boys. This won’t work for you). By taking birth control, you are lowering the levels of testosterone in your body, which is what normally triggers oil production and causes acne. By lowering these levels, the amount of acne usually clears up, or is significantly reduced.
9. Spironolactone can help, as well
Spironolactone, or Aldactone, is a medication most commonly used for high-blood pressure but, when used in conjunction with oral contraceptives, is known for producing excellent acne-clearing results. This medicine is an anti-androgen, which means it blocks the androgens, or the male hormones, in our bodies. This, in turn, allows for less hormone fluctuations and less acne!
10. Your diet could be the issue
If absolutely nothing is working for you, then it may be what you’re eating that’s causing the problem.
For example, while not proven, there have been links connecting dairy consumption with acne, as dairy products contain hormones which can throw off our bodies. If possible, try eliminating certain foods for a while and see if it helps. It’s also important to remember to eat lots of vegetables and to stick to foods with a lower glycemic index.
Originally published March 2015. Updated August 2017.