Alright, guys. Today’s post is quite long and not glamorous by any means. But the truth of the matter is, my skin is more of a struggle now than ever before. And I’ve heard it’s a very common thing for women my age (late twenties, early thirties).
In my search for clear skin, I’ve been told it’s simply adult acne, product sensitivity, or even “not cleaning my skin well”. And while there might be validity in some of those, the real truth behind my breakouts is hormones. That’s right, good ol’ hormonal acne.
“Put simply, this happens because of the drop in estrogen that starts around ovulation and dips right before the period, says dermatologist Dr. Estee Williams. “When estrogen levels drop, the normal balance between estrogen and testosterone (pro-acne) is thrown off; in becoming relatively less estrogenic, we are by default more androgenic (testosterone) and acne-prone.”
Here’s the thing — when I was 16, I struggled with typical breakouts. Nothing too terrible and easily could be managed with monthly trips to the dermatologist and some acne cream. Fast forward to my 20s, my skin was great. A few bumps here and there, but for the most part, it wasn’t bad. Now, as I have entered my 30s, I am truly experiencing breakouts like I have never seen on my skin before. Painful cysts and texture all along my cheeks and jawline. I’ll even have a few pop up on my neck. My first thought was my hair is causing this, but after further investigation and trial and error, that didn’t seem to be the problem. I went to my dermatologist and esthetician puzzled and willing to do whatever it takes to manage these breakouts.
After talking with some of the most respected dermatologists and estheticians in the field, we finally came up with a plan to manage the hormonal breakouts and a few tips to help prevent them from getting worse. Here’s what we came up with:
According to Renee Rouleau’s lead esthetician (and my personal favorite), Shelby Vermillion, diet can absolutely play a role in hormonal acne. “Many people have an intolerance to dairy products which will result in hormonal acne, Shelby says. The other main culprits can be gluten, soy, corn and peas. However, it could be all of these or none of the above. I always recommend getting a food sensitivity panel to pinpoint which foods could be causing your breakouts as sometimes it’s super random stuff like a banana or cashews etc.” I personally have not had a chance to get a food sensitivity panel done yet, but I do take note when I eat dairy or junk food. I almost always have a breakout the next day.
2. HANDS OFF
My dermatologist’s number one advice for me was to stop touching my face. Although touching your face doesn’t cause hormonal breakouts, it can definitely contribute to the product. Especially if you are like me and tend to rest your chin in the palm of your hand while at your desk. I know, so gross but I am proud to say that I rarely touch my face. Also, make sure you are cleaning your cell phone, pillowcases, and towels as often as possible. I’m going to try to start washing my pillow cases every time I do a load of laundry to see if that helps.
This isn’t necessarily a rule that’s new by any means, but I’ve been told that cleansing at this stage is one of the most important things you can do for clear skin. Even more so than some products! I’ve always been good about washing my face before bed, but now I’m sure to really let things soak in and get all makeup, pollution, etc. off before drying. Also, make sure to wash the neck/jaw area since this is where so much buildup happens and hormonal breakouts occur.
My dermatologist told me to stick with a gel cleanser that is mild and gentle. I love this one by CeraVe or the TULA Purifying Face Cleanser (20% off all TULA with code ASHLEYR) — both are gentle and ideal for sensitive skin. Using this spin brush from Vanity Planet has also helped a ton. It gets my skin squeaky clean and is under $40. Double cleansing can also help, and I’m working on a post specifically on that coming in the next month.
Some of the best topical treatments for hormonal breakouts include ingredients like AHAs, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. The TULA Acne Clearing Gel (20% off with code ASHLEYR) contains 2% salicylic acid and azelaic acid to clear up acne, prevent breakouts & brighten marks left by past acne. I’ve also been using this mask by LEROSETT. Full disclosure, it smells terrible — but it works.
I also find that a little bit of witch hazel can be sanitizing AND soothing. I’ve also heard amazing things about this affordable product for spot treatment. My motto has always been “clearing but non-drying” when it comes to breakouts and these ingredients fit the bill.
5. CLEAN BEAUTY
I’ve heard over and over the effects of clean (or non-toxic) skincare and makeup, and have been experimenting with some of these brands for a while now (like Tapa Harper and Herbivore). You can see a recent review over some of the clean beauty products I’ve tried in this post. Clean beauty is said to be great for overall skincare because it contains less harsh ingredients that can sometimes irritate skin and is usually a lighter formula. But it also doesn’t contain some of the chemicals, etc. that are known to get rid of acne.
Overall, I’ve been using more and more clean products because I like the simplicity of it and that toxins are taken out. One of the best clean skincare products I’ve heard of for hormonal acne is Herbivore’s Lapis Facial Oil. I’m definitely going to give this a shot soon.
6. REGULAR FACIALS
One other way to treat hormonal acne is by getting regular facials. I’ve been told once a month is ideal but even a handful a year should help clear things up. As Shelby notes, “I really love peels for hormonal breakouts as they can go deeper and clean out the skin, especially the stuff found more underground. I typically do not choose a microderm treatment if there is a lot of active breakouts as it could spread bacteria or further irritate the blemishes. Both of these treatments are great for post-breakout marks though.” She also recommends asking your esthetician about “high frequency and blue light. I’ve seen larger cystic and pustule ones go away within 24-48 hours with these modalities.” I use this at-home acne clearing blue light — which is under $25. It doesn’t work overnight, but if you use it diligently for 2 days, I’ve noticed it significantly shrinks cystic acne.
Overall, I think a combination of this list can truly help. I’ve also heard about certain medications, though I’m not at a point where I want to go that route. So far, being more diligent and tweaking my skincare to focus on this hormonal stage has been really helpful. I hope these ideas are useful if you’re struggling with it too because it’s no fun right?
Let me know if you have anything else that’s helped you!