Hormonal Acne Treatment That Doesn't Involve Birth Control

Tame hormonal acne with this dermatologist-approved treatment plan.

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Ever feel like you're 30 going on 13, thanks to your skin? Dealing with pimples as an adult is so not fair. Acne is a teenage problem after all, right?

Not necessarily: A study in the Journal of Women's Health revealed that 26% of participants in their 30s were battling breakouts. "It's very common for a woman to come to my office for an anti-aging procedure, then tear up, admitting that she's still struggling with acne," said Whitney Bowe, MD, a dermatologist in Briarcliff Manor, New York.

While bacteria (P. acnes) and inflammation are the two main culprits, acne is also influenced by hormones, Dr. Bowe explained. When androgen receptors are particularly sensitive, "these hormones can trigger excess oil production and cause skin cells to become sticky, leading to clogged pores and breakouts."

How can you tell if your acne is hormonal? According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, clues include breakouts primarily on your lower face (specifically, cysts along the jawline and even down the neck). A study from 2014 in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology also suggests that a majority of people with adult acne experience breakouts right before their period.

One common treatment for hormonal acne is the birth control pill. Those that contain both estrogen and progesterone lower the number of androgens your body produces, keeping blemishes at bay, according to a 2017 study in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology. But what if you're perfectly happy with your current type of birth control, or you just don't want to pop the pill?

Follow this multi-modal treatment plan, courtesy of Dr. Bowe, for clearer skin within three months.

Cleanse Mildly

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser twice a day to keep pores clear of dirt, oil, and makeup. One to try: Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser.

Treat Gently

Immediately after cleansing, apply a topical acne treatment. Dr. Bowe suggested Aczone, a prescription anti-inflammatory and antibacterial gel. Unlike benzoyl peroxide, which can be drying, Aczone contains dapsone, a gentle yet effective ingredient.

Moisturize Smartly

Use moisturizers that won't make acne worse. This includes products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic, meaning they've been formulated to not clog pores. One example is La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat. Apply moisturizer only to areas that tend to feel dry.

Get Good Bacteria

Take a probiotic supplement or eat yogurt with live, active cultures once a day. Probiotics work by helping your gut ease the inflammation that can trigger a host of skin problems, including acne, said Dr. Bowe.

Ask About Peels

Talk to a dermatologist about a series of chemical peels. Typically a gentle dose of alpha hydroxy acid, these treatments slough off the sticky, dead skin cells that can clog pores, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Tweak Your Diet

Eliminate dairy milk—especially skim, which may have more pimple-producing hormones, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA). A good-for-your-skin swap? Almond milk. Limiting your intake of high glycemic index foods like white bread, rice, and pasta may also reduce acne, the association reports, but it also notes that more research is needed to establish a link between acne and these foods.

Move More

Exercise boosts circulation, which can help dial down skin inflammation, Dr. Bowe said. Sweating can also unclog pores, reports Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

Stress Less

Practice methods of stress reduction, such as yoga, massage, and meditation. Stress has long been linked with acne, an association that a 2017 study in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology may have confirmed.

A Quick Review

You might think of acne as a teenager problem, but many adults have acne too. Hormones can play a big role in adult acne, especially for people whose androgen receptors trigger excess oil production, leading to clogged pores and breakouts on the neck and jawline.

For people who don't want to take birth control pills to keep blemishes at bay, dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe suggested a multi-modal treatment plan that includes washing your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser, applying a topical acne treatment after cleansing, and avoiding oil-free and non-comedogenic moisturizers. Diet changes, exercise, and stress reduction are also part of the plan.

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Sources
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  1. Perkins AC, Maglione J, Hillebrand GG, Miyamoto K, Kimball AB. Acne vulgaris in women: prevalence across the life span. Journal of Women’s Health. 2012;21(2):223-230.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Stubborn acne? hormonal therapy may help.

  3. Geller L, Rosen J, Frankel A, Goldenberg G. Perimenstrual flare of adult acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(8):30-34.

  4. Trivedi MK, Shinkai K, Murase JE. A Review of hormone-based therapies to treat adult acne vulgaris in women. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2017;3(1):44-52.

  5. Light chemical peel. American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

  6. Can the right diet get rid of acne?

  7. Can Exercising Help Improve My Acne? Hopkinsallchildrens.org. 

  8. Zari S, Alrahmani D. The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017;10:503-506.

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