Hormonal Acne: Stop the Breakouts Now

The monthly dread of hormonal acne – I know what that’s like!

But it’s not easy to get rid of, either. As you probably know, your hormonal acne has a vast array of potential causes.

This is why it can be so difficult to clear up!

For some people, simple dietary changes may clear up their skin (hooray!), but for others it can be a long an arduous journey, stumbling around in the dark with a lot of trial and error to achieve clear skin.

However, it doesn’t have to be a long struggle for clear skin if you can pinpoint the underlying triggers. Hormonal imbalances are a very common cause of acne, and I’m going to delve into this topic in detail so you can understand why this can occur, and how you can treat it!

Hormones are abundant in the body, constantly involved in complex and far-reaching processes. No hormone acts in isolation, so when one is out of balance, it will disrupt the whole endocrine system. This article will discuss hormonal imbalances related to pre-menstrual acne.

A brief overview of the menstrual cycle and its hormones.

In order to understand hormonal imbalance, it’s important to first know what hormonal balance is and what should occur ideally.

Your period is really a monthly report on your health, and if everything is in balance you should expect to have a normal length cycle, with little-to-no PMS symptoms and a painless period without heavy bleeding. You might be thinking ‘As if that actually exists?!’ right now, but unfortunately so many women experience hormonal imbalances, stress, nutritional deficiencies and general ill-health, that things like PMS and period pain have become the norm. PMS is common, but it’s not normal.

So, let’s get into it:

A menstrual cycle starts at the first day of your period bleed, right until the first day of your next period. A normal cycle length is anywhere between 23 and 35 days in length, and varies from woman to woman. Although the ‘text-book’ menstrual cycle is based on 28 days, this is not always the case. Anything outside this 23-35 day cycle length is considered abnormal and will most often indicate hormonal dysfunction somewhere along the line.

There are many hormones involved in regulating the menstrual cycle, but (so it doesn’t get too confusing!) the main ones are:

  • Estrogen
  • Progesterone
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
  • Testosterone and other androgens (Androstenedione, DHEA-s)

The purpose of the menstrual cycle is ovulation (the release of an egg), so a baby can be made! If fertilization of an egg occurs, the above hormones kick in to promote all the necessary requirements for a healthy pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, after ovulation the uterus lining will shed (your period bleed), to make way for a new ‘spritzed-up’ uterine lining for next ovulation (the body is always hoping!).

Ovulation is meant to occur smack-bang in the middle of your menstrual cycle- at text-book day 14 if you have a 28 day cycle. You will generally get your period 14 days after ovulation, so if your menstrual cycle is 25 days, you may ovulate on day 11.

Ovulation divides the menstrual cycle into 2 phases: the first phase is when estrogen is the star, and the second phase focuses on progesterone. Progesterone is mostly secreted from the ovarian follicle after ovulation (a tiny bit is secreted from your adrenal glands), which develops into a sac called the corpus luteum.

Therefore, in order to have adequate levels of progesterone you need to have ovulated.

This is central to the discussion of hormonal balance, because many women don’t ovulate every menstrual cycle due to stress, illness and nutritional inadequacies. Estrogen and progesterone like to work together in balance, and the ratio between the levels of these hormones is extremely important. Estrogen is ‘proliferative’, meaning it promotes cells growth (things like breast and hip development in puberty), and promotes smooth, plump skin, healthy bones and arteries. Progesterone is ‘secretory’, meaning that it promotes vascular development and the maintenance of the uterine lining after ovulation.

Hormonal imbalance can occur when:

  • Estrogen levels are high, and progesterone is normal
  • Estrogen levels are high and progesterone is low
  • Estrogen levels are normal and progesterone levels are low

Pre-Menstrual Acne and Estrogen

Pre-menstrual acne can occur anywhere in the 1-2 weeks before your period. This acne is related to the hormonal fluctuations of a woman’s menstrual cycle, and involves the hormones estrogen, progesterone and the androgens.

After ovulation, in the second part of the menstrual cycle the amount of hormones increases, because we now have estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen will naturally start to decline now while progesterone begins to rise. But how do estrogen levels drop?

Too high or too little estrogen can cause disruption to the menstrual cycle, and can impact progesterone levels by impairing ovulation. So, we want estrogen to be at just the right amount- not too high and not too low. Estrogen is broken down (metabolized) through the liver and eliminated via the kidneys and intestines (in your pee and poop). If estrogen is not metabolized properly, then the levels build and build which can result in estrogen excess. Too much estrogen, and certain metabolites of estrogen can cause inflammation. This is where high estrogen levels can trigger pre-menstrual acne.

The cause? Too much re-circulating estrogen and/or not enough good liver detoxification going on.

Pre-Menstrual acne is a sign that your liver needs some love!

Higher amounts of hormones place a greater burden on the liver’s detoxification pathways. Don’t forget, the liver has to metabolize every single substance that enters our bodies- food, environmental toxins, metabolic waste products, red blood cells and much more. It also metabolizes our hormones, especially estrogen (and all the estrogen metabolites).

Signs your liver needs some support

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Constipation
  • Acne
  • Eczema
  • Irritability
  • PMS
  • Nausea and indigestion
  • Sinus congestion (sinusitis, rhinitis)
  • Allergies
  • Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome

How can you support your liver and make sure you’re excreting excess hormones?

  • Make sure you’re pooping at least once per day. If you’re bowels are congested, this increases your overall toxic load, which has to get processed in the liver.
  • Eat enough fibre- we require at least 30 grams per day, and many of us reach about half of this. Fibre binds to metabolized hormones and cholesterol (in bile) and moves them out of the body via the intestines. Up your intake of veggies, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and gluten-free grains.
  • Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, which are broken down to indole-3-carbinol. This compound support the detoxification of estrogens. So eat more broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale every day.
  • Eat bitter foods- bitter greens like rocket (arugula), endive and bitter lettuces stimulate the production of digestive secretions, such a bile in the liver. Bile contains metabolized hormones and waste products, so we want to make sure it leaves the body so the liver can continually process new fresh bile.
  • Include rosemary and turmeric in your diet as much as possible. These reduce inflammation in the liver and support detoxification pathways.
  • Make sure you’re don’t have hidden food intolerances. These will cause inflammation in the GIT and place an extra burden on your liver.
  • Balance your gut bugs! Your microbiota (intestinal bacteria) also play a large role in metabolizing estrogens. Consume fermented foods with each meal: yogurts, kefir, sauerkraut, fermented veggies and kombucha, and feed your bugs with probiotic fibres: green bananas, cold potatoes, wholegrains, legumes, fruits and veggies.

Pre-Menstrual Acne and Progesterone

If your progesterone levels are out of balance this can also lead to hormonal acne, as well as many other symptoms related to PMS and infertility. Adequate progesterone levels have been shown to block the activity of DHT, the most potent of androgens, that is present in the skin and contributes to the formation of acne.

As we discussed earlier, progesterone is mainly produced once ovulation has occurred. The egg is released from a structure called the follicle, and once ovulation has occurred, the follicle forms the ‘corpus luteum’, which is a secretory endocrine structure that produces most of our progesterone.

Progesterone and estrogen work in a balanced ratio, and when this occurs there will be no PMS symptoms and fertility will be optimal. Issues arise when a woman fails to ovulate (progesterone is not produced), or her body does not have the requirements to maintain the corpus luteum adequately, and therefore her progesterone levels are insufficient.

Reasons why women fail to ovulate:

  • High estrogen levels block the hormonal cascade that triggers ovulation
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Nutritional insufficiency
  • Low body fat percentage
  • Stress
  • Ovarian failure and menopause

Reasons why women may have corpus luteum insufficiency and produce inadequate progesterone:

  • Insufficient nutrients require to maintain the corpus luteum and produce hormones
  • Stress
  • Inflammation

So, how can these issues be addressed to ensure we make and maintain progesterone?

  • Ensure your nutritional needs are being met. The corpus luteum requires sufficient levels of magnesium, zinc, iron, B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C and iron (for a start). We also need fats to make our hormones, so it is vital to include healthy fats in your diet.
  • Manage your stress! Stress responses burns through nutrients faster than anything else, so if you are chronically stressed you will be depriving your reproductive system of the nutrients it needs to perform. Stress also inhibits the HPO axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis). The hypothalamus (a master control centre in your brain) needs to be convinced that you are safe and nourished in order for you to reproduce (which is the ultimate function of your reproductive system). If it thinks you are in danger (any type of chronic stress will trigger this-emotional, physical or nutritional depletion) it will shut down your reproductive capacity because it is not essential for survival. This is an old, primitive response and still governs hormonal balance.
  • Address disease states like insulin resistance and PCOS. PCOS is a complex condition which I will discuss in further detail in another post. There are many forms of PCOS, making it a complex condition to treat. Acne associated with insulin resistance and PCOS will primary be due to impaired glucose metabolism, so this is the key area to address. Insulin promotes androgen production, which is a driving factor in the production of acne. Basic but effective strategies to combat this include eliminating all refined and added sugar from your diet, and eating more protein, fats and complex carbohydrates. Supplementing with chromium, magnesium and B vitamins will also support proper glucose metabolism and insulin function.

So, to summarize the main points involved in reducing cycle-related hormonal acne:

  • Ensure your hormones are balanced
  • Ensure your liver is functioning well so adequate detoxification can occur
  • Make sure you move your bowels at least once per day
  • Ensure your blood sugar and insulin levels are balanced (quit the sugar!)
  • Ensure your nutritional status is optimal
  • Manage your stress (easier said than done, we know!)
  • For details on how to do all this, check out our comprehensive program on how to fix the root causes of your acne with diet and lifestyle changes. Read more here.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Sources (click to expand)

{ 16 Comments }

  1. stef says

    PLEASE READ FIBER MENACE!!!! or search in google Gute sense.org!! fiber (indigestible carbs) is probably not really good for you in high amounts!!!

    • Devin Mooers says

      I’m curious about this – I read this book a few years back and it seemed to really make (gut) sense, but I’ve found my body really craves grains at times, which I satisfy by making sourdough einkorn and rye bread. Definitely lots of fiber in there. I do find that generally, my gut does better when I lots of raw dairy fats and raw meat in my diet. Hmm… I don’t at all have clarity on the fiber issue, welcome other comments/perspectives.

  2. Heather says

    Thank you so much for this article. I struggle terribly with hormonal acne. It all appears along the jawline a few days before my period and then again right around ovulation. I have PCOS, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, though I do get regular periods and seem to be ovulating (according to my OBGYN). I bleed very very heavily. I am trying to figure out what my trigger is, and if it’s the estrogen/progesterone balance–and if so, what is out of whack? When I was nursing my baby I did NOT get any acne. It was amazing… ??? Would love to hear any ideas you have about what could be causing this and how to get rid of it.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Heather! Sorry for the terrible delay on this, I’ve been busy with other parts of CSF and have neglected to check blog comments in a long time. My fault! Have you looked into supplementing iodine at all? Do you know if you’re drinking fluoridated water, using fluoride toothpaste, or have other sources of fluoride exposure? PCOS and Hashimoto’s sound like iodine deficiency problems to me.

      Were you taking any supplements while nursing, that you’re not taking now? Or eating any differently?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donne! Looks like pretty good stuff, though I’m generally a fan of eating whole cooked vegetables instead of powders. Sauteeing half a bunch of kale will give you a lot more nutrients that that, and doesn’t require a factory to produce, supporting local farmers instead! That said, I’m not dogmatic about this – for instance, I’m currently taking 1 TBS of moringa leaf powder daily to detox fluoride. I try to get as much of my nutrition from whole foods as possible, though!

  3. Orsi says

    Hello CSF Team,

    Greetings from Budapest, Hungary! I really love your page, it helped me a lot to improve my acne with just using Vitamin D and avoiding dairy products.

    But unfortunately, I am still struggling with hormonal acne and I would like to ask your kind advice/opinion in this story. Somehow, I am working the other way around as my hormonal acne occurs in the 1-2 weeks AFTER my period. Basically, I have post-menstrual acne 😊 (Means that from the first day of my period bleed I always suffer from acne for approximately 2 weeks.) Then in 1-2 weeks before my next period my skin gets nice smooth and clear again.

    So, what do you think? Does this make sense? Can we figure out from this story which hormones are high or low in my body and how can I cure it?

    Thank you for your kind reply in advance!
    Orsi

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Orsi! Thanks for sharing your story here! No idea what the actual mechanism would be here. Can you share your current diet, supplement routine, what things you drink, and what your skin care routine is like? That might help give me some clues! I’m guessing there’s something in here that’s out of whack, a more upstream / root cause, that would be more effective to intervene in, rather than trying to back-figure-out what to try based on your opposite symptoms here! 🙂

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Ally! Turmeric can certainly help reduce inflammation and chelate excess iron, so in that sense, it can be helpful for acne. I’d make sure whatever supplement you get also has black pepper (or piperine, which is a black pepper extract) in it. This helps enhance the absorption of curcumin by something like 10x!

      That said, I don’t think only taking a turmeric supplement will clear up acne for most people if you’re still doing things like eating A1 dairy, drinking fluoridated water, eating modern fortified wheat, not getting enough vitamin A/C/E, not enough zinc, magnesium, etc. – there are so many players involved in acne! Turmeric can help, for sure, but usually isn’t the be-all, end-all solution. Have to take a multifactorial diet overhaul approach, usually, and add in a few key supplements where necessary to prop up / restore nutrient levels lost due to soil depletion, nutrient-depleted diets, and so on. (This is what our book talks all about, by the way.) Does this help?

  4. Jelena Savicic says

    Hi, I love your blog! I have acne around my jawline and chin, i am 25 years old and i have slightly Polycystic Ovaries. I have started with clean eating and taking zinc, probiotic supplements and ad vitamins, but I was wondering what do you think about DIM or Vitex supplement? I have heard that it could be good for reducing androgen hormones?

    thank you!! 🙂

      • Devin Mooers says

        Sorry, no experience with berberine either! Again, I don’t think it’s necessary – I take a pretty minimal approach with supplements, usually only targeting specific vitamins and minerals that tend to be deficient, and focusing on getting most of nutrition from whole foods. 🙂

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Jelena! Welcome!! I don’t have any personal experience with DIM or Vitex, and have never recommended them to CSF readers. Don’t think it’s necessary, IMO. Can you be more specific about what foods you’re eating now? Are you drinking tap water? Do you know if it’s fluoridated? Have you tried supplementing any kelp or iodine?

      • Jelena says

        I eat fruits and vegetables, beet, carrots, lettuce, kale, eggs and small amount of meat- chicken, fish, seeds, kefir, and a little healthier versions of flour… I do not have a problam with weight, so I eat a lot.
        I am drinking tap water and do not take kelp or iodine… how do you think it is connected?
        Thank you so much for replying!

        • Devin Mooers says

          What do you mean by “a little healthier versions of flour”? Can you be more specific?

          Most tap water has fluoride added (in the US at least), and fluoride is a HUGE hidden acne trigger. It messes with vitamin A in your skin, and triggers lipid peroxidation, which are likely why it tends to cause acne (among several other reasons). It’s an excellent idea to switch to a fluoride-free source of drinking water, like spring water, or just get a specific fluoride-removal water filter (not Brita-style, those don’t remove fluoride).

          To remove fluoride from your body, you can take iodine. Kelp contains tons of iodine. I recommend working up slowly, over a couple months, to 3-6 kelp capsules a day (Nature’s Way or NOW are good brands). Taking kelp like this can start purging stored fluoride from your body, which can cause transient acne breakouts – but this is a GOOD thing. Annoying but good, and eventually they will stop coming back as you get rid of the bulk of that fluoride in your body. (Bromide also causes some similar problems to fluoride, and is pushed out by iodine.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Need to get rid of acne ASAP?

Get instant access to our comprehensive guide to getting rid of acne permanently, through intelligent diet and lifestyle changes. Learn how to get clear skin ASAP, by getting a copy of our e-book.

Get our complete solution