When hormones cause acne

Mothers and daughters often share many life experiences – both good and bad. Acne, caused by hormonal fluctuations, is a shared experience most younger and older women would rather not have – especially before a date or a special occasion.
Acne is, however, not something which disappears when adolescence is over. It can show up as whiteheads, blackheads, pimples or small cysts in women of any age. These are all the result of skin pores becoming partially or completely clogged up, and sometimes infected by bacteria. The skin-
coloured/red bumps that form when you have a pimple, are called comedones.
For years, people believed the myth that chocolate caused acne. While a healthy diet (as well as exercise) is good for your overall health and can reduce the incidence of inflammation in the body, scientists have never found any particular foodstuff to be the cause of acne.

So what is the role of hormones in causing acne, and what can mothers and daughters do about it?


The role of hormones
There is no single cause of acne, and it is linked to several things, such as excess oil production in the skin, clogged hair follicles, bacterial infection, and side effects of certain medications. Constant stress can also play a role.
But back to the hormonal causes. Most young and adult women have had the experience of a skin breakout when they are pre-menstrual. Why does this happen?


Pores and hair follicles in the skin contain what is called sebaceous (or oil) glands. These glands produce a sebum that lubricates your skin and your hair. Without these sebaceous glands, our skin would be dry and cracked, and we would age much faster. But this natural skin lubricant comes at
the price of a few pimples for most women.

The production of sebum is affected by hormonal changes, such as are seen during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy. In adolescence, hormone levels in a girl’s body can change dramatically. In the first half of a 28-day menstrual cycle, the predominant hormone is oestrogen, and in the second half
of the cycle it is progesterone, which stimulates the production of sebum.

Then just before the onset of the period, both of these hormonal levels drop. The male hormone, testosterone (yes, girls have a little bit of this too) stays at a constant level all month, so suddenly it finds itself in the top spot. And,
yes, you’ve guessed it – testosterone is also linked to the excess production of sebum, which, in turn can lead to the clogging of pores and hair follicles.

Hormonal acne in teens often appears on the nose, forehead and chin. In adult women, it tends to appear on the lower part of the face, such as the bottom of the cheeks and the jawline. While most girls and women have a few pimples now and then, hormonal acne can become severe, forming
deep red cysts under the skin, which could lead to scarring.

The treatment of hormonal acne
There are basically two ways of treating this condition: by means of topical skin care, and going onto prescription hormonal treatments. It is always advisable to see a doctor or a dermatologist if the problem is moderate to severe. Skin cleansing alone will make little difference to a severe case of
hormonal acne.


Topical skin care: This includes proper cleansing of the skin to remove excess sebum before it can clog the pores. Steaming your face can also help to unclog pores. Over-the-counter acne remedies often contain salicylic acid, which clears the pores and removes excess oil. Treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide remove excess oil and unclog the pores. It also dries out existing pimples and kills bacteria. It can go a long way to preventing new pimples or acne from forming. There are also
several other topical medications that your doctor or dermatologist could prescribe that are more powerful. Remember that these take time to work – don’t be impatient and expect overnight miracles.


Oral medication. All of these require a doctor’s prescription. They range from antibiotics that kill bacteria and reduce inflammation, to hormonal treatments, which include oral contraceptives (also known as “The Pill”). These work by regulating hormone levels with the aim of reducing the
production of sebum, thereby reducing the incidence of acne. For severe cases of cystic acne, retinoids can be used. They reduce oil production but can have serious side effects.


(Sources: National Institutes of Health, Healthline, Health24.com, National Health Service (UK),
webmd.com)

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