As people who are really passionate about skin care, it’s natural that the more we learn about it, the more questions we have! In Skin Care FAQ, our new ongoing series, we’ll be taking every week one of the top-searched skin care questions and bringing it to top dermatologists, aestheticians, and skin care specialists to give you the most complete and accurate answer. This week’s theme is: How do you treat hormonal acne?
There are two kinds of pimples: There are the ones that show up and look really unsightly but don’t really hurt that much and tend to go away in a few days. Then there are the ones that aren’t that visible but feel like a super sore volcano is about to erupt inside of your face. The latter is what we like to call hormonal acne. And it can be a real b*tch.
How To Identify Hormonal Acne
Before we get started on how to get rid of hormonal pimples, you need to understand what kind of acne it is. You may have noticed that you start getting these painful zits at the same time every month. That’s no coincidence. Hormonal acne often occurs right before you get your period. “The reason that this happens is that hormonal fluctuations stimulate your oil glands to go into overdrive,” says Joshua Zeichner, the director of clinical and cosmetic dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. “More oil means more shine on the skin, more blockages of your pores, and more food to feed acne, causing bacteria on the skin.” Hormonal acne is directly related to a woman’s androgen levels. “Women can have normal levels but still get hormonal acne that flares close to the time of their period (usually starting the week before), which clears significantly once their cycle ends,” says Kavita Mariwalla, a dermatologist in West Islip, New York.
How To Treat Hormonal Acne
So, there may be no way to completely prevent hormonal acne from happening, but there are some things you can do when you feel the pain coming on. One of the best things you can do is be on the birth control pill. “The pill works to control hormone levels and ease the cystic acne that occurs along the jawline, which is classic of hormonal acne,” says Mariwalla. She also suggests using a mask with salicylic acid a week before you get your period to help quell the risk of hormonal acne popping up. The Neogen Blemish Soothing & Sebum Controlling Mask is a good call here. Not only does this mask include salicylic acid, it also contains herbal extracts to help sooth redness (which often accompanies hormonal acne). Zeicher likes Neutrogena’s Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-on Mask, too.
Once the acne is there, there is one major rule you need to follow (even though it’s so hard): Never, ever, attempt to pop a hormonal pimple. That’s because they are really cysts that live deep down in your skin. “If you try to pop it, it will often lead to scarring,” says Mariwalla. Instead, treat the acne with a bevy of products that have salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tea tree oil. “Products with salicylic acid work by removing excess oil from the skin and helping to exfoliate dead cells from the skin surface, and this ultimately keeps your pores clear,” says Zeichner. “Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria, which promote inflammation and leads to breakouts.” Zeichner’s favorite products are the Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser and the La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo.
Hormonal Acne and Sensitive Skin
If you’re starting to feel like there’s no hope because you have sensitive skin and over the counter products with salicylic acid dry out and irritate your skin, don’t fret. Keep in mind that salicylic acid is a BHA, meaning it’s a beta hydroxy acid, which is an organic acid. And the good news is that salicylic acid can be found in a bunch of natural ingredients. “Willow bark extract is a natural form of salicylic acid and can be found in some botanical acne treatments,” says Zeichner. In fact, one of our favorite natural acne treatments is the COSRX One Step Pimple Clear Pads, which is infused with willow bark water and betaine salicylate, another natural ingredient that contains salicylic acid to gently unclog your pores. And although it may not be as strong as other ingredients, Zeichner says that tea tree oil could assist in quelling inflamed cysts—plus, it is a much more gentle ingredient. Try Skinfood’s Tea Tree Bubble Cleansing Foam and Neogen’s Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Green Tea. Also, Zeichner says you don’t have to constantly use these sometimes harsh acids. “Start to rev up your skin care regimen in the week or two before do you expect to get your period,” he adds.
Finally, you could also give supplements and vitamins a try. “DHA omega-3 supplements could help hormonal acne, as can an acne vitamin called Nicazel,” says Mariwalla. DHA omega-3 supplements are simply fish oil and there has been some evidence that they work to lower inflammation. Nicazel is a dietary supplement full of natural ingredients, including copper, zinc, vitamin B6, and folic acid.