9 Ways to Heal Hormonal Acne Naturally
While many articles discussing hormonal acne will list out all kinds of topical products or medications for treating acne, far fewer will explain some of the potential root causes and outline holistic solutions. While many doctors will immediately reach for their prescription pad and prescribe hormonal birth control (or worse, acutane) for acne, no medication exists that will address the root cause behind it, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a topical skincare treatment that fully resolves it either. And while for some women, hormonal birth control may improve acne, for many others, it makes it worse.
Today, we’ll dive into the potential reasons behind hormonal acne, as well as some tips for helping to resolve your acne (and the root cause) naturally. You know we’re all about holistic solutions here at Funk It!
What is hormonal acne?
Let’s get one thing straight. Hormonal acne isn’t normal, even if it’s common (that is often a standard refrain in the functional medicine world for a variety of common chronic issues - common does not mean normal). The occasional zit or breakout during your period or during a particularly stressful time is certainly normal, but painful and chronic cystic acne that originates from hormonal imbalances is far from it.
While hormonal acne is often on the face, it can also spread to the shoulders, back and butt, which can feel particularly embarrassing, especially during the summer months. Unlike other types of acne which may have a different root cause, hormonal acne is always caused by a hormone imbalance. It might be because of too much or too little estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone, but other hormones like DHEA and cortisol can also play a role.
When it comes to dealing with hormonal acne, one of the first things to do is figure out what’s causing the hormonal imbalance in the first place.
Root Causes of Hormonal Acne
This is where it can be particularly helpful to work with an integrative or functional medicine practitioner, since they’re able to do functional testing to figure out your unique root cause.
Digestive issues and leaky gut
It should be no surprise that imbalances in the gut, including leaky gut, top this list. GI issues can cause hormonal imbalances, and they can also be a sign of hormonal issues elsewhere in the body. This is in part because the digestive tract and the endocrine system, which creates and helps manage hormones, work together closely. Since your gut both helps to create and excrete hormones from the body, it’s often a key player in imbalances. For those with low hormone levels, it might be due to the fact that their unhealthy gut stops producing hormones. For those with hormone levels that are elevated, it could be because the gut isn’t properly excreting excess hormones. Hormones also control some gut functions, including peristalsis (TLDR - this is a movement that helps move food through your digestive tract), which is why some women might have symptoms like diarrhea or constipation during their period.
Post Birth Control Syndrome
Brought closer to the mainstream by functional medicine practitioners like Dr. Lara Briden and Dr. Jolene Brighten, Post Birth Control Syndrome often goes unrecognized by conventional practitioners. After getting off hormonal birth control, women can experience everything from acne, depression, anxiety, GI issues, hair loss, inflammation, and more. It only makes sense, since hormonal birth control often completely silences your natural hormones, and it can also lead to issues like leaky gut, imbalanced gut bacteria, nutrient deficiencies, and more. Read more about this issue here.
This is a really common issue for women. Androgens are often considered male hormones, though some level of them is essential for women, too. While there are many different androgens, the most recognizable among them is likely testosterone. One of the main symptoms of excess androgens is acne.
It’s important to get a handle on the problem of excess androgens since, left unchecked, they can cause larger issues down the road, including infertility, insulin resistance, and heart disease. Excess androgens are almost always common in another root cause of hormonal acne, PCOS.
We talk all about PCOS here! Many times, the excess androgens common in PCOS are what cause hormonal acne, but the elevated insulin and blood sugars are also sometimes to blame.
Treating Hormonal Acne Naturally
While many times it’s helpful to work with a provider for hormonal acne and hormonal imbalances, sometimes simple tweaks make a world of difference. We often forget that food really is medicine! We hope these tips for improving hormonal acne were helpful!
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Fill your plate with plenty of veggies, high-quality proteins (including wild-caught seafood and eggs), green tea, turmeric, and plenty of leafy greens. This also helps improve nutrient deficiencies, which are often an issue when it comes to acne (especially deficiencies in minerals like zinc and magnesium).
Evaluate your relationship with alcohol & added sugar
This was a game-changer for our founder! Both alcohol and added sugar can wreak havoc on blood sugar and cause other negative effects, so this one is worth considering if you find that you’re indulging in both a little too frequently or have an unhealthy reliance on them.
This is one of the main things that helped our founder, Kate, with her own hormonal acne. Seed cycling can help improve PCOS symptoms, may improve nutritional deficiencies, and helps balance hormones naturally.
Balance blood sugar
Especially if excess testosterone or other androgens is causing your acne, balancing your blood sugar is key! If you’re on a blood sugar roller coaster, your ovaries and adrenals will get the signal to create androgens, which makes the issue of acne that much worse. Reduce added sugar and simple carbohydrates, and pair the carbs you do eat with healthy fat and protein to blunt any blood sugar response.
Heal your gut.
Diet tweaks (detailed below!) will help here, but it’s also important to work on adding in foods and supplements that support a healthy gut. Bone broth, collagen, gelatin, glutamine, and soothing options like aloe and marshmallow root all help to soothe the gut lining. Eating prebiotic-rich foods (think lots of veggies!) and probiotic-rich foods like kefir, kombucha, and fermented veggies will help support your good gut bugs.
Probiotics, prebiotics, and digestive enzymes may help, but gut issues are sometimes caused by bigger issues, like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), bacterial dysbiosis, or parasites. It’s best to work with a functional medicine practitioner if the basics don’t help.
Certain supplements may help
Limit dairy and other potentially problematic foods, including gluten
This is another thing that was key for our founder. Dairy is often inflammatory because of the A1 casein found in Holstein cow milk. A2 casein, which is found in goat, sheep, and Jersey cows, often doesn’t cause the same inflammatory response.
Gluten can cause GI issues, including leaky gut, because of the impact it has on our intestinal lining.
And stress often sends us reaching for the refined carbohydrates and sugar - the very foods that send us on a blood sugar roller coaster and cause downstream issues! Manage your stress by making time for things you enjoy. This might be spending time with friends, using the sauna, getting a massage, reading, practicing meditation, or many other things.