What Constitutes Hormonal Acne?

Woman who has overcome hormonal acne

There are your run-of-the-mill whiteheads, blackheads, and small red bumps that can appear just about anywhere, at anytime. But if you notice the same grouping of painful, angry, red pimples appearing every single month no matter what you do (usually a week before your period starts), it’s likely you’ve got what experts call hormonal acne. “Any adult woman with acne, especially occurring in the lower 1/3 of the face, is likely suffering with hormonal breakouts,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Why hormonal acne happens 

“Hormonal acne is a broad term and refers to acne of any kind which is the result of hormonal imbalance, hormonal surges, or acne which is the result of taking a hormone- related medication,” says dermatologist Francesca Fusco, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. And this type of acne impacts more women than men because women’s hormones (namely estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) vary widely over the course of the month. When estrogen and testosterone levels rise, oil glands become stimulated and the skin cells that line your hair follicles get stickier, so they’re more likely to hang around and clog your pores. And it’s not just linked to PMS: Women entering perimenopause might also notice an increase in acne issues, thanks to fluctuating hormones as well. 

How to treat hormonal acne

Although hormonal acne appears different than other breakouts on the surface, it doesn’t really require a unique approach: “Whether acne is occurring in the lower 1/3 or throughout the entire face, we use the same tools to address the breakouts,” says Zeichner. That’s because the excess hormones are just stimulating your oil glands (it just so happens you’ve got a lot of them around your chin, which is why it’s a prime zone for hormonal acne breakouts). The result is clogged pores and inflamed skin, just like with other types of breakouts. But one thing you should keep in mind — it’s always important to take a gentle approach to acne, but especially as we age. A woman’s skin typically gets thinner and dryer the older she is, so the standard acne products (benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid) are often too harsh to handle (especially true if you’re heading into menopause). So opt for a routine that tackles inflammation, oil production, and bacteria with complexion-balancing oils and gentle exfoliation to manage breakouts without overly stripping skin. 

When to see a doctor 

Overall, hormonal acne is perfectly normal. But if you’re experiencing other symptoms along with the breakouts, it’s a good idea to see a professional. “In some cases, your dermatologist may check your hormone levels, especially if you have irregular periods or thick hair on the chin, sideburns, or chest,” Zeichner says. This could signal a more complex underlying issue that will take more than good skincare to solve.