how to prevent and treat hormonal acne

It happens. Every. Single. Month.

My skin is clear and flawless for days but, as soon as my period hits, a party of pimples springs up all over my chin (because cramps and mood swings aren’t torture enough).

Every month, I hope it’s the last month. Every month, the pimples come back.

Well, until recently. I’ve made a couple of tweaks to my skincare routine and diet that seems to be keeping them away. Of course, I had to share them with you. 🙂

Here’s what I do to keep my hormonal acne at bay (and how to treat it if you already have it).

Why Do You Get Hormonal Acne During Your Period?

Because hormones hate you. They’ll take any chance they get to screw up your life.

Ok, maybe not. But that’s how it feels, isn’t it?

And those pesky hormones are indeed the culprit. Progesterone and estrogen, to be exact. These two are involved in your menstrual cycle and fluctuate throughout the month.

When you’re ovulating, estrogen is at its peak. That’s good. Estrogen = healthy, glowy skin. Estrogen gives your skin a beautiful radiant glow and, with the help of progesterone, keeps testosterone at bay.

But, once the ovulation phase is over, the levels of estrogen and progesterone dip way down. Without these soldiers blocking the way, testosterone has a field day.

Now high enough to wreak havoc, testosterone tells your skin cells to pump out that sebum like there’s no tomorrow. 

The extra sebum mixes with dead skin cells, clogging your pores and erupting in all kinds of acne: pimples, blackheads, whiteheads. You name it, it’s there.

By the time you period starts, acne has firmly set up camp on your face (it’s particularly fond of your chin). Ugh!

Related: Blackheads, Whiteheads And Pimples: What’s The Difference And How Do You Treat Them?

Looking for a cost-effective skincare routine that really works at treating acne? Download your FREE “The Ordinary Anti-Acne Skincare Routine” cheatsheet to get started:

How Do You Know If You’re Dealing With Hormonal Acne?

There are a few clues:

  • Breakouts occur during the same time every month (usually, just right before your period is about to start).
  • Breakouts spring up mainly on your chin and jawline.
  • Acne is the cystic type (hard, painful bumps).

If you’re nodding your head vigorously, you’re dealing with hormonal acne, gorgeous.

Related: How To Deal With Adult Acne

How To Prevent Hormonal Acne

There are a few things you can do:

1. Pop A Pill

Hormonal acne is why many doctors prescribe the pill to young women, even if they aren’t sexually active yet.

Birth control pills reduce the levels of testosterone in your body. Less testosterone = lower risk of breakouts.

I’m not on the pill. Personally, I don’t like to mess with hormones. Do it wrong and it can screw you right up. I prefer to find other ways to keep my acne under control. But if you’re on the pill and it’s working for you, that’s totally cool.  It’s all about finding what works for you.

P.S. I know I don’t need to say this, but if you’re thinking of going on the pill (even if just for your acne), consult your doctor.

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2. Exfoliate To Unclog Your Pores

All that excess sebum your skin produces right before your period gets easily trapped into your pores. Especially, if they’re already full of dead skin cells. The two mix together, clogging up your pores. The result? Breakout galore!

I exfoliate my skin three times a week with glycolic acid to slough off dead skin cells from my face. Plus, it hydrates and boosts collagen, keeping my skin firm and soft.

But, a week before my period is due, I switch to salicylic acid. Unlike glycolic acid, salicylic acid gets inside the pores, exfoliating them from within.

Salicylic acid cleans up the pores, allowing sebum to flow out freely. It keeps breakouts at bay and zaps the blemishes you already have.

I use this one every morning until the end of my period. If your skin is more sensitive than mine, try two or three times a week instead.

P.S. If you can only use one exfoliant, go with salicylic acid. Keeping those pores unclogged is your priority here.

Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Should You Use?

Best Picks:

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin

3. Soak Excess Sebum Up

My combo skin gets a little oilier on my t-zone, but it’s nothing a piece of blotting paper can’t fix.  Most of the time.

A week before my period, my skin is at its oiliest (thanks, testosterone!). That’s when I take out the big guns: clay masks.

Clays like kaolin and bentonite soak up excess oil so that it doesn’t get stuck into your pores. Bye bye, pimples!

Best Picks:

  • Clinique City Block Purifying Charcoal Clay Mask + Scrub ($28.00): available at Nordstrom and Sephora
  • Clinique Pore Refining Solutions Charcoal Mask ($27.00): available at Nordstrom and Sephora
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Absorbing Mask ($22.00): available at Paula’s Choice

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Bentonite In Skincare

4. Tweak Your Diet To Reduce Inflammation

I’m a sugar addict. I wish I could eat pizza and cake all day. Every day.

My body has other ideas. Sugar (by the way, carbs turn to sugar in the bloodstream) promotes inflammation. Inflammation is bad on so many levels. It’s what causes deadly diseases like cancer and Alzeheimer’s. It makes you age faster. And it increases your risk of breakouts.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s no way this Italian is ever gonna give up pizza for good (or cake, for that matter). But, I’ve seriously cut back on grains and sugar.

Instead, I’ve upped my fat intake. I’m eating more foods rich in omega-3, such as salmon, avocado and walnuts. I’ve added more probiotics, such as kefir and Greek yogurt. I have my fair share of vegs with every meal.

And, then, once in a while, I have a cheat day when I eat pizza at dinner and snack on chocolate. A healthy diet is about moderation, not deprivation.

Personally, I’ve found this has the biggest impact on my hormonal acne. It’s easy to eat a balanced diet at home, but when I travel, I cheat a little too often.

I don’t feel too guilty about it. In the grand scheme of things, eating more sugar for a week every few months won’t kill me. But, I find it makes pimples more prone to come back during that time of the month.

If I want clear skin, a low glycemic diet is the way to go.

Related: I Went On The Low Glycemic Diet And It Transformed My Skin

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How To Treat Hormonal Acne

Now you know my secrets to prevent hormonal acne. But what if you’re already dealing with it? Here are a couple of tips to help you:

1. Exfoliate With Salicylic Acid To Unclog Pores

I’ve talked about salicylic acid before so I won’t repeat myself here.

I’ll just say that your pores are all clogged up now. Salicylic acid frees them up from all the gunk inside, making those blemishes go away.

It works especially well with blackheads and whiteheads. Those clog up your entire pores. If you only remove the top part, it’ll only be a matter of time before they rear their ugly heads again.

Related: How To Treat Blackheads

zo skin health offects sulfur masque

2. Zap Those Pimples

If you’re dealing with pimples, there are a few things that can help. They all have one thing in common: they’re super harsh. Use them on pimples only!

Who are these pimple-fighters? Here are my faves:

Choose your poison!

P.S. I’m partial to sulfur. It works faster than anything else I’ve tried so far.

Best Picks:

Related: Is Sulfur An Effective Treatment For Acne?

The Bottom Line

Change your diet and tweak your skincare routine a week before your period and you’ll never have to deal with hormonal acne again!