The Role Of Hormones In Acne Formation
Acne may be known as hormonal acne because one major causative factor is the hormone testosterone.
Testosterone levels go up in the teenage years as part of puberty. This causes male development in boys and gives muscle and bone strength in girls.
The hormone also has the effect of increasing sebum production at the base of hairs. This is because the glands that secrete the oil are sensitive to testosterone.
Other hormones play a part in acne, too. For women, hormonal changes relating to pregnancy or the menstrual cycle can also trigger acne. Falling estrogen levels may increase the risk of acne around menopause.
Conditions that affect hormone levels, for example polycystic ovary syndrome
What Were Looking For
Active ingredients and their concentrations: When dealing with cystic acne, its important to know which active ingredients youre putting on your skin especially if youre already using a prescription acne treatment or tend to be sensitive to certain ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Weve listed the active ingredients in each recommended product as well as their concentrations when available. Another thing to know is that while high concentrations can sometimes translate to a more effective product, they can also lead to more irritation. In any case, before adding an active ingredient into your routine, you should patch-test it on a small area of your skin before slathering it all over.
Consistency: Acne-prone skin is particularly sensitive to thick, rich formulations because they can be pore-clogging and leave skin greasy. Our experts recommend opting for lightweight formulas, which hydrate and treat without sitting heavily on top of the skin.
Price: Cystic-acne treatments are available at just about every price point ranging from a pricey serum to an affordable light-therapy wand. Weve noted the cost per ounce for everything mentioned, so you can pick which products work best for your budget.
How To Clear Up Hormonal Acne With Clean Products
Every product is curated with care by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.
Slather on all the products if it makes you happy, but for most of us, a few well-formulated products are more than enough. During the healing process, I majorly paired back the products I was using and kept things simple for months. Thorough cleansing, moisture, consistency, and a little extra time have made a world of difference in clearing my skin. I honestly didnt need anything too crazy intense to clear things up. I started with what I had then slowly tweaked a couple products that werent working for me.
My core skincare routine includes one of each: an oil cleanser, gentle cleanser, toner, and moisturizer.
Here are the clean products that have worked well for my skin to soothe, clear, and hydrate without creating congestion and breakouts.
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Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Acne Kit 2% Salicylic Acid & 25% Benzoyl Peroxide For Facial Acne & Pores Redness Relief Packaging May Vary
- Paula’s Choice Skincare makes products that work. No fragrance, no parabens, no fluff. Just effective, science-backed formulas that target any concern from wrinkles to breakouts.
- EASY-TO-USE ACNE FIGHTING SYSTEM: This 3-step skin care system works quickly to combat and control stubborn acne, breakouts, blemishes, and blackheads – all without causing dryness or redness. Over time, it effectively unclogs & minimizes the look of pores while improving signs of sensitivity. PACKAGING MAY VARY.
- These lightweight formulas are gentle yet tough on breakouts, enlarged pores & acne. The work together to provide skin-perfecting, pore-clearing & hydrating benefits. Use as your morning and evening daily skincare routine to see & maintain best results. Always finish with SPF 30+ in the morning.
- Paula’s Choice CLEAR collection also includes our Ultra-Light Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 30+ for daytime, the CLEAR Oil-Free Moisturizer for weightless hydration, and the CLEAR Purifying Clay Mask to control excess shine & clogged pores.
- Paula’s Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Acne Kit contains 3 products: CLEAR Pore Normalizing Cleanser, CLEAR Regular Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% Salicylic Acid , and CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment with 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide. It’s suitable for normal, dry, oily & combination skin – including skin prone to cystic acne.
Cerave Hydrating Facial Cleanser
This is definitely one of the best face wash for hormonal acne. Cerave has several face wash products but this one stands out because of its potency against acne scars.
It is important to note that when dealing with acne scars, you need a mild and gentle product. Harsh products will only aggravate them which is not great for your skin. The Cerave Hydrating Facial Cleanser helps you get rid of acne scars without stripping your skin of its natural barrier.
It contains hyaluronic acid that ensures that your skin maintains its moisture. This way, your skin will heal faster and the scars can clear off. Also, your skin soon becomes supple and softer as you continue using this product.
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What Not To Do And What Not To Buy
While topical products may help to keep acne-prone skin healthy, Dr. Kluk is keen to stress that serums and skincare alone wont bring severe cystic acne under control. However, she does recommend sticking to a few skincare principles while on your path to clearer skin
- Never try to pick or squeeze cysts. This can lead to infection and increase the risks of scarring. Yes, we know its tempting, but you will not win.
- Dont attempt to scrub or exfoliate the skin. This can increase swelling and redness.
- Use a mild cleanser and moisturiser, and a sunscreen in the morning too. This may be all that is necessary whilst you complete your course of medication.
As Thomas adds, some products may actually contribute to the formation of blockages in the pores, ultimately exasperating your acne. She advises ditching the oils, balms and richer creams, looking instead for products both skincare and makeup marked non-comedogenic, . Also avoid overly drying products, she says. Drying out the surface will rarely affect a cyst, and really just causes more redness and irritation.
Best Serum For Hormonal Acne
Moisturizing your skin, even if its oily or acne-prone, is still an essential step for supporting your skin barrier and preventing irritation two very important things when it comes to treating hormonal breakouts so look for lightweight moisturizers that still provide essential hydration, like La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat. It contains salicylic acid and lipo-hydroxy acid, a salicylic acid derivative, to unclog pores perlite and silica to absorb oil and reduce shine soothing thermal spring water and the skin-conditioning humectant glycerin. All in all, this is a great daily moisturizer for oily, acne-prone skin.
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What Does Hormonal Acne Look Like
Hormonal acne is almost always cystic and inflammatory in nature, says Love. It presents with painful red papules, pustules, and deep cysts on the lower face, and it can create long-term scarring . At its mildest form, hormonal acne presents with a breakout or two near menstruation, but for many, it can persist all month long.
She explains that hormonal acne most commonly occurs on the lower face and body , but can also present between the brows.
Typical Acne Treatments Aren’t Working
Since hormonal acne can commonly be linked to underlying internal imbalances, there’s only so much you can do to treat it topically. Linkner says that in order to truly eradicate hormonal acne, oral medications are your best bet. “Isotretinoin, spironolactone, and oral contraceptive pills are the three most effective ways of treating hormonal acne,” Linkner advises. “Vitamin A resets the sebaceous oil production, spiro works on the sensitivity to testosterone at the cell receptors level, and OCPs balance the estrogen to progesterone in the blood,” she adds.
But just because topical treatments can’t clear hormonal acne with the same efficiency as prescription oral medications, that doesn’t mean there aren’t products that can help things along. Keep scrolling for the at-home skincare solutions Linkner recommends for those dealing with hormonal acne.
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How To Treat Cystic Acne
Standard acne treatments come in the form of creams, cleansers and gels that are available in your local drugstore. Since cystic acne is rooted deeper in the skin, you should start by seeing a dermatologist for treatment. Both dermatologists recommend seeing a professional as soon as possible to reduce risk of scarring and the acne worsening.
One of the first things your doctor will do with you is reset your skin care routine, especially if they recommend you use retinoids, Ibrahim told us. He said patients can use benzoyl peroxide products as a wash or leave-on product because its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and will help the retinoid work better for your skin. Of course, you must follow up with moisturizer and sunscreen because retinol can leave your skin more sensitive to the sun.
The one product you should skip? Toners.
If you actually use toners, sometimes it can over dry out the skin and when the skin is dried out, it reflexively produces more oil to protect itself because it feels that its dry so that can actually exacerbate acne, he said.
Apply A Retinol Product Before Bed
Before you go to bed, theres one last important step to achieving clear skin: smoothing on a retinol product. What is retinol? Its the over-the-counter version of the vitamin A derivative Retin-A, which reduces wrinkles and key for acne control unclogs pores. Retinol is a great multi-tasking acne treatment for adults, says Dr. Sobel. It helps speed up cell turnover and regeneration and exfoliates keratinocytes, the cells on the outermost layer of the skin. It also works to unclog pores and keep skin looking youthful while minimizing and preventing fine lines and wrinkles. Three to try: Differin Adapalene Gel, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel, and Sobel Skin 4.5% Retinol Complex Night Treatment. Dr. Sobel recommends starting off slowly with any retinol product. Try it one or two days a week to build up a tolerance and avoid irritation, he says. Gradually, move up to four time a week, and then daily if needed.
The bottom line:Be patient and consistent with your regimen and dont give up, Dr. Sobel adds. It takes time to clear and fade existing blemishes while preventing future breakouts. It wont happen overnight, but it will happen.
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The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
Best for: Anti-Inflammatory, Skin Lightening, Reducing Large Pores
If you are dealing with a combination of redness, acne, and oily skin, this product is an excellent choice. The high concentration of niacinamide works to reduce blemishes, calm irritated skin, and brighten skin tone. This formula also features zinc, which helps balance sebum production.
How to Use: Cleanse the skin. Gently massage a few drops over your entire face. It may be used in the morning and evening. If you use a vitamin C serum in your routine, alternate it with this product. The two products dont work well together, and can limit effectiveness.
Best ‘the Ordinary’ Products For Acne
The Ordinary has taken the skincare world by storm. At-home skincare experts and novices alike have flocked to the brand, mainly due to its low price point and simple, science-backed products. While the brand doesnt have the most extensive range of acne-targeting products, there are some great options for those dealing with acne.
Read on and discover the 5 best The Ordinary products for acne, as well as how to implement them into a skincare routine.
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How Can You Determine Which Treatment Is Best For You
Determining the best acne treatment for you depends on the type of acne and its severity.
The best way to determine the right acne treatment plan is to see a dermatology provider, explains , MD, a board certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. There are many different types of acne, and treatment regimens vary from person to person.
A dermatologist will closely examine your skin to see which of the different types of lesions appear:
- Mildnoninflammatory acne includes whiteheads and blackheads.
- Moderateinflammatory acne includes papules and pustules.
- Severe inflammatory acne includes nodules and cysts.
Noninflammatory acne can usually be cleared up with OTC products containing active ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, or prescription-strength topical retinoids.
Inflammatory acne requires topical or oral prescriptions from a dermatologist.
Though papules and pustules may clear up with OTC products alone, inflammatory acne is more likely to lead to scarring, so seeing a dermatologist is the best way to clear acne and prevent acne scars.
The acne treatments on this list are based on:
- recommendations from board certified dermatologists
- ingredients proven to be effective in treating acne
- customer reviews
- Type of acne: noninflammatory acne
- Pros: pro-aging and exfoliating benefits
- Cons: can lead to slight peeling
However, tretinoin can be used to treat all types of acne.
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen
What Are The Best Ingredients For Acne
The dermatologists we spoke to highlighted four key ingredients to help fight acne: salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, adapalene and azelaic acid. These are available as prescriptions for more stubborn acne, but there are plenty of over-the-counter products that offer these ingredients at a lower dosage.
Other acne-fighting ingredients found in OTC products include alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids . These compounds can help with clogged pores like blackheads and can cause the top layer of dead skin cells to shed, according to Dr. , a board-certified dermatologist and associate professor at NYU Langone Healths Department of Dermatology. However, experts agreed you should consult your dermatologist to see what works best for your skin and wont cause irritation .
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How Do I Get Rid Of Hormonal Acne
Listen, as someone who has been through almost all of the options for hormonal acne, Ill be honest with you: Youre going to have to see a dermatologist if youre dealing with cystic acne or inflammatory acne . No, dont freakits a good thing, because it means getting a treatment plan faster, which means less scarring and ~emotional damage~ for you.
If youre dealing with mild-to-moderate blackheads and whiteheads, you should see some success with at-home efforts, but if youre dealing with cystic acne, youll need to incorporate prescription medications . Think about it: Your entire genetic makeup is causing your hormonal acne, so its unrealistic to think some drugstore face wash or toner can have a huge impact, you know?
In fact, your risk of developing cystic acne only partially has to do with how you take care of your skin, says Dr. Gohara. But if youre here, youre probably desperatewhich, yup, I live thereso lets break down the at-home options and professional options :
What To Know When Buying Products For Acne
Experts told us acne-fighting products can be used every day salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and azelaic acid, for example, can be used both in the morning and at nighttime. Adapalene can be used during the day since its more stable than older retinoids, according to Bordone however, if you are going to get a lot of sun during the day, its better to use it at night since it can make your skin more sensitive to the suns UV rays. For those with sensitive skin, Bordone suggested using acne-fighting products every other day at first and patch-testing them to make sure theres no allergic reaction.
OTC products can help with mild to moderate acne, but they generally take regular daily use for three months to see results, Deignan said. It’s also safe to use all of the aforementioned acne-fighting ingredients together, but keep in mind that this can cause a lot of irritation and layering products on top of each other wont make them more effective, according to Graber.
The dermatologists we spoke to noted a few other considerations when using skin care products on acne-prone skin.
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Seek Help From Professionals
I love a good health puzzle and enjoy researching and educating myself on how to best care for my body. But sometimes, its so helpful to have professional help. This was definitely the case when trying to determine how to clear up hormonal acne.
So I went to the source and visited Dr. Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce. She recommended a couple of products that have given my skin the boost it needs. Additionally, she shared insight into breastfeeding-safe products and hormonal skin breakouts that helped piece together what was going on. .
Acupuncturist and facialist Brooke Taylor at The Road Acupuncture is the best for looking at the skin holistically. A combination of traditional and cosmetic-focused acupuncture, microcurrent, gua sha, and facial massage always left my skin glowing, and breakouts cleared at record speed after a facial treatment with her.
If extractions needed to happen, rather than taking matters into my own handsliterallyI made an appointment with a trusted facialist. Im not quite at the point of doing monthly facials, but am currently using them as a tool when my skin needs some extra TLC.
Image by Claire Huntsberger