Most women at some point in their lives will experience some form of hormonal acne. The spots that pop up just before your period, the painful cyst like pimples which form just under the skin, or the forever present ‘backne’ are all examples of hormone imbalance induced acne.
If you are lucky you will only experience these problems in early puberty as your hormones change or maybe during or after pregnancy, but what can you do when the acne lingers after these times?
The primary cause of acne is an increase in oil secretions. The pores become blocked by dead skin cells and then excess oil builds up forming a pimple - sometimes these pimples will become infected by bacteria naturally living on the skin producing a large red sore spot. An increase in oil (sebum) production is caused by an increase in androgens (a type of hormone). Testosterone is a type of androgen and is often elevated in women with; PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), insulin resistance, sub optimal thyroid function, and can be caused by some forms of birth control.
Another androgen, called DHEA-S, is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. When a person is under long term stress, the body makes excessive amounts of DHEA-S, and this can be a contributing factor in acne.
Several things can contribute to hormonal imbalances; poor diet, high-stress levels, and an overloaded liver. Diet goes a long way to ensure that you have healthy skin. If the body is not given the nutrients it needs it won't be able to make the right hormones or provide the skin with the nutrients it needs. A plant-based diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, and low in processed food is critical for healthy skin and all around well-being.
Stress has many impacts on the body, long-term stress has the ability to affect the types of hormones produced, and can change how well the body is able to repair itself.
The last and most common reason for unbalanced hormones is an overloaded liver. When the liver is busy detoxifying alcohol, caffeine, trans fats, and sugar; it is too busy to properly detoxify excess estrogen and testosterone. If a hormone can not be properly detoxified it is sent back into circulation, where it can initiate acne as well as a range of other problems.
Balancing hormones can be a tricky business as there are different types of hormone imbalances and causes, however, an experienced health practitioner can help you figure out a plan of action.
Here are a few things you can do to make a massive difference to your hormonal acne and overall health:
1. Drink lots of water, this helps to flush out the body and keep the skin hydrated.
2. Include flax meal each day. Flax seeds contain lignans which are a fibre-like substance found in plants. Lignans have the unique ability to decrease testosterone by boosting the production a chemical in your body called sex hormone binding globulin - which binds to testosterone making it inactive and unable to boost sebum production. Try adding 3 tablespoons of freshly ground flax meal to your smoothies, baking, or porridge each day.
3. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, and trans fats. This may seem a bit extreme, but these are all substances which take away from your health. All of these things need to be detoxified by the liver, and as I previously explained; when the liver becomes overloaded it recirculates estrogen and testosterone. The removal of all of these substances at once can be difficult as many people will notice cravings, headaches, and moodiness. However, once these substances have been removed you will notice a lift in the health of your skin, better sleep, more energy and all-around better moods. I suggest trying removing one problematic substance at a time.
4. Include a source of real food fat with each meal. Some people with acne often say to me “won't fat in my diet cause more oil on my skin?” - The answer is no. Your body needs fatty acids to build hormones, repair skin cells, and to reduce inflammation. Be sure to include only real food sources of fat: avocado, flax seed, chia seed, oily fish, organic butter, nuts, seeds, and cold pressed oils like coconut and olive oil.
5. Set yourself up with a good sleep routine. Sleep is critical for great hormone health if you don't sleep enough your body doesn't get the rest it needs in order to make and detoxify the hormones it needs to function optimally. Set up a routine and stick to it, read more about good sleep hygiene here.
6. Load up on your green vegetables, these are the plants which are packed with nutrients needed for healthy skin and overall health. Be sure to include Brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts) each day as these are helpful for helping the liver detoxify more effectively. You can also use liver supporting teas with ingredients like dandelion root and globe artichoke.
7. If you are struggling then please ask for help! You don't need to suffer from bad skin, get help from a qualified practitioner who can help you with diet, hormone balance, nutrient and/or herbal supplements. Omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, and hormone balancing herbs like chaste tree and broccoli extract can be of use when fixing problem skin, make sure you get good advice before taking these products.