For some women the cause of their acne is excess male hormones called androgens. All women have some androgens. It is an excess that can cause a problem.
Signs and symptoms of hormonal acne/PCOS
Some signs of hormonal acne, according to the National Institutes of Health include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Premenstrual acne flares
- Excessive growth of hair on the face or body (hirsutism)
- Elevated blood levels of certain androgens
There are times when a woman’s changing hormones can make her more likely to develop acne. Your period or menstrual cycle is one of the most common acne triggers. Pimples and blemishes tend to form a few days before the cycle begins and go away after the cycle is over. Other hormone changes, such as pregnancy and menopause, can impact acne. During perimenopause and after menopause, some women may experience an improvement in acne. But others may see their acne get worse. Stopping use of birth control pills can play a role as well.
Sometimes a woman’s ovaries are enlarged and contain many cysts. This is often the case with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that form on the ovaries when follicles that contain eggs have matured, but the eggs were never released. PCOS is a common syndrome that often begins in the teenage years and does not go away. The underlying cause of PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that results in an elevated levels of male hormones.
PCOS symptoms and tests
In addition to acne, irregular menstrual cycles, and excessive hair growth other symptoms of PCOS include infertility, thinning heair, weight gain and high blood pressure. Diagnosing PCOS involves getting detailed medical background about your menstrual cycle, hormonal medications you might be taking and any pregnancies. Blood tests can also be used to check your hormone levels, insulin and glucose levels, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Hormonal acne treatment
Hormonal acne requires certain types of medications. The doctor may prescribe one of several drugs:
- Birth control pills – to help suppress the androgen produced by the ovaries
- Low-dose corticosteroid drugs, such as prednisone (Deltasone) or dexamethasone (Decadron, Hexadrol) – to help suppress the androgen produced by the adrenal glands
- Antiandrogen drugs such as spironolactone (Aldactone) – to reduce the excessive oil production
Side effects of antiandrogen drugs may include irregular menstruation, tender breasts, headaches and fatigue.
If you have PCOS, diet may also be able to help. You may need to cut down on carbohydrates such as breads, cereals and pastas. Eating more fruits, whole grains and vegetables may be able to help regulate your insulin response. Exercise is also important because it helps the body use insulin better and can help you lose weight.
If you suspect PCOS, you should see your doctor. It’s also a good idea to get checked if someone in your family has PCOS, as this may be genetic.
About the Author
Jessica Houghton is a skincare specialist at B22 Health, where beauty experts and health professionals unite to discover the secrets to youthful, radiant, skin.