Acne is a really common skin condition. Most people have it in a mild form, experiencing oily skin and occasional breakouts of spots on the face. For some people, though, acne is a more permanent condition and causes severe symptoms and complications like cysts and scarring.
It’s thought that in people with acne, the sebaceous glands (which create sebum to lubricate the skin) are abnormally sensitive to our hormones.
When there are hormonal changes in the body, this can trigger the sebaceous glands to produce too much sebum. This excess sebum blocks the hair follicles in our skin and combines with dead skin cells, causing spots to develop.
The relationship between hormones and the sebaceous glands is one reason why acne is so common in teenagers when they’re going through puberty. It’s also the reason why people sometimes talk about “hormonal acne”.
What is hormonal acne?
Hormonal acne isn’t a term used medically but some people find it useful when describing how acne affects them. Essentially, it’s used as a label for acne that seems to be directly triggered by a change in hormones, or by a condition that affects the hormones.
Who does hormonal acne affect?
During puberty, our bodies are flooded with hormones like testosterone and oestrogen. It’s thought that the sebaceous glands are particularly sensitive to these hormones, especially testosterone, and that increased levels lead to an overproduction of sebum.
Testosterone is typically linked to men, because it’s vital for male development, but it also plays a role in female puberty. This is why both boys and girls are affected by teenage acne.
Women having their period
Women who have regular periods might find that they have a breakout of spots or that their acne gets worse right before their period. This is thought to be caused by a drop in oestrogen during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle i.e. right before you have your period.
Lots of women experience a change in their skin during pregnancy. If you’re prone to acne, you might notice that your symptoms get more severe. Alternatively, you might experience breakouts of spots for the first time.
Acne during pregnancy is thought to be caused by changes to levels of oestrogen and progesterone. It’s especially common in the first trimester i.e. the first three months.
Women going through the menopause
As with periods and pregnancy, the hormonal changes associated with the menopause can cause acne. It’s also common for the skin to become more sensitive, and for existing conditions like eczema and rosacea to get worse.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects how the ovaries work. It can disrupt hormone levels in the body, and create an excess of male hormones known as androgens.
These unusual hormonal levels can trigger the sebaceous glands to make excess sebum, leading to oily skin and spots.
How to treat hormonal acne
How you manage your acne will depend on a few different factors, including how severe your symptoms are.
The good news is that there are lots of different treatment options available. For acne that’s only mild, or is caused by a temporary change in hormones, you should be able to manage with pharmacy treatments. Gels or creams containing benzoyl peroxide can be helpful as this is an antiseptic and an anti-inflammatory.
For more severe acne, it’s always worth speaking to your GP. They can prescribe medicines to put on your skin and take in tablet form. Prescription treatments include topical retinoids, tablet antibiotics, or you might be prescribed isotretinoin by a dermatologist.
If you’re a woman, you might benefit from taking the combined contraceptive pill or a hormonal treatment called co-cyprindiol. This works as a contraceptive, but should only be taken by women who need to treat their acne.
Get treatment with LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor
If you’re concerned about your acne and you don’t have time to visit your GP, visit our Acne clinic. We can safely supply prescription acne treatments through our secure online system.