Treating Hormonal Acne Naturally At The Root Cause
I suffered with acne for as long as I can remember, having PCOS an endocrine disorder, which messes with hormones and lyme disease which increases inflammation in the body is terrible combination for my skin.
Having incredibly painful acne I was often considering getting prescription medicine, such as accutane but the more I researched, I realized that the side effects are not something I wanted to risk. Accutane has been very successfully at treating nodular acne, but comes with a lot of side effects such as birth defects and fetal death, depression, psychosis, IBS, thinning of hair and menstrual irregularities. Acne is always an external sign for an internal problem. In order to treat it successfully, it is important to find the root cause. There are several common root causes for acne and inflammation, such as an hormonal imbalance, poor gut health, food intolerances and liver issues. In this post I will talk about acne caused by hormonal imbalances only.
Acne that is located primarily on the jaw line indicates a hormone issue. This type of acne usually gets worse around ovulation, periods, pregnancy and with child birth. In order to check for a hormonal imbalance it is best to visit an endocrinologist and ask for a hormone test. Depending on the country saliva hormone tests are also available online.
If acne is caused by a hormonal imbalance it is important to try and balance the hormones naturally. For females taking the birth control pill might be an easy solution, but it will also come with a lot of side effects and complications in the future.
Hormonal acne is caused by either an oestrogen dominance or an androgen dominance. In the following post I will first be talking about estrogen acne, and then about androgen acne, the causes for hormonal imbalances and ways to treat them.
I personally have an oestrogen dominance with a lack of progesterone, which causes my acne and also a histamine intolerance along with many other symptoms. Some of the symptoms of an oestrogen dominance are decreased libido, bloating, irregular periods, mood swings, cysts on the ovaries, acne, night sweats, hairloss, insomnia and fatigue. It is possible to have an oestrogen dominance even if the oestrogen is low, if the progesterone is even lower. It always depends on the ratio between estradiol and progesterone. I highly recommend this article, which explains how to calculate the ratio and identify an oestrogen dominance. In order to find out the exact hormone imbalance a blood or saliva test is required, which is usually done by endocrinologists.
Finding the root cause of the oestrogen dominance can be very difficult, for some it is a genetic defect such as PCOS, bad gut health, stress, a congested liver, nutrient deficiency or environmental endocrine disruptors. I have removed all endocrine disruptors also known as xenoestrogens from my life as much as possible which are mainly found in plastic, cleaning products and personal hygiene. I am trying to avoid an excess of phytoestrogens which are oestrogen-mimicing foods such as soy and flax seed.
A lot of women also experience this type of acne around menopause, when a woman stops ovulating. The lack of progesterone caused by adrenal glands that aren’t functioning properly causes an oestrogen dominance.
Vitex agnus castus also known as chaste tree or chaste berry is an herb that is commonly used in Europe to treat hormonal imbalances and menstrual pains. While this does not work for everyone, many women with PCOS – including me seem to have great success with it. I personally cannot recommend vitex enough to women who do not produce enough progesterone. Vitex supports the pituitary gland to produce progesterone and luteinizing hormones. This means that vitex helps to regulate menstrual cycles, induces ovulation and also relieves period pains. The supplement has been working very well for me for the past 7 years due to my low progesterone levels and taking vitex regulated my cycles completely. I take 1-1.5 grams of vitex a day throughout my whole cycle. Women without PCOS who are looking to relieve menstrual pain or menopause symptoms should take lower doses.Vitex is a completely natural supplement that is sold in pharmacies, however higher doses of vitex are available on iHerb in pill and liquid form. My personal favourite is sold on Amazon and is by Oregon’s Wild Harvest.
Maca powder is a nutrition packed superfood full of amino acids, B Vitamins, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium and many other minerals. The superfood is known to boost the libido in both men and women. Maca regulates oestrogen levels in women and helps inducing a period. Maca powder is available in powder and pill form. I usually take maca in pill form, but also have the powder at home for smoothies. It is recommended to supplement 1-20 grams daily. I order both the pills and powder from iHerb, it is also available on amazon.
Ceylon cinnamon is an herb that is filled with antioxidants and flavonoids. It is known to lower cholesterol, help with insulin resistance, improve blood sugar levels, digestion, and most the immune system. Ceylon cinnamon may help regulate menstrual cycles and lessen heavy bleeding through calming the uterus and closing the blood vessels. Cinnamon supplements should never be taken by women who have liver issues. For women with PCOS is important to get pure ceylon cinnamon, which is available on iHerb and amazon.
Ashwagandha is an herb that is known as Ayurvedic medicine. The supplement is used to improve PCOS symptoms such as depression, weight gain and infertility. Ashwagandha lowers cortisol (stress hormones) and testosterone, making it a great supplement for women with a testosterone dominance. Ashwagandha also boosts the metabolism which helps with improving insulin resistance. Ashwagandha pills are available on both iHerb and amazon. Another trick to keep cortisol levels low is to use a few drops of ashwagandha in liquid form in water, also available on iHerb and amazon.
Black Cohosh is an alternative to vitex agnus castus, commonly used in Europe. Many women who see no success with vitex, have had great success taking black cohosh. The supplement is used to to reduce inflammation, treat acne, and balance hormones. Black cohosh is available on iHerb and amazon.
The other type of hormonal acne caused by high testosterone, is called androgenic acne. This type of acne is mainly on the chin, nose, cheeks and comes with very oily skin. The excess oil is caused by imbalanced male growth hormones such as testosterone, DEA and DHT. The most common root cause for an androgen imbalance is an insulin resistance, which is very common in women with PCOS.
Stabilising blood sugar is the most important step when it comes to treating androgenic acne. When consuming sugar the pancreas secretes the hormone insulin which helps to metabolise the sugar. The more sugar is consumed the more insulin has to be produced which negatively effects the body’s overall functions. In order to stabilise blood sugar and treat an insulin resistance the diet is the most important part. Foods with a high glycemic index are processed foods and foods with refined sugar. Foods that have a low glycemic index are vegetables, legumes, sweet potato, wholegrain breads and cereals, certain fruits such as strawberries, cherries and grapefruit. Both fiber and fats slow down the glucose absorption by the body, which is why whole grain foods are always a healthier alternative.
Cutting out dairy is most likely the easiest way to increase chances of improvement with androgenic acne. Dairy products are filled with growth hormones which mimic insulin and have the same effect on the body as excess male hormones. Another reason why removing dairy might be beneficial is that the conventional dairy sold in supermarkets is from cows fed antibiotics, hormones and other unnatural foods which stress our digestive systems. When cutting out all dairy products for only two months an improvement should be seen.
Supplementing zinc along with biotin are often suggested to acne sufferers. Especially women with androgenic acne benefit from zinc supplementation. Having sufficient amounts of zinc helps the body with hormone regulation, a healthy immune system and proper insulin function. One of the indicators of low zinc are white spots on the nails. Specifically with acne it helps to bring vitamin A to the skin and supports the renewal of the skin which keeps pores from clogging. I have tried several different zinc supplements and I have stuck with Garden of Life’s raw zinc. This zinc supplement has the recommended dose of 30-45mg. Another supplement is zinc picolonate which is a very bioavailable form.
Saw Palmetto is a small palm tree that is native to the United States. The actual supplement comes from reddish berries that are grown on the palm tree. It is a very popular supplement for high testosterone, the natural herb inhibits the production of an enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT (an androgen). DHT is the hormone in your skin that stimulates hair growth. Saw Palmetto is very similar to the drug Spironolactone, it can especially help with androgenic acne. Saw palmetto is available on iHerb.
Spearmint tea is one of the most well known supplements for hirsutism that has been used in Middle Eastern countries for hundreds of years. It has anti-androgenic properties that reduce the level of free testosterone in the blood. Spearmint tea should not be confused with peppermint tea. A minimum of 2 cups should be consumed every day for several months. Organic spearmint tea is available on iHerb.
Inositol has been found to lower testosterone by improving the way that the body uses insulin and help women with fertility problems. It is a pseudo vitamin (often said to be a B vitamin) which is naturally found in animals and plants such as oranges and cantaloupes. There are nine different forms of inositol, however myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol have been most studied for women with PCOS. Apart from being beneficial for women with high testosterone, the supplement helps with blood circulation, promotes sleep, fights depression and improves weight loss. It is suggested to take 2000mg (up to 4 grams) of myo-inositol daily combined with 50mg of d-chiro-inositol. Although I do prefer the capsule version of most supplements, I do not mind the taste of inositol at all, as it turns out a lot cheaper to get the powdered version. I use the nowfoods brands for myo-inositol powder and order d-chiro-inositol on amazon (which is exactly 50mg per serving). A lot of women also use a supplement called ovasitol which is both inositol versions combined, however mixing them yourself is a lot cheaper.
Licorice also known as sweet root is a natural remedy that has been used for thousands of years. The root itself is 50 times sweeter than sugar and is commonly used to treat colds and liver diseases. It has anti-androgonic properties and helps to balance hormones by actively fighting environmental endocrine disruptors. Liquorice also works as an anti inflammatory, stimulates the adrenal glands and boosts the immune system. The superfood has also shown to improve liver help by detoxification, stabilising blood sugar levels and improving overall gut health. Powdered liquorice can also be used as a topical acne treatment. I like to drink licorice tea and taking liquorice root supplements in capsule form. Licorice can deplete the body of potassium, so it is important to combine the supplement with bananas, avocados or apricots and not supplement for more than 3 months at a time.
As always it is important to eat a balanced diet and to exercise regularly. Some women with a hormonal imbalance like to lift heavy weights, and others prefer to only do light exercise and go for a short work every day. In my experience it is important to be consistent. I also make sure to eat a diet high in fiber, because fiber helps to clear our excess oestrogen. I avoid all processed foods and industrial sugars, which put unnecessary stress on the digestive system.
I also change my pillow weekly and put a fresh towel on it before sleeping. I try to avoid stress and make sure to have some alone time where I paint or just do something else I enjoy. Stress is incredibly toxic to our bodies and while I know that there is no way to completely avoid stress, I do try to balance.
Acne is often caused by a combination of things, there is not one product that will fix everything or one tip that will definitely lead to success. All of our bodies are different, but with some experimenting not only the acne will improve, but also overall health.