Ever hear “it’s just hormonal” when the acne topic arises? Yeah.. that doesn’t really explain anything. It implies that there isn’t much hope to fix the situation, and that the frustration won’t end anytime soon. This is not usually the case! At San Diego Acne Clinic we have worked with thousands of women and compiled a list of hormonal acne triggers that will rock your world and give you some clarity on next steps to take control of your skin. This article is to shed some light on dietary and lifestyle factors that impact our hormones and cause hormonal breakouts.These triggers are extremely common and thankfully, very avoidable.
So, what causes hormonal acne? Here are the top 6 triggers in order of severity:
Number 1. The hormonal IUD. Specifically the Mirena & Skyla versions are widely known for their acne-causing ways. These little devices are great at preventing pregnancy but they rely on progesterone-like hormones and can wreak havoc on once-clear skin. Sometimes we even see the breakouts spread to the neck & chest, depending on the patent. The Paraguard (copper/ non-hormonal IUD) is the least severe but many still cause flare ups. The Depo Provera & implant-based birth controls (like Nexplanon) are also NOT recommended for acne, so we recommend avoiding those. In our experience, the best birth controls for helping with acne are: Yaz, TriSprintek, Ortho Tri-Cyclen (regular), and Femynor.
You should note that there are other side effects when taking any hormonal birth control and we do not recommend going on birth control just to help with acne.
Here are some other other birth controls that usually aggravate acne due their higher progestin content. (Progestin is the synthetic form of progesterone and causes similar effects). Those pills are: Lo Loestrin FEOrtho-Tri Cyclen- Lo, Tri-Lo Sprintek, basically any with the word “Lo”).
Number 2: Vitamin D supplements. Yes WE KNOW this is controversial but we 100% stand by this. Why?? Vitamin D supplements almost always add TOO MUCH of it. Around 250-550%, which is 2.5 X – 5.5X what you are supposed to consume in a day. That’s not even counting what you get naturally. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Vitamin D were water-soluble, but it’s not. It’s fat soluble which means it stores up in your body to excessive levels. Excess of Vitamin D leads to increased testosterone, which is a strong acne-trigger, especially around the mouth. This technically is hormonal acne- but it’s caused by a vitamin. Check your nutrition labels for Vitamin D levels. If you are breaking out around your mouth and your multi has more than 100% RDA of Vitamin D, then take a couple weeks off. After a couple weeks you can resume taking it once every 3 days and monitor skin impact. Better yet, go get some actual sunshine- your body needs it.
“The difference between a medicine and a poison is the dosage”
We have written an extensive article on why Vitamin D is breaking you out. You can read it here.
Number 3: Zinc Supplements. Again, the devil is in the dosage. Many people are deficient in zinc, but a supplement will have way too much (usually more than 2X what you would normally intake in a day). An increase in zinc leads to a spike in testosterone (that’s why oysters are touted as an aphrodisiac). Zinc is a trace mineral, you do not need much- just try to eat the foods which contain it (seafood, lean meats, cashews, spinach, veggies). An organic, well-balanced diet should not be deficient in zinc. Acne triggered by zinc usually appears around the lips and mouth, resembling hormonal acne.
Number 4: B-12. Same as zinc and Vitamin D, B-12 will instantly spike your testosterone. Frankly anything that is marketed for “energy” will do this. Many of us are legitimately deficient in B-vitamins so taking a supplement once in a while can help but these will cause breakouts if the B-12 is high (and we have seen companies put 10,000-20,000% RDA in one serving before. It’s mad.) Yes you will have energy, as testosterone provides that. You will also see a major flare up on the lower half of your face where your hair follicles are largest. This is technically “hormonal acne”, but caused by a vitamin.
Number 5: Eggs. Eggs can be perfect little nutrient nuggets, but we do not recommend them more than once per week if you get breakouts. Eggs contain a naturally high level of progesterone along with other steroid type hormones that cause hormonal acne in humans, specifically around the lower jaw and lymphatic region. The lymphatic acne region is under the jaw on each side, about 1-2” away inward from the ears. Lymphatic acne, along with hormonal acne, are highly linked to eggs. Organic does matter as we are referring to the naturally occurring hormones.
The other HUGE reason that eggs break us out is because they cause digestive issues for many of us. Their protein is called “albumin” and is very hard to break down. When proteins don’t get digested properly they clog up our lymphatic system and create acne around the neck, mouth, and perimeter of the face.
Number 6: Dairy. We hate that this is true- we miss cheese like a lost friend. But dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream) has Insulin-Like Growth Factor Hormone (IGF-1) and this causes all kinds of hormonal acne around the chin (corners of the mouth down, where you’d have a goatee). Sad but true. Stick to almond milk, oat milk, or flax milk to avoid these hormones. Still unsure about the dairy-skin connection? Just take a solid 10 days away from ALL dairy. Then start again. You’ll see what it does, and from there you can re-establish your threshold. For those of us who are super acneic we can have 1 serving of dairy and wake up to several pimples the next day. Others can tolerate a few servings a week and get away with only minor breakouts; everyone is a bit different but we know without a shred of doubt that dairy does cause hormonal acne.
Number 7: *Soy*. This deserves its own blog post, read it here.