Hormonal Acne and How Food Plays a Role

Oh that lovely time of the month when you want to crawl up in bed and snuggle your heating pad. Menstruation can be uncomfortable enough with cramps, cravings, and headaches to deal with. To add to it all, pesky breakouts are not only annoying, but they can be damaging to our self-esteem.

If you’re wondering why you’re a grown ass adult and you still have acne, it could be hormonal. Unfortunately, acne is not reserved for our teenage years and could pester us well into adulthood.

What Causes Acne?

There are lots of reasons why acne may be persisting into adulthood: bacteria build up, rapidly dividing cells, excessive skin oil (known as sebum), delayed skin cell death, pore-clogging make-up and products, poor diet, lack of sleep, stress, and inflammation.

What is Hormonal Acne?

Your acne might be hormonal if you break out right before or during your period, if your zit friends show up in the same location each month (such as the cheeks and jawline), and/or if you have a high level of androgens.

Androgens are a class of hormones (which includes testosterone) commonly referred to as “male hormones,” but both men and women produce them. Ladies produce them in smaller amounts but some of us produce them in excess (like those of us with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Androgens can increase the growth and activity of sebaceous glands, which are glands that secrete sebum. An overproduction of sebum can contribute to acne.

How a Nutritionist Can Help With Acne

You might not think to turn to a nutritionist for clear skin, but consider this – if your acne is caused by internal reasons (such as hormonal imbalance), then combating it from an inside-out approach may be just as effective, if not more so, than investing in a spendy skincare routine and monthly facials. Don’t get me wrong – a topical approach is important and I recommend finding the right esthetician to support your skin health. Cleaning up your innards in addition to this will certainly help level out the playing field (and will help with overall health as well!).

Supporting Your Natural Detoxification System

Let’s take a detour from Hormonal Highway and head down Liver Lane for a moment. Our bodies have a natural detoxification system, but there are lots of toxins lurking in our food, our water, our environment, our products. The body accumulates toxins in a variety of ways from a variety of sources, meaning that the system can get clogged up and slow down. For an understanding of some of the sources of toxins and how to naturally clear them out, check out this blog post.

Supporting your body’s natural detoxification system “flushes the toilet” so to speak, helping your body get rid of toxins and excess hormones that are gunking it up. Acne can be an external sign that there is something up with the gut and/or liver. A nutritionist can recommend food that support and clean the liver, walk you through a cleanse, and help you remove offending foods.

Besides food, one of my favorite ways to support liver health is by doing a castor oil pack. It’s not only a gentle way to cleanse, but it is believed to help with stress and sleep. It’s a three-for-one! And you can do it at home with your own materials.

Throw That Doughnut in the Trash

It’s really not doing you any favors. In fact, sugary foods actually feed the bacteria that we don’t want to be feeding. And when we are giving into our sugary delights a little too often, we could be spiking our blood sugar levels (the hormone insulin can increase cortisol and androgen levels [1, 2]). By minimizing sugar (and alcohol, since it’s basically a glass of sugar), we not only improve our blood sugar levels, but we improve our sleep, our gut health, and our skin. And there are a lot of natural ways to support our blood sugar health.

Consider Improving the Quality of Your Food

If you’re not on the organic bandwagon yet, I invite you to hop on! I’m sure you’ve heard that there are hormones and antibiotics in conventional meat and pesticides in conventional produce. Even if these “added ingredients” are in small amounts, they can build up in our bodies over time, adding to what is called the toxic burden and interfering with the body’s natural ability to detoxify itself.

Reduce Inflammation

There are certain foods that increase inflammation (dairy, sugar, alcohol, vegetable oils). And since acne is an inflammatory skin condition, reducing inside inflammation can reduce outside inflammation. But kicking these foods out of your diet is only one part of the equation. You’ll want to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods to promote healing. Omega-3 fatty acids such as fresh water fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and quality fish oil supplements (3) are beneficial in decreasing inflammation.


Dairy products contribute to elevated insulin levels and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which, as we’ve seen, contributes to androgen production (4). Oooh, sorry milk and ice-cream lovers. But not sorry because there are so many delicious alternatives! Have you tried hazelnut milk? Or coconut ice cream? And if you’re watching your sugar intake, you can easily make your own nut milk and banana nice-cream.

Other Factors to Consider

Getting good nutrition on board, drinking plenty of purified water, and limiting offenders such as sugar and alcohol will help. But there are other factors to consider when re-aligning your hormones to keep hormonal acne at bay.

Address Stress

No article on health is complete without mentioning stress, right? Here is a very simplified explanation of how stress contributes to acne: stress increases cortisol production, cortisol production increases androgens, and androgens increases sebum production, hence acne. And with stress, you can’t spot treat like you can acne. Implementing a self-care routine regularly (as in ever day!) will not only help you balance your hormones, but will teach you to be more resilient to stress in the future (like a shield!).

Sleep for Skin Health

Sleep can also improve skin health. It helps repair tissue, reduce inflammation, and regulate hormones. We just need it for overall health, period. And not necessarily more of it – quality sleep is what is important. If you’re struggling to sleep well, check out some of my tips.

Make-up and Skincare Products

I once had a professor say you shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t be willing to eat. Everything gets absorbed! Slathering your skin in avocado can be highly beneficial, whereas slathering it in pore-clogging makeup will lead to, well, clogged pores. It’s also important to regularly clean your pillow-cases, towels, and makeup brushes because they basically become a breeding ground for oil and dirt. Yuck!

Here’s some food you can put on your face to help with acne, complete with skin-loving ingredients like turmeric and raw honey.

There’s a Tea for That

And lastly, I can’t leave you without a tea to try for your skin. There are actually several teas I would recommend for skin health.

Dandelion tea helps support the liver so it can do its job clearing out toxic sludge. Check out my dandelion root latte recipe!

Spearmint tea is one of my favorites for lowering androgen levels. Drinking it regularly can help reduce levels of free testosterone. Here’s how to make medicinal strength spearmint tea.

Green tea has many health benefits, one of them being that it is a powerful antioxidant that protects the skin from environmental damage. It’s also anti-inflammatory (5, 6).

The Bottom Line

I will be the first to say that acne is a bitch. But you’re not doomed to have a spots if you take good care of your health, inside and out. What can help you get started is to assemble your rockstar healthcare team to address your health from head to toe. Trust me, once you have clear skin, it won’t be so hard to say no to that doughnut!


Do you experience hormonal acne? What has helped you keep your skin clear? Share in the comments below!

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