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Hormonal Acne: Why It Happens and How to Treat It

  • December 16, 2019
  • Skin Care

What Is Hormonal Acne?

Hormonal acne is just a more descriptive name for regular acne. The name seeks to emphasise the role hormones play in causing acne.

Testosterone and Estrogen; The Guilty Hormones

Acne is a common skin condition, especially during times of fluctuating hormones such as puberty, pregnancy or menopause. This doesn’t mean your hormone levels are abnormal; just that they’ve changed and your body is adapting.

Testosterone levels rise during puberty  —  and not just in boys. In girls, testosterone helps build muscle and bone strength, while in boys it’s also related to sexual development. Testosterone also causes increased oil production in hair follicles (pores) in the skin, which can cause acne.

Women experience a double-whammy of acne-causing hormones. As well as testosterone, they also have to deal with hormone changes relating to periods and pregnancy. Later in life, dropping estrogen levels increase the risk of acne around the time of menopause. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome may find that condition triggers acne through its effect on hormone levels. Given all that, it’s not surprising that one third of people seeking help for acne are women over the age of 25.

Causes of Acne

Your skin is covered in pores, or hair follicles. Acne happens when something goes wrong in these minute openings.

The process goes something like this:

  1. An increase in testosterone causes increased production of an oily substance called sebum at the base of your hair follicles
  2. That extra oil, coupled with dead skin cells, causes something called ‘comedones’ or blocked pores, with different levels of severity
  3. Bacteria such as P. acnes can infect those comedones
  4. If that happens, your immune system may then react by sending an influx of white blood cells to the area, causing inflammation, and more severe acne.

Those clogged pores can turn into different types of spots or cysts, known as acne.

What Are the Symptoms of Hormonal Acne?

Hormonal acne alters the feeling and appearance of your skin, peppering your face or upper body with spots or cysts.
You might have:

  • Blackheads, where your clogged pores are open at the surface resulting in a flat little black spot
  • Whiteheads, where your clogged pores are closed the surface, resulting in a pointed white zit that you’re probably longing to squeeze
  • Papules, which are like tender, red little bumps
  • Pustules, which look like a large whitehead filled with yellow pus and surrounded by a sore, red raised area
  • Nodules, which are big, painful, solid lumps beneath the surface of your skin
  • Cysts, which are large lesions filled with pus.

Blackheads and whiteheads are the simplest comedones and are not usually inflamed. Papules and pustules usually are inflamed. Nodules and hormonal cystic acne are generally considered more severe forms of acne because they cause inflammation in the deeper layers of your skin.

The Impact of Hormonal Acne

Acne may have medical or psychological impacts.

Your skin is your biggest organ. You’ve got about two square metres of it and anything that damages your skin should be taken seriously. Most acne affects the top layer of
skin and, although it’s not pleasant to live with, it doesn’t cause lasting damage. But moderate to severe acne can cause long-term damage to your skin’s surface or its underlying layers. That can cause scarring.

Acne certainly can have a big psychological impact. Because it’s usually on your face, everyone can see it. And that can make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. It’s perhaps not surprising that acne is linked to social isolation, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.

Hormonal Acne Treatment

There are treatments available for acne but you need to be patient as they may take several weeks to work.

The right treatment depends on your type of acne. Some unblock pores, others reduce oil production. Some tackle acne-related bacteria while others regulate your hormone levels. Your doctor will choose the best one for you based on your medical history, the extent and severity of your acne and the impact it’s having on your life.

Creams and lotions can help with acne that affects the surface layers of your skin but they’re not strong enough to reach the deeper layers. If you have nodules or hormonal cystic acne, then you will probably need to take medication, which effectively treats your acne from the inside out.

Some non-prescription treatments can help mild acne. You might cleanse twice a day with a mild cleanser containing salicylic acid, which gets into the sebum and helps unclog pores. Ask your pharmacist for advice (and tell them about any other medicines you may be taking).

How Can Your GP Help?

Acne is a medical condition and it’s quite appropriate to see your GP about it. Some patients stay away because they’re embarrassed or they think acne isn’t a good enough reason to see a doctor. We don’t want that to be you.

If acne is causing you distress, then we’d like to help. As with many other medical conditions, starting acne treatment early often reduces the risk of bigger problems later. With acne, early treatment might help reduce the risk of scarring or deepening emotional
distress.

Your Elm Rd. doctor can examine you to diagnose your type of acne and how severe it is.  We’ll listen to how you’re feeling and what you’ve tried already for your acne and then we’ll prescribe medication that might help.

If you have severe acne where there are nodules or cysts present, we may refer you to a dermatologist, a doctor who specialises in treating skin conditions.

We can also help address any anxiety or depression that’s related to living with acne.

Please book an appointment today.

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