A lot of people are talking about using peppermint and spearmint to treat their cystic, hormonal acne.
The question is – does it really work?
Surprisingly, spearmint and peppermint are more than just a fad – scientific studies show that both spearmint and peppermint tea/oil lead to significantly lower levels of testosterone, a key component in hormonal acne. They also can help heal the gut, lower insulin levels, and decrease stress.
Still, testosterone is only one component of hormonal acne, and some people might find that peppermint and spearmint actually lead to decreased energy, mood, and libido.
While we’re quick to assume that sex hormones are the only reason people get acne, the truth is that dietary-driven hormones like insulin and IGF-1 have much more to do with adult acne than we’d like to think.
In this article, we’ll cover how spearmint and peppermint can help treat some hormonal acne in women, why men should think twice about using mint tea, and why decreasing sex hormones is the wrong approach to take when it comes to beating hormonal acne.
How does spearmint and peppermint help treat some (but not all) hormonal acne?
One of many hormones that are responsible for acne is a hormone known as DHT.
DHT is a specific male sex hormone (that is also found in women, in lower amounts) that can be responsible for our body producing too much sebum oil. Too much sebum oil can lead to clogged pores, which can lead to an acne infection and inflammation (a bright, red, protruding pimple).
The key thing to realize here is that these things only happen if our body is ill-equipped to handle this excess sebum oil. Sebum oil is a natural, necessary, healthy layer of protection for our skin. If we have enough antioxidants and oxidative stress resistance, sebum oil won’t become infected or oxidized. If we have a properly functioning immune system, there won’t be a massive inflammatory response that leads to a pimple. If these things are not the case, then excess sebum oil becomes an issue and DHT is problematic.
Both spearmint and peppermint tea have been shown to significantly decrease testosterone levels. 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/195854782https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15679984 This includes lower levels of DHT, the specific male sex hormone responsible for our body’s producing too much sebum oil. Excess sebum oil can clog pores, which again, as we said, may lead to acne.
In this regard, spearmint and peppermint tea and oil can be helpful for treating hormonal acne, but high testosterone and DHT levels are only one component of hormonal acne – it’s not the whole picture. More sebum oil doesn’t necessarily mean more acne. High testosterone doesn’t necessarily mean more acne either, in fact, depending on your sex, there are other, arguably more important dietary-driven hormones to tackle first.
Why “hormonal acne” is more than just sex hormones
Sex hormones naturally rise during puberty. In both males and females, levels of DHT will be at their height, which is a large part of the reason why acne is so common (upwards of 90%) amongst teenagers.
More than half the individuals with acne during puberty continue to have acne after puberty, and many people don’t even start developing acne until adulthood (Bhate, 2007). Even after sex hormone levels have died down, we still find ourselves with acne. Furthermore, despite rates of acne being higher than ever before, testosterone levels are actually lower than they were in previous decades (Kalvaitis, 2013).
Furthermore, why do certain cultures, like the Ache, Kitavan and Sapara, have rates of acne for adolescents near zero percent, despite the fact that their teenagers still go through puberty, still have fluctuating sex hormones, and still have high levels of DHT?
It’s because sex hormones aren’t the only or even the main, component in hormonal acne – dietary hormones, like insulin, IGF-1, and IGFBP-3 are.
I discuss this in much greater detail in Unmasking Acne, but the number one culprit of adult hormonal acne is not DHT, but insulin.
While DHT increases the amount of sebum oil on the skin, which simply makes someone more suspectable to acne, insulin (and the hormones that accompany it, including IGF-1, IGFBP-3, and IL-1) directly triggers the root causes of acne:
- IGF-1 and IGFBP-3 blocks pores
- IGF-1 increases oil production
- IL-1 and IGF-1 promotes inflammation
While high levels of DHT are certainly not great for acne, it’s is far from being the most important hormone when it comes to acne. If it was, then we wouldn’t see such staggering rates of adult acne after puberty.
Still, lowering DHT in women can be an effective strategy at mitigating the risk for hormonal acne, as we’ll discuss shortly. Men, however, will almost certainly want to avoid excessive consumption of mint tea in order to lower DHT.
Why men may want to avoid excessive mint tea consumption
If you’re a man, you might want to think twice about treating hormonal ance by decreasing testosterone levels.
Testosterone is crucial for your well-being. A healthy amount of testosterone is needed for energy, mood, and libido. A lack of testosterone can lead to anxiety, lethargy, and a lack of sex drive.
Trust me, as a guy who has tried to treat hormonal acne by lowering testosterone, I can confidently say that it’s not worth it, especially when there are more important hormones, like insulin, to tackle first.
Having high testosterone doesn’t doom you to hormonal acne – there are plenty of other ways to decrease acne-causing hormones and actually feel better on a day-to-day basis.
Using mint tea for acne and PCOS
Both men and women need some testosterone to function, but unlike men, women need significantly less to function optimally. In fact, conditions where women produce too much testosterone, like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), tend to be linked to higher rates of acne.
The best way to naturally lower testosterone without birth control or hormonal therapy is with a healthy diet. Low-carb diets have been shown to be particularly effective at treating hormonal acne.
Start out by drinking a cup or two of high-quality, organic spearmint or peppermint tea per day. It’ll probably take some time to see results, but if you think you have hormonal acne due to high testosterone levels, it’s definitely worth a shot.
Other benefits of mint for acne
In addition to lowering testosterone levels, both peppermint and spearmint tea and oil have a broad range of other benefits for acne-prone skin, including antioxidants, insulin-blunting effects, and stress-relieving compounds.
Rich in Antioxidants
Both spearmint and peppermint leaves contain several types of antioxidants.5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27527127
Antioxidants are compounds that help treat and counteract acne by preventing sebum oil from oxidizing (going rancid) and skin cells from becoming damaged. Without enough antioxidants, environmental factors, like air pollution, smoking, free radicals, and overexposure to UV sun rays are more likely to cause acne.
While spearmint and peppermint herbal teas don’t contain EGCG, a particularly powerful antioxidant found black, green, white, and oolong tea, they do contain vitamin C, rosmarinic acid, and limonene and have been shown to fight off skin-damaging free radicals.6https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030881460500885X
May lower insulin levels
When the body releases too much insulin, usually due to eating too many carbs, sugar, or dairy, a cascade of acne-causing hormones and compounds get released. Together, these compounds lead to the overproduction of skin cells and sebum oil, too many dead skin cells that won’t shed properly, and inflammation. All of these factors play a part in creating acne.
One study found that insulin levels in diabetic rats were significantly lower when they supplemented with spearmint.7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29769013 The study also found that spearmint had little effect on insulin for healthy rats, so take this research with a grain of salt.
May decrease stress
One study found that spearmint may reduce stress levels in rats.8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=spearmint+anxiety
Stress is a major contributor to acne. When you become stressed out, cortisol, a stress hormone, is released. Constantly elevated levels of cortisol can lead to inflammation, high insulin levels, and a damaged digestive system. That means that stress touches just about every root cause of acne.
Getting enough sleep is extremely helpful for people with acne-prone skin. Just like stress, sleep deprivation can lead to inflammatory and hormonal acne by increasing insulin and cortisol levels.
Unlike other types of tea, herbal spearmint and peppermint tea don’t have caffeine, which means it won’t disrupt your sleep. One study even found that sleep improved in rats after supplementing with spearmint tea.9https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=spearmint+anxiety
Improved Digestive System
A healthy gut means healthy skin.
Digestive problems, whether it’s an unbalanced gut microbiome, a leaky gut, or a bacterial overgrowth, can lead to acne by triggering inflammation and preventing your body from absorbing crucial skin-clearing nutrients.
Studies have found that spearmint oil may improve the overall health of the digestive system and treat symptoms of IBS.10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26319955
Best mint tea for acne
Both peppermint and spearmint tea have roughly the same benefits for hormonal acne, mainly that they significantly lower levels of testosterone and DHT. This leads to less sebum oil on the skin and fewer clogged pores. Mint tea may also help reduce insulin levels, decrease stress, improve the digestive system, and protect the skin. Still, these benefits aren’t as clear-cut as the testosterone-decreasing effects.
Again, men might want to think twice about consuming high-quantities of mint tea, as low testosterone can lead to decreased energy, libido, and mood.
Not all mint teas are created equal. Many mint teas really just contain concentrated mint flavorings without the actual herbs. This isn’t going to do you any good when it comes to fighting hormonal acne.
Putting it all together: Should you take mint tea for hormonal acne?
Peppermint and spearmint tea and oil are both effective at decreasing testosterone levels. High testosterone and DHT can lead to hormonal acne. Unfortunately, men need healthy levels of testosterone and DHT to function, so whether or not you should consume mint tea depends on your particular situation.
- Men should think twice about consuming mint tea. Yes, it might help with hormonal acne, but it’ll likely lead to decreased energy, mood, and libido.
- Women, especially those with high testosterone or PCOS, may want to consider drinking a cup or two of spearmint or peppermint tea per day in order to naturally lower testosterone levels
Overall, both men and women should focus on eating an acne-free diet before implementing mint tea or oil into their routine. While high testosterone levels can cause hormonal acne, and drinking mint tea can help lower testosterone, dietary-driven hormones, like insulin and IGF-1, are usually more problematic when it comes to adult acne.
If you’re looking for a good guide to eating a skin-clearing diet, check out the GoodGlow Diet Blueprint. It has everything you need to get started, all on one page.