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How Hormonal Acne Differs in Men vs. Women

Discover how hormonal acne differs in men and women and learn how to treat and prevent it!

Who said acne is just for teenagers? Acne is the eighth most common skin disorder worldwide. Though common in teenage and early adult years, the condition can persist throughout your life.

In fact, 85% of people from 12 to 24 years old have acne. Fluctuations in hormone levels are the usual suspects, especially in women. But men are no exception to this problem.

What is Hormonal Acne?

Photo by Towfiqu Barbhuiya

Hormones that naturally fluctuate might be causing hormonal acne, also known as adult acne. Inflamed and clogged pores are responsible for the blemishes far after puberty. 

Sometimes filled with pus, you may find elevated, red, swollen, and painful cysts on the skin of those with this disorder.

The hormones detailed below play essential roles in this skin condition.

Estrogen

Estrogen, often known as the female hormone, is produced in the ovaries and regulates a woman’s reproductive system. 

Estrogen slows sebum production, which helps reduce breakouts. The skin will appear moisturized, supple, and radiant whenever estrogen levels are higher.

Progesterone

Progesterone is another female hormone released in the ovaries. It thickens the uterine wall in preparation for a future pregnancy.

Likewise, this hormone has an effect on the skin. When progesterone levels are high, the skin produces more oily substances. Overproduction of oil mixed with dead skin cells can result in clogged pores.

Testosterone

Lastly, testosterone, present in both male and female bodies, is the most important factor.

Women have testosterone produced by their adrenal glands. It is at peak level during ovulation, which coincides with when acne develops.

Acne in Men

Photo by Deepak Maurya

Hormonal acne may affect both men and women from adolescence through maturity. Adult acne typically affects more women, but men suffer for an extended time. 

Men may not have a menstrual cycle, but some activities affect their level of testosterone. Increased testosterone levels make the experience with acne worse. 

Stress, exercise, diet and lifestyle, sexual activity, age, and genetic profile impact testosterone levels and hormone surges in general.

What Causes Acne in Men?

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Hormonal Imbalances

Hormone levels are typically the major cause of acne in males. Males have excess sebum secretion since their sebaceous glands, a skin gland near the hair follicles, are more active.

Higher sebum production is likely due to elevated testosterone levels, which can contribute to acne development.

Body and Facial Hair

Another possible cause of acne in men is their coarse body and facial hair. While beards may look cool, they could trap oil and serve as a breeding ground for bacteria irritating the skin. You might want to skip No-Shave November!

Remember, while shaving itself does not cause acne, be careful not to use dull blades or unhygienic tools. This will help avoid beard acne. You may also choose to shave before showering, because your skin is warm, oil-free, and free from grime that might get lodged deeper in the skin.

Lastly, try to avoid touching your face unnecessarily.

Sweating

Men experience acne on the chest, back, upper arms, shoulders, face, and neck.

Increased sweating may promote skin irritation and the appearance of acne. You may notice this in many men during the warmer months and after exercise, especially with nylon clothing. 

Supplements

Using supplements to increase muscle growth may also affect the skin.

Certain supplements, such as vitamin B6, B12, iodine, whey protein, and branched-chain amino acids, could cause or worsen hormonal fluctuations.

Diet and Lifestyle

Hormones are an important influence on the general health of our skin. Our diet significantly affects hormone levels. Milk and sugary diets, for example, might raise insulin levels. As a result, your skin may develop a dark velvety patch on areas such as the back of your neck, underarms, and groins. You may also experience acne flare-ups.

It’s important to be in control of your diet to get that healthy-looking skin. This highly informative eBook may help you achieve that glow.

Genetics

Researchers discovered that genetics had a factor in adult acne. Adult breakouts were shown to be more common in people who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with the same condition.

Hormonal Acne in Women: Everything You Need to Know

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Acne is often seen in around 50% of women between the ages of 20 and 29. Acne can persist in 25% of women between the ages of 40 and 49. So, why are women more prone to hormonal acne than men?

Due to menstrual cycles, use of birth control pills, pregnancy, and menopause, women endure higher hormone swings than males. 

Menstrual acne, or pimples that appear during menstruation, is quite frequent. According to research, 63% of acne-prone women have these premenstrual flares. They’d show up seven to ten days before the start of a woman’s menstruation and disappear as soon as the bleeding begins.

Even in women who do not menstruate, such as pregnant women, having blackheads and whiteheads may still be expected. An increase in androgen hormones in pregnancy is a contributing factor that causes the skin’s glands to increase in size. This results in new acne formation.

Finally, menopause strikes many women in their 40s and 50s. This creates a natural decrease in their reproductive hormones. 

Some women get acne during menopause which is most likely related to a decrease in estrogen or changes in testosterone levels.

How Do You Know if Your Acne is Hormonal?

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Here are a few indicators of hormonal acne, according to dermatologists:

You are No Longer a Teenager

It can be quite frustrating to still get zits when you’re way past your teenage years. Come on, you are ready for adulting, yet your pimples won’t let you move on! If you are past age 25 but still suffer from stubborn acne, it might be due to hormones. 

Your Breakouts Usually Appear Around your Jawline

If your breakouts are around your chin and jawline, there’s a high chance that you’re looking at a hormonal type of acne.  

Your Stress Levels are High

Cortisol, the stress hormone, stimulates oil production in your sebaceous glands, resulting in blocked pores and acne outbreaks. Chronic stress causes these hormones to be constantly elevated, harming your skin’s health.

Your Breakouts Happen Around the Same Time

Hormonal acne typically occurs cyclically, similar to women’s menstrual periods. Consistently they happen in the same location each month. This pimple appears because of a specific pore that has been enlarged.

Hormonal Acne vs. Bacterial Acne

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It can be tricky to distinguish if you have hormonal or bacterial acne. After all, zits can look alike! 

Hormonal acne is caused by hormonal imbalances, while the latter is caused by, of course, bacteria. In most cases, an outbreak’s location is one of its unmistakable indicators.

Hormonal acne usually appears around your chin and jawline. In contrast, bacterial acne can develop almost anywhere on the face with varying sizes. 

Bacterial acne can manifest as whiteheads, blackheads, or even pus-filled pimples. In contrast, hormonal acne is usually deep, with painful bumps or cysts. 

How to Treat and Prevent Hormonal Acne

Photo by Anna Shvets

Hormonal acne can be frustrating and overwhelming, but it’s common and normal. So common, in fact, that many ways are being discovered to deal with it.

Oral Contraceptives

For decades, dermatologists have used birth control tablets to treat acne in women. It is usually used when other acne treatments have failed, such as topical creams and oral antibiotics. 

Anti-Androgen Drugs

Both men and women have androgen, though males produce more of them. Anti-androgen medications work by lowering this hormone only in females.

Too much androgen, on the other hand, can trigger acne by increasing oil production.

Retinoids

You may be able to use topical retinoids if your hormonal acne is minimal. Many retinoid creams, gels, and lotions are accessible without a prescription. 

If you start using a topical retinoid, you should use sunscreen daily. Retinoids might increase your chances of becoming sunburned.

Azelaic acid cream, used locally, also can help prevent pore clogging and inflammation.

Tea Tree Oil

According to one study, topical tea tree oil soothed symptoms in patients with mild to severe acne. Tea tree oil reduces inflammation, which can lead to acne. 

Tea tree oil may be found in various skincare products, including cleansers and toners. Its essential oil can also be used as a spot treatment.

Good Diet 

Antioxidant-rich plant meals may help decrease inflammation and produce brighter skin. You may need to find ways to reduce your sugar, dairy, and refined carbohydrate intake. These kinds of food could aggravate and trigger inflammatory acne.

If you want to start a healthier diet and lifestyle, this highly informative eBook can help you. 

Acne treatment differs from person to person, but patience is always the key. In general, it might take up to four to six weeks after starting therapy to observe improvements in your skin.

When Should You See Your Doctor?

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Consult a doctor if your acne is severe, recurrent, itchy, or painful. Your acne can be an underlying symptom of something more serious. 

It is also advisable to see a dermatologist for the best treatment. Now that you know about hormonal acne, be careful in using any DIY or over-the-counter products to reduce acne breakouts.

A doctor can significantly assess your skin condition, like acne, if it’s worsening. Contact a professional immediately if you detect any adverse medication reactions at home.

Conclusion

Hormonal acne, the eighth most prevalent skin disease worldwide, affects both genders. This condition can be frustrating and painful, and sometimes embarrassing!

But do not lose hope! Hormonal acne can be treated and prevented. Different methods can be used to manage this disease. Having adult acne doesn’t mean that you have to live in doom! 

FAQs

Q: How can men balance their hormones?

A: Diet plays an integral role in hormonal fluctuation. Having a good and healthy diet could lessen hormonal imbalances that may lead to breakouts.

Q: How long does hormonal acne last?

A: It depends on your skin condition and skin management. On average, it may take four to six weeks after beginning treatment to see visible changes in your skin.

Q: How can you treat hormonal acne in men?

A: Various treatments for treating hormonal acne are available. This can range from topical and oral medications to diet and lifestyle changes.

Q: How can you tell if your acne is hormonal or bacterial?

A: Hormonal acne primarily develops around the chin and jawline, but bacterial acne can present elsewhere on the face. Bacterial acne can cause whiteheads, blackheads, and pustules, whereas, in hormonal acne, cysts are common.

Sources

Rocha, Marco A., and Ediléia Bagatin. “Adult-onset Acne: Prevalence, Impact, and Management Challenges.” PubMed Central (PMC), 1 Feb. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5798558.

“Skin Conditions by the Numbers.” Skin Conditions by the Numbers, www.aad.org/media/stats-numbers. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022.

Tanghetti, Emil A., et al. “Understanding the Burden of Adult Female Acne.” PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3935648. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022.

“Adult Acne.” Adult Acne, www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/really-acne/adult-acne. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022.

“Estrogen’s Effects on the Female Body.” Estrogen’s Effects on the Female Body | Johns Hopkins Medicine, 1 Nov. 2022, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/estrogens-effects-on-the-female-body.

“Hormones and the Endocrine System.” Hormones and the Endocrine System | Johns Hopkins Medicine, 19 Nov. 2019, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hormones-and-the-endocrine-system.

Iftikhar, Usma, and Nakhshab Choudhry. “Serum Levels of Androgens in Acne and Their Role in Acne Severity.” PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6408631. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022.

“Adult Acne.” Adult Acne, www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/really-acne/adult-acne. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022.

Wood, Sam. “Does Stress Cause Acne? (Hint: Less Stress Is Better) – GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 22 June 2021, goodglow.co/stress-acne.

Wood, Sam. “Hormonal Acne Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid – GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 7 Feb. 2021, goodglow.co/ultimate-guide-to-hormonal-acne-symptoms-root-causes-treatment.

“The Influence of Genetics and Environmental Factors in the Pathogenesis of Acne: A Twin Study of Acne in Women.” The Influence of Genetics and Environmental Factors in the Pathogenesis of Acne: A Twin Study of Acne in Women – ScienceDirect, 8 Dec. 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022202X15301019.

Elsaie, Mohamed L. “Hormonal Treatment of Acne Vulgaris: An Update.” PubMed Central (PMC), 2 Sept. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015761.

“Acne and Hirsuties in Teenagers – PubMed.” PubMed, 1 Feb. 2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12758231.

Wood, Sam. “Do Beards Cause Acne? Treatments and Preventions | GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 27 Nov. 2021, goodglow.co/beard-acne.

Wood, Sam. “Does Sweat Cause Acne? The Workout Myth Solved – GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 28 Apr. 2021, goodglow.co/sweat-acne.

Carvalho Pontes, Thaís de, et al. “Incidence of Acne Vulgaris in Young Adult Users of Protein-caloriesupplements in the City of João Pessoa – PB.” PubMed Central (PMC), www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3900340. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022.

Baldwin, Hilary, and Jerry Tan. “Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment.” PubMed Central (PMC), 3 Aug. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7847434.

Sing Heng, Anna Hwee, et al. “Gene Variants Associated With Acne Vulgaris Presentation and Severity: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis – BMC Medical Genomics.” BioMed Central, 13 Apr. 2021, bmcmedgenomics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12920-021-00953-8.

Wilson, Ashley. “15 Proven Strategies to Naturally Treat Pregnancy Acne | GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 7 Dec. 2021, goodglow.co/naturally-treat-acne-during-pregnancy.

Wilson, Ashley. “6 Menopausal Acne Treatments: Prevention Tips and Resources | GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 8 Dec. 2021, goodglow.co/menopause-acne.

Sydel, Simone. “How to Prevent Acne Breakouts During Ovulation – GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 6 Oct. 2022, goodglow.co/what-causes-acne-during-ovulation.

Khunger, Niti, and Krati Mehrotra. “Menopausal Acne – Challenges and Solutions.” PubMed Central (PMC), 29 Oct. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6825478.

Press, Dove, et al. “Acne Vulgaris: A Cross-sectional Study | CCID.” Acne Vulgaris: A Cross-sectional Study | CCID, www.dovepress.com/the-relevant-of-sex-hormone-levels-and-acne-grades-in-patients-with-ac-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-CCID. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022.

Lee, Young Bok, et al. “Potential Role of the Microbiome in Acne: A Comprehensive Review.” PubMed Central (PMC), 7 July 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678709.

Sydel, Simone. “https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6360964/.” GoodGlow, 10 Mar. 2022, goodglow.co/fungal-vs-bacterial-acne.

“Which Birth Control Pills Can Help Reduce Acne? – InformedHealth.org – NCBI Bookshelf.” Which Birth Control Pills Can Help Reduce Acne? – InformedHealth.org – NCBI Bookshelf, 26 Sept. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279209/#:~:text=Hardly%20any%20of%20the%20studies,the%20participants’%20skin%20got%20better.

Wood, Sam. “Yes, Tretinoin Can Help Relieve Hormonal Acne and Scarring – GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 20 Feb. 2022, goodglow.co/does-tretinoin-help-hormonal-acne.

“Tea Tree Oil Gel for Mild to Moderate Acne; a 12 Week Uncontrolled, Open-label Phase II Pilot Study – PubMed.” PubMed, 1 Aug. 2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27000386.

Wood, Sam. “3 Ways to Use Tea Tree Oil to Treat Acne Breakouts – GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 13 Oct. 2022, goodglow.co/tea-tree-oil-treat-acne-breakouts.

Wood, Sam. “Hormonal Acne Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid – GoodGlow.” GoodGlow, 7 Feb. 2021, goodglow.co/ultimate-guide-to-hormonal-acne-symptoms-root-causes-treatment.

“What Can Clear Severe Acne?” What Can Clear Severe Acne?, www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/derm-treat/severe-acne. Accessed 19 Nov. 2022.

Need more help? Ask our team!

I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their acne naturally. If you cannot easily find an answer to your question on the website, please reach out to me by email ([email protected]) or send me a message on Instagram or Twitter. I will reply within 24 hours.

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook!

I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health.

I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on.

This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it.

As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”.

After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts.

In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy.

Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself.

After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅

While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently.

To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision.

Read more of Sam's articles.

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