When I first went to see my doctor about my acne breakouts during my first pregnancy, one of the first things he did was measure my progesterone levels.
Progesterone levels increase during pregnancy and most of the most common side effects is hormonal acne. When your progesterone levels increase it sends a signal to your body to produce more sebum oil which can clog your pores and cause a bacterial infection to trigger an acne breakout.
However, you can’t get rid of progesterone. Progesterone plays an essential role in regulating female hormones, and its levels change throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. As a result, many women experience a hormonal acne breakout right before their period when progesterone levels are highest.
In this article, I’ll explore how this hormone lead to multiple hormonal acne breakouts during my pregnancy and how I treated this acne without needing to take special medications or compounds that could put my pregnancy at risk.
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Progesterone & Its Role in the Body
Progesterone is a steroid hormone that plays many vital roles in men and women. For women, progesterone is essential for female reproduction and the menstrual cycle. It prepares the body during pregnancy and suppresses ovulation, which can cause acne breakouts in its own right, to prevent fertilization until the indication of the embryo can occur (when a woman becomes pregnant).
Progesterone also helps balance out estrogen levels in women with high levels of testosterone and DHEA.
As women age or due to certain conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), your body naturally makes less progesterone on its own, which leads many women to take hormone replacement therapies.
Progesterone also plays a role in men’s hormone regulation, but the hormone is not nearly as importnat as it is for women. In men, progesterone helps in the production of testosterone and sperm. However, males do not require very much Progesterone. In fact, the male body only produces around five percent of the progesterone naturally found in female bodies over their lifetime.
When testosterone levels are low or off due to age or other conditions such as hypogonadism (when testes do not produce enough sex steroid hormones), then taking bioidentical forms of these types of steroids can help with overall health and improve libido, among other benefits.
How Can Hormones Cause Oily Skin?
The sebaceous gland produces and secretes an oily substance called sebum. These glands are significantly impacted by androgens (male sex hormones) like testosterone. These androgens also stimulate sebum production during puberty in females.
This causes noticeably oilier skin and will accelerate the formation of hormonal acne. In addition, sebum production is altered throughout menstruation. Estrogens suppress the sebum produced and the activity of the glands.
Numerous other factors can also be affected by sebum production: genetics, seasonal changes, excessive sunscreen use, and irritating skin-care products can all impact the oiliness of your skin. Typically, hormonal birth control will reduce these symptoms.
Additionally, higher Progesterone levels can actually increase insulin resistance, which can reduce acne breakouts. During pregnancy Progesterone causes the mother to be more insulin resistant so the fetus can receive more glucose for energy production. Because insulin spikes can cause acne breakouts a small increase in Progesterone can actually help clear your skin. However, you can’t control natural hormone production during pregnancy, so the best option is to treat the skin directly with a topical application.
How Does Progesterone Affect Skin Health?
Many women (including me) complain about the breakouts they get during their menstrual cycles. Some women experience hormonal acne only around this time, while others have oily and dry skin problems throughout the month. A lot of these skin changes are directly affected by Progesterone which affects nearly every function within our body including sleep patterns, blood sugar levels, and even brain chemistry!
Everyone has a different sensitivity threshold for Progesterone. Some women have absolutely zero acne breakouts during pregnancy, while others experience breakouts on a daily basis due to their spiking hormones.
The same happens with your sebaceous glands, which produce oil, thus creating greasy hair and acne-prone skin. This means that if you’ve been dealing with pimples not just before but also around your period, then progesterone might be responsible for that as well.
In addition to acne spikes, some women suffer from rosacea when they are dealing with heightened levels of Progesterone.
In such cases, topical retinoids can be of great help without jeopardizing your pregnancy. Topical ointments are a great way to reduce sebum production and clean current breakouts!
Why Does Progesterone Cause Hormonal Acne?
Progesterone causes hormonal acne because it is an androgenic hormone that triggers sebum production in your skin at puberty when you begin to develop breasts, hips, pubic hair, etc.
So for women with PCOS who regularly have very high progesterone levels, this often worsens their acne symptoms after their menstrual period starts or during pregnancy (especially if they are carrying multiples).
In addition, progesterone makes both insulin resistance and DHEAS worse, which worsens the effects of any existing hormonal acne! This can lead to the worsening of one’s adult-onset acne, too. Still, by this time, many will also be using antiandrogens like spironolactone or oral contraceptives, which will help control this.
So if you are using progesterone cream and getting acne, then I recommend that you stop the exogenous source of progesterone for at least a few weeks to see how your skin responds!
You can also try taking an extra magnesium supplement (200-400 mg/day) as some women with PCOS have low levels of blood magnesium, especially those who are insulin resistant. This is because high glucose causes increased loss of magnesium in urine.
Therefore, it’s essential to take more supplements and make sure they absorb well by choosing chelated forms like citrate/gluconate instead of oxide or sulfate.
Tips for Managing Hormonal Acne Caused by Progesterone Levels
There are ways to manage this type of hormonal acne. Firstly, it is essential to note that when progesterone levels are high in the body, it causes an increase in sebum production, leading to an overgrowth of bacteria on the skin surface.
This can be countered by keeping your face clean and avoiding touching or picking at your pimples. Exfoliating once a week will also help eliminate dead cells naturally without damaging healthy cells under them, leading to more dead skin cells. Additionally, you should make finding a hormonal acne-friendly facial cleanser a priority.
Lastly, you should use topical treatments containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid that contain ingredients proven effective for killing p-acne bacteria while being gentle enough not to irritate sensitive skin types.
These include cleansers, toners, gels, and lotions with concentrations ranging from 0.75% to 15%. In your skincare products, other ingredients to look out for are glycolic acid, azelaic acid, and retinol. This will help reduce the appearance of acne and prevent new pimples from forming. If any of these treatments cause dry, flaky skin make sure to use a hydrating, oil-free moisturizer to keep your skin from cracking. However, you should consult your doctor before trying any new products on your skin.
Other Ways to Reduce Acne Caused by Hormones
Often, acne caused by progesterone is only temporary and can be managed with a few different methods. Hormonal treatments such as the birth control pill, patch, or ring reduce estrogen levels, reducing sebum production and lowering testosterone in your body.
Topical retinoids like tretinoin (Retina) help stop pores from becoming clogged, in addition to increasing collagen production in your skin cells for improved cell turnover.
Antibiotics may also help treat hormonal acne if it’s causing inflammation on the skin’s surface due to bacteria overgrowth within hair follicles. To add to this, there are a few more tips and tricks you can try to add on top of these! Wash your face with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide only two times every day.
Exfoliate once daily using an exfoliating product containing acne-fighting ingredients like retinol, glycolic acid, and vitamin C. If nothing else helps for different types of hormonal acne (which it rarely does); birth control might be the last resort to get rid of breakouts.
Natural Remedies for Hormonal Acne
Many women (including me) are hesitant to use medications or cosmetic products with active ingredients during pregnancy. Because of this, I created a comprehensive list of natural methods to treat pregnancy acne. In addition, excessive washing and scrubbing can worsen acne by stripping out excess oil and causing skin irritation. I recommend using a gentle facial cleanser like Cetaphil’s hydrating face wash. I used this cleanser during both my pregnancies and noticed a huge difference in my complexion within a few days.
Tea tree oil helps treat hormonally severe types of acne, such as hormonal acne, but research about the effects is lacking in these treatments.
This advice can clear acne if you are doing excessive scrubbing daily, and you’ll experience less of its impact compared to other methods. These tricks can also help clear up acne and stop this from happening.
Contraceptive use can be a trigger for hormonal acne. IUDs like Mirena release a synthetic hormone called progestin which can trigger acne breakouts due to fluctuating hormone levels.
Oral contraceptives should be prescribed when acne is severe, and other treatments are inefficient. To determine an effective contraceptive dosage, your health professional will take account of your hormonal blood tests and age, Menstrual Cycle Routines, Medical History, and other factors.
If you are considering using any type of oral contraceptive make sure to speak with your doctor to make sure you have no preexisting conditions that could put you at risk for potentially harmful side effects.
As the female hormone progesterone increases, so does your skin’s oil production. Unfortunately, these two factors can lead to acne breakouts in some women. If you are pregnant you are limited in what you can do to control the breakouts.
If you find yourself with sudden acne flare-ups during PMS or around your period, talk to a dermatologist about how this treatment might help.
You may also want to try using an over-the-counter topical cream that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which are both proven effective for preventing and treating acne breakouts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Tell me the best way to treat acne? Wash your face at breakfast and again at night with salicylic acid and use a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
Progesterone can trigger acne breakouts. This is most common with women who are pregnant or on their period although it can happen to anyone.
High Progesterone levels will increase oil production in the skin. Excessive amounts of oil can clog pores, which leads to acne breakouts.