As the woman in charge of marketing for a skincare company, having a jawline traced with hormonal acne can be a shot to the confidence not only in regards to my general self-esteem, but also in regards to my career. How am I supposed to tout the benefits of our incredible products when my face looks less than perfect? It wasn't until a few weeks ago I realized that I was letting this hormonal acne run way too many of my decisions and my emotions, and I decided to not only take matters into my own hands, but speak more openly about my skincare journey and healing practices so that you, too, can move forward with more confidence. I hope this helps! Love, Allie
Think about a time in your life when you started breaking out. If you’re anything like me, you ran to Sephora and bought anything that had the slightest promise of an overnight miracle. And again, if you’re like me, you probably didn’t stop to account for anything else going on in your life or in your body that might be causing this eruption. Any recent life changes, additional stress, taking a new medication? I can tell you, I never thought to look internally to treat my acne any farther than knowing if I drank more water it might help. I’ve learned over the last six months that acne is just as much, if not more, about what is happening on the inside versus the topical treatments.
First things first: I’m here to normalize acne. Acne is both emotionally and physically scarring, and we often feel like in a room full of people we are battling this condition alone. But I can promise you that under that makeup or oversized scarf is someone else who feels the same way you do. Did you know more than 50% of women are affected? Our journeys and treatments may all look a little different, but it starts with understanding from where you’ve come that you can map out a healing treatment that works best for you.
To give you an example, here is a brief overview of my skincare journey.
My Skincare Journey
I have always been prone to acne. I took Accutane twice, first at age 14 and then the second time at age 17, when I also went on birth control as a stipulation of the acne medication. I was told that the two together would clear up my acne, but all it did was bring on migraines and dry out my skin. The Accutane was over, but I continued on the pill.
Fast forward five years to March of 2019, I learned (after switching to a new doctor!) that it was in fact increased estrogen in NuvaRing that activated my melasma, and it could have been avoided had my OBGYN or dermatologist not dismissed my concerns. It was then I made the decision to no longer take contraceptives.
I was ecstatic, I had been wanting to stop taking contraceptives anyway because I felt like it was altering my mood amongst other things. I had an idea of what this future looked like: less PMS, more clarity. But six months later, in addition to other post-pill side effects, I am now having hormonal acne flare ups on my chin, jawline, behind my ears and down my neck. They are cystic in nature (this is new to me) and showed up eight weeks ago, or nearly four months after getting off of birth control.
It’s this day in my journey that is prompting me to write this blog post. This is the part of so many women’s stories that I feel like aren’t being talked about: what happens to our hormones when we’ve been on hormone-altering drugs for 10+ years of our lives? Or if you are still taking birth control to help with your acne, do you know why it is helping? Do you feel like you were given the proper education on what is happening in your body, or why your hormones were causing acne in the first place? I know I wasn’t, but I also didn’t think to ask the right questions, until now.
Below is everything I have been doing over the last two months to understand and treat my hormonal acne. I’ve split them into two groups: skincare and lifestyle. Some remedies are more recent than others. Some have backed data and some are recommendations from friends and family. But the underlying factor of all of them is that I am approaching this outward-facing condition from the inside. I hope you find these recommendations and resources helpful.
My Skincare Routine
Keep it Clean + Simple
Switching over to clean skincare has been a game changer for my skin. While the hormonal acne has been wreaking havoc on the lower portion of my face and neck, I can truly say the rest of my skin has never been clearer. My melasma has faded on my forehead and my cheeks glow, which I contribute to our Aloe + Willow Bark Vitamin C Serum. Even though it is great to use with normal breakouts (in fact Willow Bark is known to help!) I have not been using this on the inflamed / cystic areas right now (as I’m keeping that treatment simple), but I couldn’t imagine depriving the rest of my face of it!
For the acne, I use our Aloe + Lime Purifying Facial Toner every day, multiple times a day. The alcohol-free witch hazel blend is gentle and hydrating but cleans out my pores and preps my skin for treatment. In the morning I apply a very light layer (2 drops max) of my Hormonal Acne Custom Oil Blend. At night, I remove makeup with a custom mixture of Grapeseed + Sunflower Oil. I follow that with a simple gel cleanser + exfoliation with MMH’s Masa + Honey Facial Polish. I’m really careful, if any of the acne is inflamed I will avoid or go over *very lightly.* Exfoliation is important but aggravating the area, especially if cystic, can make it worse in the long run. After cleansing, I follow with the toner, treatments, and seal it all in with our Awakening Under Eye Oil and custom facial blend.
Retinol Treatment for Acne
There is a lot of controversial talk in the clean beauty industry about retinol —is it clean, or is it harmful? It’s important here to remember that everyone is at a different place in their skincare journey and has the option to choose what is right for them. My doctor (who uses all LARK products!) recommended for the type of acne I was dealing with to try using prescription-strength retinol. Retinol works by clearing clogged pores of dead skin cells and acts as an anti-inflammatory for cystic-type acne. I have been using this every other night for five weeks, and I do believe it is working. I’m willing to give it a full 8 weeks before I reevaluate — what I recommend every customer that tries a new product. If you are curious about over the counter retinol, there are a few cleaner options on the market.
LED Light Therapy for Acne
LED light technology was honed by NASA in the 1990’s for plant growth and wound healing in outer space. It has progressed into the cosmetic industry to help kill acne-causing bacteria and signs of aging, and you can find this technology being used in med spas and now homes across the country.
How does it work? The two most common are red light and blue light. Red light stimulates the natural production of collagen and elastin to reduce wrinkles and deep clean pores, and blue light destroys P. acnes bacteria and prevents future breakouts. These light waves penetrate layers of the dermis to work under the skin. And before you start rolling your eyes like I did, there are many clinical trials supporting these claims. Click here to read specifically how blue light therapy aids in acne treatment.
There are many LED light tools on the market these days. I have been using a tool called My Skin Buddy for one week (silly name, I know), which also includes a green light that helps fade hyperpigmentation. My melasma is where I have seen the most dramatic results. I use the tool for 10 minutes each day after oil, sometimes twice a day (20 mins total) if I have time. I started using this device with Lauren in our facial, and we chose My Skin Buddy over others because of the option for three LEDs as well as the thermal technology and ultrasonic vibration which helps product penetrate deeper.
As I mentioned, I’ve been using the tool for exactly one week. I’ve seen a difference in my hyperpigmentation most noticeably. I will definitely continue to use this device in my skincare routine.
All-in-all, I am very happy with my current skincare routine, even if it does mean I have to skip my favorite Rose + Glycolic Brightening Mask until I’m fully healed. I am just reminding myself that patience and consistency are both key in this area.
My Lifestyle Changes
I’ve made the following changes that have helped my holistic healing:
- Learning about hormones and taking medication to help balance
- Lowering cortisol levels through CBD + supplements, yoga + sauna
- Practicing manual lymph drainage
- Changing my diet and increasing water intake
I know these are a lot of changes nearly all at once, so it’s hard to say exactly what changes will be impacting my acne, however they are all positive changes that are going to benefit my health long-term, so ideally these practices will stick with me for the long run.
1) Understanding Hormones: Knowledge + Medication
Recently, I had a friend ask me “what is wrong with our hormones that we are struggling with acne at 30, but our other friends don’t?” and it got me thinking, I don’t know, but I want to find out. I know it’s not the skincare I’m using, so I dug deeper: what is out of balance in our bodies that we need to get back in alignment so that things are working the way they should be? Here is what I have learned so far:
Hormonal acne is related to an imbalance of hormones: higher levels of estrogen and/or androgens (testosterone) and lower levels of progesterone can all be attributed to an increased production of sebum (oil) which can clog pores.
To go back to skincare quickly: this is why it is so important to start with using a good oil cleanser and/or gentle gel cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin of its natural oils. You might think that increased oil production means you want to use something that will dry out the oil, but what you are actually doing is confusing your skin — to make up for the lack of oil, it will in turn produce even more — therefore creating a vicious cycle of oil overproduction, acne, dryness, oil overproduction, acne, you get the picture.
I met with my doctor at the beginning of this acne eruption to explain the symptoms I was having, and we did some tests including thyroid to rule everything out of the picture. When tests came back normal, we addressed the sebum issue with an antiandrogen medication called Spironolactone. Spironolactone works by blocking androgen receptors to decrease the sebum production in the body. I believe this to be working for me, so I will continue as a part of treatment, although like birth control, I hope get off of the hormone-altering medication soon. Please note that this was prescribed to me by my doctor. Consult your physician for a remedy that works best for you and your body.
2) Lowering Cortisol Levels: CBD, Supplements, Yoga and Sauna
Speaking of understanding hormones, cortisol (the hormone secreted in times of stress) can be a key offender in hormonal acne. A little bit of cortisol is good, but times of acute stress can exacerbate your breakouts because like androgens, cortisol increases the production of sebum.
It’s easy to forget to put into place things that keep me level headed and stress less. To combat this, I’ve implemented the following:
- CBD Oil: Per my doctor’s recommendation, I have been taking CBD oil in the morning to help with stress and anxiety. I have seen this be a huge help in decreasing unnecessary (unwarranted) stress. It has also been helping me sleep better which gives my skin more time to rest and repair. I’ve been using local, lab-tested CBD brand Florae Botanicals, and I cannot say enough good things about them! Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any additional questions, and as a reminder speak with your physician before moving forward.
- Supplements: Ashwagandha and magnesium are both known to lower stress and keep your body balanced. Per my doctor’s recommendation, I’ve added both of these to my morning routine in addition to my Spironolactone and daily vitamins.
- Hot Yoga: I started getting back into hot yoga after a friend remembered times of daily yoga helping her skin clear up. And I have to say the benefits of yoga are boundless. I prefer hot yoga to most other exercise because not only is it gentle on joints, the infrared heat helps sweat out toxins in addition to strengthening the mind body connection, relieving stress and helping move the lymphatic system as explained below. After class, I towel off and use my Aloe + Lime Toner to clear out any potentially clogged pores (and it’s so refreshing!).
- Infrared Sauna: Infrared sauna was a recommendation from the same friend above. I love it because it’s like a lazy, incredibly relaxing way to sweat out toxins on days when yoga isn’t in the cards for me. The infrared heat (same used in hot yoga) is even more intense in a sauna and has been known to have toning benefits due to the increase in elastin and collagen.
3) Manual Lymph Drainage: Facials and Gua Sha
Put very simply, the lymphatic system is our natural detoxifier that carries toxins from throughout your body to your liver and kidneys. Lymph is a fluid that moves through vessels and should flow throughout the body, but can become congested or stagnant.
A congested lymphatic system can worsen hormonal acne in two ways: 1) stagnation in the lymph nodes build up toxins in certain areas of your body and 2) the lymphatic system helps carry progesterone through your body, so if it’s stagnant (not moving the progesterone) then it can make your hormones out of balance.
Did you know there are several lymph nodes in the neck, jaw and ear areas? Think about when you’re sick and you feel the golf ball sized knots on your neck. When lymph builds up toxins in these areas, they can show up in the form of acne. Everyday ways to improve lymph movement is through drinking water, exercise and manual lymph drainage, or a type of facial massage that breaks up stagnant lymph and promotes flow.
I have been meeting with one of our Holistic Estheticians, Lauren, once a week where we focus the facial massage on breaking up lymph. For added lymphatic drainage, book a Gua Sha or Jade Rolling Enhancement when you book your facial. If you’re not able to meet with an esthetician, this is something you can start doing at home. The Gua Sha tool is a great place to start, but if you have cystic acne, please use clean hands (no tool) and remember to press lightly.
4) Dietary: Increasing Water Intake + Eliminating Inflammatory Foods
Drinking water not only hydrates your skin, but it helps clean your cells of built-up waste. It was the first and easiest thing I added into my daily routine. My best tip here is invest in a good water bottle and keep it on your person at all times.
I have also eliminated dairy and sugar from my diet, as well as reduced my alcohol intake. All three of these are known inflammatory foods which can trigger acne. I’ve made the decision to alter my diet for other health reasons as well as a recommendation from my doctor. For example, after cutting out almost all forms of dairy earlier this year (I’m a sucker for a good charcuterie board), my asthma and “seasonal allergies” have completely gone away. Making the decision to fully cut out dairy has been difficult, but I know it will have continued benefits.
Too Long, Didn’t Read: The Recap
You do not have to go through this alone. First and foremost, find a doctor that will listen and recommend tests and treatment that feel right to you. For so long I was put on a pill or antibiotic as a remedy, and every time I wished I would have pushed for better answers to my questions they dismissed.
Second, talk about it with your friends and family. Let people know how you feel. A supportive circle will empower you on the makeup-less days which will let your skin heal. You will feel ready to take this into your own hands and make decisions that can positively impact your health.
Lastly, there is a lot of advice in this article. It can be incredibly overwhelming, so just pick one or two places to start. For me, it was switching to a clean skincare routine and increasing my water intake. One of those is free, and one of those is an easy, accessible way to start making healthier choices. If you’re interested in starting today, I highly recommend the Aloe + Lime Purifying Facial Toner and Hormonal Acne Custom Oil Blend. For any skincare questions, please send us a message.
For me, a combination of a clean skincare routine, facial techniques (one technology and one massage) dietary changes and stress-relieving practices, coupled with natural supplements and two medications (one oral, one topical) have been incredibly helpful. But as I mentioned, healing is different for everyone.
This is still very much a learning process for me, as it will be for you when you begin. I will update this blog post in four weeks, which will mark the 12th week I have been having hormonal acne flare ups. I hope that you can soon be on your way to clearer skin.
This is so helpful- thank you so much! I was wondering what CBD you buy from that website, and if you take a pill of ashwaganda and magnesium or use the powder? thanks again!
I’m so happy you shared your story. This year, 2 months before my 28th birthday I started to develop body acne and then an increase in hormonal acne. I have PCOS and have struggled with recurrent buyer very mild hormonal acne around my period. However, this acne I developed this year was like nothing I hadexperienced before, deep, cystic, painful acne that would take weeks to go away.
It was originally just wrote off as my PCOS flaring up/over-training physically and being busy at work. Ya know typically “female probs” not to worry . But that’s easy for the doctors to say that when it seems like a minuscule issue in life. And it seems super vain to be worried about my looks but it’s hard not too when I started to change the way I dress and do my makeup. I’m a young female professional and having acne doesn’t help people take me serious. But the alarm going off in my head of why at 28 My body is going nuts and causing this.
I’ve so far tried different antibiotics, dietary changes, exercise routine changes and skin care products. I don’t wish this upon anyone else but it’s nice to hear someone else’s journey and I was starting to lose my mind trying to navigate this confusing issue with multiple factors to take into consideration.
Thank you for sharing your journey. I am going to give some of the skin care products you recommended a try !
This is a great article, friend! I’m def going to be adding some new supplements to my morning routine for sure!