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Hormonal acne diet: Can it banish breakouts?

Good news: Proper nutrition may play a key role in helping avoid hormonal acne.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
man wearing a hoodie and headphones
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Chances are you, like millions of others, have experienced breakouts on the lower cheeks, chin, or jawline at some time or other. These pimples may be related to hormones, which can play a significant role in acne. The factors that cause the hormone fluctuations that may worsen hormonal acne include everything from birth control to hormone therapy and even your diet. Here we’ll break down the hormonal acne diet and what foods, vitamins, and minerals may affect your skin, both positively and negatively.

What is hormonal acne?

Hormonal acne results from hormonal fluctuations (e.g. progesterone and androgens like testosterone), which can trigger excess oil (sebum) production and lead to breakouts. If you have hormonal acne, your breakouts may occur in a “hormonal pattern” on the bottom third of the face around the lower cheeks, chin, and jawline.¹

What causes hormonal acne? 

One of the most common skin conditions both adolescents and adults experience is acne vulgaris, which happens when pores become clogged with excess sebum and dead skin cells. Bacteria that normally live on the skin (C. acnes) thrive in this environment, which can trigger an inflammatory response that leads to acne.²

Here are a few hormonal factors that can contribute to the development of acne:

  • Hormonal fluctuations due to menstruation: During the second half of the menstrual cycle, the rise of progesterone stimulates the production of sebum, the oil produced as a natural lubricant by the skin’s sebaceous glands.³

  • Hormonal fluctuations due to puberty: There’s a reason why we remember our teenage breakouts so vividly! Puberty’s hormonal fluctuations are a common contributor to hormonal acne.⁴

  • Taking exogenous hormones: An increase in testosterone during hormone therapy may lead to acne.⁵

  • Hormonal imbalances: Hormonal imbalances like those accompanying polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may contribute to hormonal acne.⁶

  • Birth control: Certain types of birth control may contribute to hormonal acne. On the flip side, hormonal breakouts sometimes respond positively to oral contraceptives!⁷

  • Stress and anxiety: Studies show that stress may contribute to breakouts, so if you’re feeling particularly stretched thin, you may notice an increase in acne.⁸

Hormonal Acne Face Map Curology Infographic

Foods that may contribute to hormonal acne 

Another factor that may influence hormonal acne breakouts is your diet. While it’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is unique, several foods have been linked to worsening acne. Here at Curology, we believe it’s impossible to create a one-size-fits-all list of foods to avoid with hormonal acne because everyone’s body reacts differently to different triggers. If you find that none of the most common acne-causing foods affect your skin, there’s no need to avoid them!

Foods high on the glycemic index (GI)

Recent research shows that high-GI diets may make acne worse.⁹ To reduce the likelihood of experiencing hormonal acne breakouts, you may want to avoid or minimize your intake of high-GI foods like white bread, certain types of potatoes, white rice, candy, soda, sweetened cereals, and sugary baked goods. 

Dairy 

One study found a link between the consumption of skim or low-fat milk with acne but did not find the same connection with full-fat milk.¹⁰ The association may be due to the hormones and bioactive molecules in milk. While no randomized controlled trials have been done to examine how dairy may affect acne, several observational studies suggest that certain dairy products, especially skim milk, may trigger an acne breakout.¹¹ So, swapping out cream, cheese, milk, and ice cream for dairy-free alternatives may positively impact your hormonal acne. 

Chocolate

Studies have not confirmed a direct link between chocolate and acne,¹² but some research suggests that it may worsen existing acne or cause new breakouts.¹³ Also, because many types of chocolate and chocolatey treats contain ingredients like sugar and dairy, it may be those ingredients that worsen your acne and not the chocolate itself.

Foods that may help with hormonal acne 

While there’s no “prescribed” diet for preventing or treating hormonal acne, you can make a few dietary changes that may positively influence your breakouts. Remember, no single approach works for everyone, and our experts recommend discussing your symptoms with your medical provider or dietitian. The best diet for hormonal acne can vary from person to person but may include the following: 

Omega-3 fatty acids

One study showed that patients who consumed dietary supplements based on omega-3 fatty acids showed reduced acne lesions.¹⁴ If you’re looking to add more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, reach for nuts, seeds, fish, and oral supplements. 

Dairy-free alternatives

If dairy triggers your hormonal acne, reduce or eliminate your intake of dairy products like milk, cheese, cream, and ice cream. You can also try dairy-free alternatives like nut and oat milk, vegan and lactose-free cheeses, yogurts, cream sauces, desserts, and more. 

Low-GI foods

If foods high on the glycemic index trigger your hormonal acne, reducing your intake may help improve your symptoms. Swap the high-GI foods listed above, like white bread and white rice, for brown rice, sweet potatoes, non-starchy veggies, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruit.

Proper nutrition

Our dermatology providers recommend following a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains. Eating whole, healthy foods that are minimally processed and low in sugar is a great way to improve and maintain your overall health, skin included.

food rich omega 3

What vitamins help with hormonal acne?

Getting your daily intake of vitamins and minerals is essential for your body, and it may also impact your skin. It’s important to note that more research is needed regarding the roles different vitamins and minerals may play in preventing and treating breakouts, but the following vitamins may act as natural acne supplements: 

Zinc

More research is needed, but studies show a link between severe acne and lower zinc levels in the blood. So, taking zinc supplements may help with acne.¹⁵

Vitamin B

There are a lot of different kinds of B vitamins, but only some of them may be good for your skin. While research is ongoing, taking vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) may help with hormonal acne.¹⁶ If you try this, we generally recommend 50 mg daily. It is important to not exceed the daily recommended dose and always consult your healthcare provider before adding new supplements. 

Vitamin C

Topical vitamin C can help fade hyperpigmentation and boost collagen production and sun protection,¹⁷ but more research is needed into whether or not it can help treat acne.

Vitamin A 

High doses of vitamin A have been proven to help acne but may have significant side effects. The powerful medication isotretinoin (Accutane) is a vitamin A derivative, but it must be prescribed and monitored by an in-person licensed dermatologist. Eating a varied diet is another great way to get vitamin A.

Other ways to prevent hormonal acne 

Hormones can significantly impact your physical and emotional well-being. If you’re wondering how to balance your hormones for acne and other acne prevention tips, here are a few things that may help: 

  • Choose non-comedogenic products: Opt for beauty and skincare products that won’t clog your pores—your skin will thank you. Watch out for these pore-clogging ingredients in your hair, makeup, and skincare products.

  • Manage your stress levels:¹⁸ Practicing regular self-care like walking, yoga, and meditation may help decrease stress and anxiety levels to help prevent acne breakouts. 

  • Exercise regularly: The hormones insulin and IGF-1 may contribute to hormonal acne, and exercise has been shown to reduce insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.¹⁹

  • Consider your gut health: The gut is home to more than 100 trillion friendly bacteria.²⁰ Keeping your gut healthy may help reduce insulin resistance, which could positively influence your hormones and help reduce hormonal acne.

curology family products

Curology can help treat hormonal acne 

Along with diet and lifestyle changes, one of the most effective ways to treat all types of acne is with the help of a licensed medical professional. Even if your breakouts are hormonal, topical treatments like Curology can help address the multiple factors that play a role in your breakouts. Curology’s licensed dermatology providers help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine by determining the products needed to address your skin concerns and creating a personalized prescription formula to help you meet your skincare goals.

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FAQs

What is hormonal acne?

Hormonal acne results from hormonal fluctuations (e.g. progesterone and androgens like testosterone), which can trigger excess oil (sebum) production and lead to breakouts. If you have hormonal acne, your breakouts may occur in a “hormonal pattern” on the bottom third of the face around the lower cheeks, chin, and jawline. 

What causes hormonal acne?

One of the most common skin conditions both adolescents and adults experience is acne vulgaris, which happens when pores become clogged with excess sebum and dead skin cells. Bacteria that normally live on the skin (C. acnes) thrive in this environment, which can trigger an inflammatory response that leads to acne.

Which foods may contribute to hormonal acne?

Another factor that may influence hormonal acne breakouts is your diet. While it’s important to remember that everyone’s skin is unique, several foods have been linked to worsening acne.

  • Foods high on the glycemic index (GI): You may want to avoid or minimize your intake of high-GI foods like white bread, certain types of potatoes, white rice, candy, soda, sweetened cereals, and sugary baked goods. 

  • Dairy: One study found a link between the consumption of skim or low-fat milk with acne but did not find the same connection with full-fat milk.

  • Chocolate: Studies have not confirmed a direct link between chocolate and acne, but some research suggests that it may worsen existing acne or cause new breakouts.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Elsaie, ML. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (September 2016).

  2. Zaenglein, A. et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016).

  3. Elsaie, ML. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  4. Elsaie, ML. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  5. Dhingra, N., et al. Medical and aesthetic procedural dermatology recommendations for transgender patients undergoing transition. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2019 January 21).

  6. Elsaie, ML. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. Ibid.

  7. Geller L., et al. Perimenstrual flare of adult acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (August 2014).

  8. Graubard, R., et al. Stress and Skin: An Overview of Mind Body Therapies as a Treatment Strategy in Dermatology. Dermatol Pract Concept. (2021).

  9. Bowe, W. P., Diet and acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2010).

  10. Adebamowo, C., et al, High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2004).

  11. Zaenglein, A., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (May 2016).

  12. Pappas, A., The relationship of diet and acne: A review. Dermatoendocrinol. (2009).

  13. Caperton, C., et al, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study Assessing the Effect of Chocolate Consumption in Subjects with a History of Acne Vulgaris. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (2014).

  14. Kucharska, A., et al. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (2016).

  15. Gupta, M. et al.Zinc Therapy in Dermatology: A Review.Dermatology Research and Practice. (2014).

  16. Yarnell, E., et al. Herbal Medicine for Acne Vulgaris. Alternative & Complementary Therapies. (December 2006).

  17. Pullar, J.The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. (August 2017).

  18. Zari, S., Alrahmani, D. The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. (2017).

  19. Layman, D.K., et al. Defining meal requirements for protein to optimize metabolic roles of amino acids. Am J Clin Nutr. (2015).

  20. Saad, M.J., et al. Linking Gut Microbiota and Inflammation to Obesity and Insulin Resistance. Physiology (Bethesda). (2016).

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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