How to deal with hormonal acne

Learn about—and limit!—those breakout cycles.

4 minute read

"Acne" written in pink and purple makeup against a peach background, with lipstick and makeup brushes next to the letters
We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

Here’s something many off-the-shelf acne products won’t tell you: one of the biggest factors contributing to acne is hormones. Certain hormonal fluctuations cause glands in your skin to release more natural oils (called sebum), which collect in the pores and contribute to acne. But what causes these fluctuations? In this guide, we’ll discuss how hormones can trigger acne and what steps you can take to help prevent a breakout.

What causes hormonal acne?

Hormonal fluctuations can come from medications, stress, and even the day-to-day of normal life. In women, birth control and menstrual cycles can also be culprits! These hormones (called androgens) are found in both men and women. They can have a more noticeable impact in women right before their periods.

Illustration / diagram of skin with text "Normal Follicle": "Sebaceous gland," "Open pore," "Hair follicle;" "Inflamed Acne": "Pore lining ruptures," "Inflammation and tissue destruction"

When triggered, sebaceous glands in the skin release sebum, your body’s natural oil, mixing with dead skin cells still in the pore. The mix of skin cells and oil can leak out of the damaged pore lining and into the surrounding skin, causing inflammation. When inflammation happens, acne happens.

Acne and birth control

Closeup of two women facing each other smiling with mouths open and multicolored pills on tongue against a neutral background

While topical treatments can help acne on the surface of the skin, sometimes we need to directly treat the hormonal aspect of acne too. Birth control is one option (for women) that can help stop androgens from jumpstarting acne.

But this isn’t bible — different hormonal contraceptives may either improve or worsen acne, depending on the hormone(s) involved. So check out this guide to see how your birth control might be affecting you.

Acne and diet: tea vs. milk

Illustration of a teapot and cup with a leaf and text "2 cups of spearmint tea"

Here’s a surprising tip: for women, relief might come from a cup of tea! There is some evidence that two cups of spearmint tea per day can reduce the levels of androgens that trigger acne. Want to try it? Drink your two cups per day, but don’t overdo it — too much can be harmful. We like Traditional Medicinals Organic Spearmint Tea, which you can find online. (Not your cup of tea? You could consider spearmint supplements instead.)

Note that this is only suggested for women who aren’t expecting. Because spearmint tea can theoretically decrease testosterone, it’s not recommended for men or pregnant women.

Full gallon jug of milk with a white and red straw against a gray neutral background

Milk — even organic milk — contains precursors to androgens that can kickstart acne. What’s more, skim milk has an even stronger influence than whole milk, especially if you’re drinking more than three servings per week. See our Guide To Foods That Cause Acne to see how some simple changes can make a significant difference.

The other pill

If you’ve struggled with your hormonal acne and other lifestyle changes haven’t made a difference, you might consider this prescription option. Spironolactone is a mild diuretic pill often used for high blood pressure. But hey — it can also limit how much oil your glands release into the pores! Though since it also blocks testosterone, it’s generally not an option for men.

Illustration of a woman's side profile and a bag with spironolactone illustration with text "Spironolactone is a mild diuretic pill"

See a doctor in-person for a prescription. FYI, as with most hormonal treatments, it can take a few months to see significant effects.

Pro tip: In case you’re expecting, spironolactone is not safe for pregnant women. If there’s a chance you may become pregnant, don’t take spironolactone unless you’re using a reliable contraceptive.

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Stress: the other acne-triggering hormone

Hand holding purple pill against an orange and peach calendar with other purple pills against a gray neutral background

In general, staying healthy and mindful (and limiting unnecessary stress!) may help your skin in the long run. Stress doesn’t directly cause acne, but stress hormones can stimulate the release of oil into your pores. If you notice acne that comes and goes in some kind of cycle, it may be hormone-related. Pay attention to what birth control you use, and keep tabs on your dairy intake to help reduce inflammation and breakouts!

• • •

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.


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