Adult acne is real, and it’s frustrating.
As an adult, you assumed breakouts were a thing of the past once. But, no. Your skin is smooth until the week before your period and then, boom, it’s like you’re 16 all over again, with acne appearing most prominently on your chin, jawline, neck, shoulders, and back.
What causes cyclical adult acne? Hormones.
Are hormonal breakouts normal for adult women? To a degree, yes (because hormonal shifts throughout your 28-day cycle are normal)…but, and this is a BIG but, you can make simple changes to your food, lifestyle, and skin care strategies that dramatically improve your skin all month long.
Once you understand what is happening with hormones throughout each month and how those hormonal shifts are influenced by environmental factors, you can put a stop to cyclical acne.
What Causes Acne
The 28-day menstrual cycle is characterized by hormonal shifts in the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. It’s the rise and fall of these hormones throughout the month that triggers ovulation and menstruation.
Similarly, the rise and fall in estrogen each month plays a role in menstrual symptoms, like PMS and cyclical acne, though they are not the root cause. Your body’s natural, normal, necessary hormone shifts load the gun, so to speak, but hormone imbalances and other factors, like inflammation, are what really pull the trigger. So the smartest and most effective strategy for solving cyclical acne is addressing hormone imbalances — and not trying to flatten your natural hormone cycle (like hormonal birth control does).
In other words, cyclical hormonal changes are normal. Cyclical acne is not.
And when you breakout can tell you a lot about which strategies will help you the most in healing cyclical acne. Listen to my FB Live to do a deep dive on what it means when you break out during different phases of your cycle
- If you breakout during ovulation, the cause is high estrogen and you will need to support your body’s ability to break it down more quickly during this phase with cruciferous vegetables.
- If you breakout before period, the cause is low progesterone and you can use food and lifestyle to support boosting progesterone. The supplement Vitex can also help support progesterone.
- If you breakout all the time, the cause is inflammation, so incorporate inflammation-fighting foods into your diet like cruciferous vegetables and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and egg yolks.
- If you breakout during stressful situations, the cause is high cortisol and dysregulated insulin. Focus on balancing blood sugar and limiting high-sugar foods.
- If you breakout after 35, the cause is the erratic hormonal shifts related to perimenopause. Make it a priority to engage in The Cycle Syncing Method™ to bring balance back to your monthly hormone shifts.
- If you breakout during postpartum/miscarriage, the cause is plunging levels of estrogen and progesterone and the return of menstruation. If your period has returned, your priority here should be engaging in phase-based self care by practicing The Cycle Syncing Method™. If your cycle has not returned, seek out support from acupuncture.
None of the causes can be spot treated. While you can emphasize inflammation-lowering strategies if you suspect the main cause of your acne is inflammation, you can’t ignore the other root hormone imbalances or your acne will persist.
Why the Conventional Acne Treatments You’re Using Aren’t Working
When I had acne, I tried everything my doctor would give me. I was desperate to improve the way my skin looked and the way I felt about myself. I imagine you’ve also gone through a list of potions and pills, hoping each would work for you. I personally tried a long course of antibiotics to stop the acne, which permanently stained my teeth slightly yellow (to this day!) and destroyed my gut microbiome so badly that I spent my entire freshman year of college with viruses, yeast infections, and flu-like symptoms. I tried Retinol-A cream and Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide thinking I could heal my skin from the outside and just fix the surface of the issue. Needless to say, none of those things worked.
There’s a reason these commonly prescribed medications don’t work — and most even come with dangerous side effects:
The birth control pill: The pill disrupts your microbiome, endocrine system, and micronutrient levels – all systems essential for keeping your skin clear. You may have clear skin while you’re taking it, but not without added side effects that can worsen issues like PCOS, plus increase your risk of some reproductive cancers. Once you decide to stop using hormonal birth control, a common symptom of the withdrawal period is acne, often worse than you’ve had before because of the internal disruption that has occurred as a result of the medication.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics do incredible damage to the microbiome because they don’t distiguish between good bacteria and bad bacteria—they just kill all of them—and robust gut health is important for clear skin. As with hormonal birth control, when you come off the antibiotics, the acne may not only return, it can be much worse than it was before because of the microbiome damage.
Spironolactone/Aldactone: Just as I don’t recommend synthetic hormonal birth control or meat and dairy that contain synthetic hormones, I don’t recommend the steroid medication spironolactone. This steroid is nothing like the hormones your body produces on its own. It disrupts your body’s production of testosterone by confusing your body with a synthetically similar steroid. Plus, spironolactone use can trigger one of the most common hormone imbalance issues (and a cause of acne)—estrogen dominance—as well as depression, blood clots, and increased risk of some cancers. Spironolactone is not safe to take long term and is not going to prevent acne beyond the point that you are using it.
Isotretinoin (originally Accutane): If you’re prescribed Isotretinoin, then you are also prescribed hormonal birth control, because Isotretinoin causes birth defects. That in itself should be enough to dissuade you from using this medication. There are other side effects—including an initial worsening of acne—and severe depression. The original patented drug, Accutane, was after many users developed inflammatory bowel disease and use of the drug was associated with increased risk of suicide. Usually this medication is offered as a last resort, but rarely have diet and lifestyle changes been part of prior acne-treatment protocols.
The problem with all of the treatments for acne that you’ve probably been offered, or tried already, is that they don’t address the root cause of an adult woman’s acne issues: hormone imbalance. In fact, antibiotics and the birth control pills only worsen the hormonal imbalance that triggers acne.
A cascade of (seemingly unrelated) health problems fuels the development of hormonal acne: A damaged and depleted gut microbiome leads to estrogen dominance, testosterone sensitivity, and a deficiency in key micronutrients necessary for skin health. Or you could say: hormonal acne starts in the gut.
But there’s great news here, I promise: the microbiome is super responsive to treatment—and prevention and healing are both attainable by shifting the way you eat and embracing specific natural supplements. With the right use of natural supplements, you can see your acne disappear in just a couple of months.
Once I figured out how to eat and live to support my hormones, my skin cleared up (and a lot of other great stuff happened too). My skin’s been clear ever since and I’ve helped many other women achieve the same lasting success.
How to Solve Cyclical Acne for Good
The skin is the largest organ of detoxification and one of your top goals for easing cyclical acne is detoxing the excess hormones and other toxins in your body. Here are my top strategies for saying goodbye to cyclical acne for good, and I save the most important — supplementing for detoxification and glowing skin — for last. Pay special attention to the supplements section. Targeted micronutrients in the form of high-quality supplements are what really move the needle on your skin health.
Step One: Understand that hormonal acne is an “inside job.” The root causes of acne start deep within your body. They don’t start at the level of the skin. That means that any changes you make to your skin care routine will only help so much… and, if you do nothing else, the root causes of your acne will smolder on. So your first step in easing hormonal acne is shifting your mindset. You can only truly address hormonal acne by understanding it for what it is — a condition with internal root causes — and then using food, supplement, and lifestyle strategies to address those root causes.
Step Two: Practice The Cycle Syncing Method™. The Cycle Syncing Method™ is the practice of living in a way that gets your hormones working for you rather than against you. It involves tailoring your self-care and hormone-support routines to your unique needs during each phase of your 28-day hormone cycle. It is also what differentiates the Flo Protocol from other hormone support programs, and it is what will ultimately the biggest difference when it comes to clear skin. The first step in practicing The Cycle Syncing Method™ is to track your cycle. Once you know what’s happening in your body each week of the month, it’s time to match what you eat, how you move, and even how you plan your schedule and how you interact with others with your hormones.
Step Three: Eat your way to clear skin. Food is one of the most powerful levers you can pull when it comes to easing hormonal acne. That’s because the right foods address not just one but several root causes of acne. Specifically, you can use food to (1) reduce system-wide inflammation, which fuels acne; (2) address hormone imbalances, like estrogen dominance, which exacerbate skin issues; (3) support your body’s natural ability to detoxify, (4) balance your blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, which calms your oil glands and decreases the bioavailability of androgens (high levels of androgens can trigger breakouts); and (5) patch up micronutrient deficiencies that can contribute to breakouts.
Wanna do a deep dive on eating for acne, including which foods to prioritize and which to avoid? Here’s where to turn:
- To learn which foods to eat to support detoxification, go here.
- To build an anti-inflammatory, micronutrient-rich eating plan, go here.
- To find out which foods to avoid to help clear your skin, go here.
What’s on your plate is one of your best defenses against breakouts. Make food a top priority in healing the root causes of acne.
Step Four: Find good skin care. There are a plethora of organic skin care lines to address acne-prone skin, from Marie Veronique to Renee Rouleau Anti Bump Solution. Check out Credo Beauty and Cap Beauty for more excellent options. This is an important step because if you’re giving up the medicated topicals, you will need something to help with skin turnover, pore decongestion, excess oil, and cysts.
Step Five: Use targeted supplementation to clear your skin. As I said, I saved one of the most critical steps for last. The right supplementation can make all the difference between slightly improving your acne and clearing it for good. You will read a lot on the Internet about micronutrients that are best for skin, but after nearly 20 years of research — and of using these same supplements to clear my own hormonal acne — this is what I recommend:
Magnesium. A lack of magnesium causes skin inflammation. Taking magnesium with calcium combined in supplement form can lower the amount of C-reactive proteins in your body which cause this inflammation. Calcium is part of our tissue matrix – bones, cells, and skin – and very important for skin cell renewal.
Omega-3s. Getting your omega-3 fatty acids in fish or flax oil will give you almost instant results. Clearer, softer, smoother skin as well as stronger hair and nails – you can see it happen in days. They have a big picture, whole body affect, as well as results in the short term. I also advise supplementation. It is hard to overstate the importance of omega-3 fatty acids when it comes to skin health.
Zinc. Zinc deficiency is a very common issue for many women. When we are deficient in zinc our pores become easily irritated by bacteria and show redness. A large-scale scientific study concluded that zinc supplementation is very effective even when compared to commonly prescribed antibiotics. I also recommend having a little bit of grass-fed liver every week as part of a meal or as a snack. It’s full of copper and vitamin A. The copper will balance out the zinc in your body and the vitamin A is what your liver needs to detoxify from excess hormones. A well-functioning liver boosts your absorption of all vitamins and minerals and prevent deficiencies developing in the first place.
Probiotics. We need probiotics for a healthy gut. A common symptom of a damaged and depleted microbiome is acne and other skin issues like rosacea. It’s particularly important with hormonal acne as your microbiome assists your body in processing and eliminating excess estrogen. If you’ve been on the Pill or antibiotics for any length of time, probiotics could be key to getting your skin back on track.
B Vitamins. Your skin needs B-vitamins to regenerate and renew as they provide the energy all of your cells need for fuel. Taking a good B-complex every day that includes a high level of B6 will target hormonal and premenstrual acne. B6 prevents skin inflammation and overproduction of sebum (the oil your skin produces at can create acne issues).
Always remember that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you. You can do this – the science of your body is on your side.
BALANCE by FLO Living Hormone Supplement Kit
Because you’ve asked for hormone-friendly supplement recommendations, I created a solution that I am so thrilled to be able to offer to you on your hormonal balancing journey:
Balance by FLO Living Supplements are a complete package that work together to keep your hormone levels healthy. They include a 2 month(2 cycle) supply of the following formulations so you’re never caught short in any phase of your cycle.
When you take these 5 supplements daily, you’ll be giving your body excellent micronutrients to support healthier hormone levels. Which means that you’ll start to see your worst period symptoms get better… and even disappear after a while.