Hormonal Acne 101

Hormonal acne occurs regardless of age — it is experienced by teenagers and adults alike. Here to explain this occurrence is board-certified dermatologist, dermatologic and laser surgeon, Dr. Kathryn Cembrano-Mamaclay. Tag along as she discusses the know-whats about this skin condition.

FURTHER READING: Fungal Acne: What It Really Is and How To Treat It

What is hormonal acne?

According to Dr. Kathryn, these are “acneiform eruptions that are associated with hormonal imbalances or fluctuations.” Unfortunately, women are more prone to encountering this especially during that time of the month. “In women, these usually occur around the time of their monthly period, during pregnancy, peri-menopause, and menopause, when starting or discontinuing oral contraceptive treatment, or in the presence of underlying medical disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).” 

Hormonal imbalance causes the skin to develop acne through various factors like: (1) keratin build-up, (2) excessive sebum production, (3) proliferation of acne-causing bacteria, and (4) increased inflammation. 

It’s also important to note where the breakouts occur. Hormonal acne usually affects the T-zone area during adolescence. Adults, on the other hand, experience this more commonly on the cheeks and jawline.

How do hormones cause acne?

Dr. Kathryn enlightens us on the real process behind acne formation in relation to hormones. Get ready to jot down some notes on this relevant matter.

“Normally, once we hit our teenage years, we observe an increase in androgens (AKA male hormones) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) which causes increased levels of sebum or oil production from our sebaceous glands,” Dr. Kathryn explains. She also states that compared to women, men tend to have oilier skin. “The oil build-up facilitates proliferation of acne-causing bacteria, while changes in sebum composition results in keratin build up surrounding the pore openings. All of these together drive an inflammatory cascade that produces the clinical lesions of acne as we know it – angry looking papules and pustules.”

In addition to this, studies have shown that higher serum androgen levels (the male hormones quantified through blood samples) are significantly higher in affected patients compared to those who aren’t. As stated earlier, women usually have breakouts during particular events in their reproductive years. However, Dr. Cembrano-Mamaclay also advises to consult with a dermatologist and/or OB-Gyn for women who develop acne along with “other signs and symptoms such as excessive hair growth (hirsutism) or period irregularities that may point to an underlying medical condition.”

What are the recommended ingredients and lifestyle tips to combat hormonal acne?

Prevention is better than cure. Pay attention, ladies and gents–we’re about to get the professional insights we need in order to avoid hormonal-related skin flare-ups.

Spot the root cause of your acne.

“The first step in treating hormonal acne is to identify whether your acne is really hormonally driven, or due to exogenous factors such as medications, make-up products and cosmeceuticals, lifestyle factors such as smoking, sleep deprivation, diet, or stress. More often than not, your breakouts will have a schedule, and the best way to combat this is to be consistent with your skincare regimen. Prevention is a key factor in avoiding unsightly breakouts because your acne begins to form weeks before you can even see it on your skin’s surface.”

Of course, seeking dermatological help is always beneficial.

According to Dr. Kathryn, “Your dermatologist can help guide you in choosing an appropriate cleanser and moisturizer for your skin type and will likely prescribe a vitamin A derivative such as retinoids or retinols, benzoyl peroxide, products that contain tea tree oil, AHAs (glycolic, lactic, mandelic acids, etc.) or BHAs (salicylic acid). While over-the-counter products may help improve your breakouts, hormonal acne is commonly cystic and necessitates prescription medications.”

It also pays to evaluate your diet and overall lifestyle.

“Aside from oral and topical medications, limiting intake of sweets (high glycemic-index food) and dairy products can also help improve your skin. Get enough rest, hydrate, control your stressors and stick with a sustainable skincare routine for best results!”


Whatever the cause of your acne, it’s important to stick to good skin habits. Be consistent and be patient!

About the Contributor

Dr. Kathryn Cembrano-Mamaclay is a board-certified dermatologist and a dermatologic and laser surgeon. She has co-authored multiple international publications on minimally invasive cosmetic procedures including injectables, lasers and energy-based devices. Other than cosmetic and procedural dermatology, she has always been particularly interested in cosmeceuticals and make-up products. She firmly believes that good skin health stems from individualized treatment and consistency. You may follow her IG account @kateskinmd for fun skincare tips or book a teleconsult with her through the HealthNow app (available on the Apple Store or on Google Play).

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