Just when you thought you'd shaken off all the spots and blemishes your teenage years could throw at you, there comes hormonal acne in your 20s or 30s ready to send you into a bad skin frenzy once more.
A particular strain of adult acne, hormonal acne is caused by an imbalance in yep, you guessed it, hormones—natural regulatory substances that keep our bodies working to their optimum. Unfortunately, just about everything we do is out to upset our hormonal cascade. From diet to menstrual cycle and from stress levels to sleep quality, each of these factors can tip the balance and cause spikes in our insulin (stress hormone) and testosterone levels, which can show up on our faces in the form of acne.
The natural knee-jerk reaction is to ply skin with topical formulas that promise to eradicate all the resulting signs of acne. But if your bad skin is because your hormones are out of whack, focussing on rebalancing them can lead to much more long-lasting results.
It isn't going to be as easy as swapping in a new cleanser, though. We spoke to a panel of Cult Beauty brand founders, who each launched a skincare line spurred on by their own problem skin, to find out how to tackle hormonal acne once and for all.
Cut back on dairy
"The group of naturopaths I work with have found that dairy is the worst offender when it comes to acne," warns Carla Oates, skincare expert and founder of The Beauty Chef. While making harsh cuts from your diet isn't easy (and should be broached with caution), she does believe that reducing your dairy intake will have a beneficial effect on your skin.
"Dairy raises insulin, which raises testosterone, and that in turn sparks cortisol products—it basically triggers this cascade of hormonal responses that can lead to acne in the long run," she explains. "This is because dairy proteins are really hard to digest and can inflame and break down the gut lining, which contributes to leaky gut syndrome. This is where the gut becomes permeable, allowing toxins to flow into the bloodstream and placing more pressure on the liver to process them. When the liver is bombarded, toxins can flow towards our skin, which can cause acne."
It's also worth noting that the spike in testosterone can cause the skin to produce more sebum, which in turn can lead to breakouts—so it's a lose-lose situation.
Eat more lacto-fermented foods
We bet you're thinking lacto-what-now? Really, lacto-fermented is just a fancier term for foods that have undergone some sort of fermentation process that boosts their levels of "good bacteria". As Oates, explains, "lacto fermentation is where you introduce lactobacillus, a beneficial bacteria that already exists in our digestive tracts, to foods so they ferment," and according to her, filling your body with this kind of bacteria is key to rebalancing your gut and can in turn, fix all manner of skin woes, including eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and hormonal acne.
"You're looking for probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir," she explains. "And these produce good bacteria that will help protect and preserve the gut lining, preventing leaky gut syndrome," as mentioned above.
Be weary of skin-stripping formulas
"Traditional acne products will reduce sebum, but at what cost? Many contain drying alcohol or will strip the skin," explains Nicolas Travis, founder of Allies of Skin. And while these sorts of formulas can have instant results (and who doesn't want instant gratification when faced with a glaring spot in the morning), if you're noticing that your hormonal acne keeps reoccurring, then you might want to rethink your approach. "If you're constantly stripping the oil from your skin, sure, you'll reduce the symptoms of acne. But if you can get your skin to a point where it is super healthy and nourished, you won't even get the breakouts in the first place."
Travis' Promise Keeper Blemish Facial (£110) does contain AHAs and enzymes which will work to flush out overflowing pores, but it also contains antibacterial colloidal silver, rose hip oil (for skin healing) as well as niacinamide to gently coax skin out of its overzealous sebum-producing ways. At the heart of the formula, however, are probiotics that work to rebuild and restrengthen the skin's barrier, which Travis claims is the key to dealing with acne.
Reintroduce oils into your regimen
"It sounds super counterintuitive to tell someone who has acne to use a face oil because straight away, you expect it's going to make you break out," explains Annie Tevelin, founder of SkinOwl and long-time sufferer of adult acne. It's simply about finding the right ones that will heal, not suffocate, the skin.
And according to Tevelin, the magic of oils is that often, they can do so much more than any face cream. "An oil molecule is around 16 times smaller than that of a lipid, which you'll find in most creams, but at a certain point, lipids cause a barrier and can't penetrate any further into the skin," she explains. "Oil molecules are so much smaller, so they can slip and slide their way into places within the skin that creams can't—and so the right anti-inflammatory oil will be able to heal the skin far deeper."
But not all oils were created equally: "Steer clear of anything containing jojoba and coconut oil," she warns. "They are more of a wax and are highly comedogenic [acne-causing] and can actually dry out the skin. Instead, look for products with argan, baobab and marula oil which all noncomedogenic."
Switch to a physical sunscreen
If you're a sufferer of acne, the word sunscreen can send shivers down your spine, as it can often be the cause of many summertime breakouts. But as we all know, its daily use is imperative for skin health—but according to Travis, switching to a physical sunscreen can have major benefits for acne.
"Physical sunscreens usually contain zinc oxide, which is brilliant for skin because it's a physical blocker, forming a barrier and preventing things [like pollution particles and acne-causing bacteria] from sticking to your skin and damaging it," he explains. "But it's also anti-inflammatory, so that's why you find it in so many baby products as it's so soothing for skin."