Hormonal acne can result from high androgen levels, which can increase the skin’s oil production. Avoiding things that raise androgens, such as stress, may help manage acne.

However, scientists are still learning how different hormones affect acne. Many other factors, such as inflammation and bacteria, can also play a role in this condition.

As a result, it may help if people with hormonal acne take a holistic approach, following guidance to care for their skin inside and out.

Read on to learn how to treat hormonal acne naturally at home.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
A teenage boy drying his face with a blue towel in front of a mirror during a skin care routine for acne.Share on Pinterest
Oleksii Syrotkin/Stocksy

Hormonal acne” is an informal term, rather than a distinct medical condition. It describes acne that mainly occurs due to hormonal fluctuations or imbalances. For example, a person with hormonal acne may only get spots before they have their period.

Androgens and acne

Scientists believe that androgens play a key role in this form of acne. Androgens are hormones that are heavily involved in the body’s reproductive mechanisms.

Androgens stimulate oil production from the skin’s sebaceous glands, increasing the risk of clogged pores. In contrast, estrogens have the opposite effect, reducing oil production and acne.

For this reason, hormonal acne in females often occurs at times when androgens are higher, when estrogens are lower, or both. These times include:

There are also medical conditions that raise androgen levels, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Other factors that contribute to acne

While hormonal shifts may appear to be the only trigger for acne in some cases, it is a condition that often involves a combination of multiple factors, such as:

While skin care does not address hormonal imbalances or shifts inside the body, it is still important for treating acne, as it washes away excess oil and debris that may clog pores.

Basic skin care routine

A skin care routine typically includes the following:

  • Cleansing: Washing the face with a gentle, pH-balanced cleanser once or twice per day can help manage oiliness without drying the skin. It can also remove makeup.
  • Moisturizing: Dry skin can produce more oil. Moisturizers for oily skin may help keep the skin hydrated without making it greasy. People can look for noncomedogenic moisturizers (products that do not clog pores).
  • Applying sunscreen: Sun protection is an important element in any skin care routine. It is especially important for acne, as sun exposure can trigger the condition for some, and certain acne treatments increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV light.

What to avoid

When caring for skin with acne, it is best to avoid:

  • squeezing or popping spots
  • scrubbing the skin
  • using harsh products containing alcohol or abrasive ingredients, such as sand or crushed walnut shells

It may also help to keep fabrics that come into contact with the skin clean, such as clothing and bedding.

When considering skin care products, people may wish to try those with active ingredients that directly treat acne. Some options include:

Some of these ingredients have natural sources people can use instead, if they prefer. For example, salicylic acid is in willow bark, which some companies use as a natural alternative.

However, this does not necessarily mean the product will be more effective or safer. The advantage of using specific compounds is that companies can control exactly how strong they are.

These ingredients are generally safe when a person uses them as directed, though people should not use retinoids if they could become pregnant.

There is some concern that if a person stores benzoyl peroxide for too long or at an incorrect temperature, it could degrade into benzene, a cancer-causing chemical. It is important to always store it in a cool place and not use it past the expiration date.

There is no concrete evidence that a specific diet helps treat hormonal acne. However, researchers have noted a link between foods with a high glycemic index (GI) and androgen levels.

The energy in high-GI foods “burns” more quickly than in medium and low GI foods. High GI foods include those that contain simple carbohydrates, such as sugar or white bread flour. It may help to try eating less of these and more lower GI foods.

A 2020 review also notes that previous research has found a potential link between cow’s milk and acne, but the exact link and how consistent it is across different groups is unclear.

Learn more about diet for hormonal acne.

A 2021 review of previous research notes that certain nutrients may help with acne. These include:

  • Vitamin D: A 2016 study found that many participants with acne had low vitamin D levels. Adequate vitamin D may help reduce oil production and inhibit the growth of a type of bacteria that can cause acne. Vitamin D sources include sunlight and oily fish.
  • Vitamin E: This nutrient is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. When a person gets enough of it, it may also reduce oil production. Sources include nuts, seeds, and eggs.
  • Zinc: Similarly to vitamin D, zinc may inhibit the growth of bacteria that can cause acne. Sources include pumpkin and sunflower seeds, whole grains, and oysters.

The review also notes that B vitamins may help reduce inflammation in those with acne. However, there is some limited evidence that high doses of these vitamins, particularly B12, could worsen acne.

A person can work with a doctor or dietitian to check whether they are getting the nutrients they need, and if not, how they can use diet or supplements to address this.

As well as diet, other strategies a person can try in their daily life that may help balance hormones include:

  • Reducing stress: A 2020 study of 165 people found an association between stress and acne, noting that stress also has links to higher androgen levels. While there is currently no research showing that stress reduction can directly treat acne, it can be generally helpful for well-being and may benefit the skin, too.
  • Getting enough sleep: In the 2020 study, a large majority of participants with acne also experienced sleep deprivation. This does not necessarily prove that a lack of sleep causes acne, but since sleep is integral to general health, it is important to try and get enough each night.
  • Quitting smoking: A 2019 review of past research notes there is a significant relationship between smoking and adult acne in females.

If the above approaches do not help with acne, a doctor may recommend performing tests to determine if an underlying condition, such as PCOS, is affecting a person’s skin or hormones.

In cases where there is an underlying cause, a range of treatments may help. This could include a combination of lifestyle strategies or medications.

A doctor may also be able to detect if a person is entering menopause or advise on whether medications a person takes could be worsening acne as a side effect. Drugs that may have this effect include:

Adjusting existing medications or taking other drugs to alter the balance of hormones in the body may help reduce acne. However, people should not alter dosages or stop taking prescription medications without speaking with a doctor first.

Learn more about birth control for acne.

Hormonal acne can be challenging to live with and may affect a person’s self-esteem. However, there may be ways to reduce it through skin care, as well as practices that may help balance the hormones, such as eating a healthy diet and avoiding smoking.

People who do not find home treatments effective may benefit from speaking with a dermatologist. Medical treatments, such as medications, may reduce symptoms. A doctor can advise on the risks and benefits of various acne treatments.