You are probably aware that HORMONES are the start of the cycle- For millions of women, it happens like clockwork every month: cramping, bloating, mood swings, and acne. Experts know that acne is influenced by hormones, but research on the subject has been relatively limited – until now that is!
Recently a study which was conducted by dermatologist Alan Shalita, MD, confirmed that nearly half of all women experience acne flare-ups during the week preceding their period. This is known as hormonal acne which may fail to respond to traditional therapies, such as topical retinoid and systemic or topical antibiotics.
There are several hints or clues which can help your doctor identify hormonally-influenced acne: Acne flare-ups preceding the menstrual cycle A history of irregular menstrual cycles Increased facial oiliness Hirsutism (excessive growth of hair, or hair in unusual places) Elevated levels of certain androgens in the blood stream. Any one of these is possible evidence of Hormonal Acne.
While hormonally influenced acne typically begins between the early to mid twenties, it can also strike teens and mature women as well, and is most persistent in women over the age of 30. These patients will usually experience lesions on the lower face, especially the chin and the jaw line. Some may have breakouts on the chest and back, most have blemishes exclusively on the face.
Hormonally influenced acne is usually very moderate and limited to inflammatory papules and small inflammatory nodules as well as occasional comedones. So how does it start? Well, Puberty is where it all begins. Starting sometime before adolescence (around the age of nine or ten) the adrenal glands begin to produce dihydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), an androgen. Other androgens – the “male” hormones at work in a woman’s body – such as testosterone and dehydrotestosterone (DHT), join in at the onset of puberty. These hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands to secrete more of the skin’s natural oil, or sebum. This is why oily skin and acne are so prevalent among teenagers. Naturally, since boys have more “male” hormones, teen acne tends to be more severe in males.
Acne treatment in teenagers can be very challenging. This is because their hormones are in a constant state of flux. They may initially respond very well to first-line treatments, such as topical retinoids and benzoyl peroxide, perhaps accompanied by an oral antibiotic. As their bodies develop, however, they may undergo severe hormonal shifts – and stop responding to the current medications. Courses of acne treatment may need to be adjusted more often with teenagers to accommodate these hormonal changes.
Many women actually pass into adulthood without “outgrowing” their acne. Others may not develop it until their twenties or thirties, experiencing persistent breakouts the week before their period. Why does this happen? During the course of a normal menstrual cycle (if a woman is not taking any kind of hormonal birth control pill), estrogen levels peak at mid-cycle, then decline as she nears her period. After ovulation, the ovaries begin to produce progesterone, another hormone which stimulates the sebaceous glands. And with that extra oil comes acne.
Hormones are also responsible for acne in a percentage of pregnant women. The sebaceous glands go into high gear during the third trimester, causing oily skin and frequent breakouts. There are some women who even experience acne after menopause, when estrogen levels begin to taper off and testosterone becomes the dominant hormone.
What can be done? According to Dr. Shalita, the “wait and see” attitude is particularly ineffective for hormonal breakouts: “Acne that worsens during a woman’s monthly cycle isn’t something that women will grow out of as they get older. Seeing your dermatologist to determine the best treatment plan for acne flare-ups is recommended for the most successful result.
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