What is Hormonal Acne?

Hormonal acne (HA) is a common skin condition. HA is not a medical term, but it is useful to describe acne that occurs due to changes in hormones. Due to needing fluctuations in hormone levels to appear, it can occur to anyone, although hormonal acne affects more teenagers and women who menstruate than other groups.

Hormonal acne is caused by hormonal changes resulting in excess sebum being produced by the sebaceous glands. Sebum is an oily substance that protects and lubricates the skin. Too much sebum will clog the pores in your skin, trapping dead skin cells and bacteria in them. In turn, these infected pores can turn into acne.

Hormonal Acne and Its Impact on Sebum Production

HA is mostly caused by changes in testosterone levels during puberty or changes in progesterone and oestrogen in women. This then triggers your sebaceous glands to create more sebum, which leads to acne as described above.

During puberty in particular, there is an increase in testosterone levels in boys and girls. The hormones also cause the inner lining of the hair follicles in your skin to become thicker which increases the likelihood of the pores being blocked and therefore increases the chance of acne.

HA can also be dependent on the menstrual cycle in women. During different times in the menstrual cycle, the levels of the hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone will change. This will also change the proportion of these hormones to testosterone, which increases sebum levels in the skin. This combination of factors can cause hormonal acne flare-ups or spot break-outs that occur just before your period begins.

Identifying Hormonal Acne: Symptoms and Characteristics

There are various signs and symptoms of hormonal acne and it is important to be able to identify them. These include:

  • Blackheads (small black bumps)
  • Whiteheads (small white bumps)
  • Pustules (red bumps with pus or white tip in the centre)
  • Papules (red bumps without the white tip in the centre)
  • Cysts (lumps that have pus inside them)
  • Nodules (large, painful lumps found under the skin)

These symptoms can appear in various locations around the body. The prime target is the face: hormonal acne on the chin, cheeks and the T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) is most common, as well as around the jawline and temporal area. However, hormonal acne can also appear on the neck, back, shoulders or chest.

How to Get Rid of Hormonal Acne?

There are various treatment options for hormonal acne; which one is best suited for you will depend on the severity of your acne. Hormonal acne can range from mild to severe. Mild hormonal acne treatment options tend to be over-the-counter but can also be treated with prescribed medication. Prescription medication is a popular option for treating severe hormonal acne.


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Over the Counter Hormonal Acne Treatment Options

Acnecide and Acnecide Wash Gel can be bought over the counter. These are used for mild to moderate cases. The active ingredient, benzoyl peroxide, helps to fight your acne by attacking the bacteria that causes the acne which can help to unclog your pores.

Another treatment for mild hormonal acne is Skinoren, containing azelaic acid as its active ingredient. It has two main roles; firstly, targeting bacteria in a similar way to benzoyl acid. Additionally, it helps decrease the number of blackheads and whiteheads by unclogging pores by breaking up the skin cells clogging your pores.

Salicylic acid can also be a useful agent against hormonal acne. Salicylic acid reduces the amount of sebum in the skin on those with acne. It unclogs pores by exfoliation; removing dead skin cells from the skin.

It also has soothing and anti-inflammatory qualities, which means salicylic acid can reduce inflammation on the skin. It is available over the counter in various concentrations from 0.5%-2% concentration.

Prescribed Hormonal Acne Treatment Options

Gels and creams known as topical retinoids are a type of prescribed medication used to combat hormonal acne. The following is a list containing commonly prescribed topical retinoids that may be offered to you by your doctor:

  • Differin prescription acne cream which has the active ingredient, adapalene
  • Epiduo Gel is a combination topical retinoid which contains adapalene and benzoyl peroxide

These treatments, as well as prescription topical retinoids for hormonal acne, are designed to unclog pores and stop new blockages from forming. This should prevent further acne outbreaks. Topical retinoids like these are applied every day to the skin, and should not be washed. You should refer to any further instructions given by your doctor.

You may also be prescribed Duac Gel, a common topical treatment for acne which contains clindamycin (antibiotic) and benzoyl peroxide.

If topical treatments are not reducing your symptoms of hormonal acne, you may wish to use oral antibiotics, particularly lymecycline. This antibiotic is prescription-only, and should be taken once a day. It attacks the bacteria that are found in the clogged pores. Lymecycline works well against hormonal cystic acne.

The Role of Contraceptive Pills in Treating Hormonal Acne

Since hormonal acne is a form of adult acne, many women can suffer from it due to hormone fluctuations. To combat these hormone fluctuations, contraceptive pills can be offered; helping to balance out your hormone levels, which can help reduce hormonal acne flare-ups and the symptoms experienced from it. Clairette and Dianette are contraceptive pills that can be used to treat hormonal acne.

As with any type of medication, all these hormonal acne treatment options have side effects; it is important to discuss with your doctor what the best option is for you.


  • Hormonal acne is acne caused by hormonal fluctuations
  • It can affect anyone but it usually affect teenagers going through puberty and adult women
  • There are various over-the-counter and prescribed treatment options
  • Discuss with your GP or pharmacist what option is best suited towards you


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