Learn more about the connection between acne and the hormone testosterone

Is Testosterone Linked to Acne?

Acne isn’t just for teens. In fact, anyone can develop acne at any age — and hormones, including testosterone, are often to blame.

Acne is an extremely common skin condition that occurs when hair follicles or pores become clogged with oil and dead skin cells, allowing bacteria to grow.

Normal hormonal changes, like those that happen during puberty and adolescence, can increase the skin’s oil production and lead to acne. Much like acne in teens, adult acne often has a hormonal basis, which is why it is especially common in women during menstruation, pregnancy, and even menopause.

The Connection: Testosterone and Acne

Testosterone belongs to a class of male sex hormones called androgens, which can trigger acne by over-stimulating oil glands. They can also change the skin cells that line hair follicles, making them sticky and more likely to clog pores.

Here’s how it works: Tiny glands are inside the pores of your skin, and they produce an oil called “sebum.” Sebum carries dead skin cells from follicles to your skin’s surface, but when there is too much of it, follicles become clogged and pimples can emerge. Testosterone increases the production of sebum, making it a prime acne culprit.

Acne, Testosterone, and Women

Though testosterone is thought of as a male hormone, female ovaries produce it in small amounts. Women produce other androgens that can worsen acne as well.

Most women with acne still have normal levels of testosterone. However, if you have other signs of abnormally high testosterone, such as excess facial or body hair, deep voice, and irregular menstrual periods, you may want to talk about hormone testing with your doctor.

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Treating Hormonal Acne

If your doctor believes that high testosterone levels or other hormonal issues are to blame for acne, they may recommend a variety of treatments. In addition to topical remedies such as retinoids, they may prescribe hormonal therapies.

Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) are the most common form of hormonal treatment for acne. Another medication, spironolactone, can help address levels of androgens, including testosterone. Your dermatologist can tell you whether these approaches are right for you.

Learn more about acne and skin treatments by visiting the UPMC Department of Dermatology.