Acne isn’t a serious condition. But it can be annoying and embarrassing at any age, leading to scarring, lower self-esteem, and even depression. For people well past the teenage years, hormonal acne can be especially frustrating.
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What Causes Acne?
For starters, acne is extremely common. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports that about 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 develop acne at some point. For many people, bouts of hormonal acne continue well into middle age. In fact, some people don’t get acne until adulthood.
Why do so many people get acne? It’s not what you might think. Research has shown that acne isn’t caused by poor hygiene, sweating, or eating potato chips and chocolate. Instead, several factors beyond your control may cause acne, including genetics. If family members suffered from acne, there’s a good chance you will too. While stress also can contribute to breakouts, research shows that hormones often play a bigger part. That’s why acne tends to flare up around major changes in your body — puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
Who Is at Risk of Hormonal Acne?
The short answer: almost everyone, at one time or another. But boys and girls in the preteen and teen years and women undergoing major hormonal shifts are especially susceptible.
During puberty, boys and girls produce hormones called androgens (testosterone is one of them). These hormones cause the oil-producing glands under the skin to make more oil. When the oil clogs a pore, bacteria grows and a pimple can form.
In adult women, hormones released during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can trigger the same type of oil production. Flare-ups also can occur when women start or stop using birth control pills. Your acne is likely hormonal if you notice your face breaking out a few days before your period.
What Is the Best Hormonal Acne Treatment?
Though there is no cure, there are ways to treat hormonal acne. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most cases of acne can be controlled. Don’t wait for your acne to disappear on its own; chances are it won’t.
If you have mild acne, you may want to start with over-the-counter medicines. Or, your doctor may prescribe prescription-strength topical remedies that help kill bacteria or reduce oil on the skin.
If your acne is more severe (red, swollen cysts and nodules) you may need a different type of treatment. Antibiotics and low-dose birth control pills are the most common forms of hormonal acne treatment.
For very severe acne that doesn’t respond to other medicines, your doctor may prescribe a treatment that shrinks the size of the oil glands that lead to acne. This treatment can have serious side effects, so don’t take it if there’s any chance of pregnancy.
Other treatments include chemical peels, and laser and other light therapies. Learn more about acne and skin treatments by visiting the UPMC Department of Dermatology.
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The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.