Want to Treat Hormonal Acne Naturally? Things to Try Before Birth Control

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Acne, Balancing Your Hormones, Post-Birth Control Acne Leave a Comment

If you make an appointment to see your doctor about hormonal acne, chances are you'll leave with a prescription for birth control. Hormonal birth control is a go-to for hormonal acne, but the truth is that it comes with its own set of side effects and it doesn’t always work..

I often get requests from patients, readers and social media asking how to treat hormonal acne naturally without birth control because so many people struggle with hormonal acne and they want to know their options. And others are aiming to try to become pregnant, making it so birth control for acne treatment is no longer an option. If you're looking for hormonal acne solutions without birth control, there are natural solutions I will be sharing with you in this article.

This comprehensive guide will explain what you can do to address hormonal acne naturally, including simple diet changes, supplements, skincare, and more.

Why I Don't Recommend Most Women Use Birth Control for Hormonal Acne

I want to preface this by saying that if you are already on the pill or want to continue to take it while adding natural ways to support acne, that is a valid choice. But, I also want to make sure each person understands why birth control shouldn't necessarily be the first answer to everyone's acne so you can make an informed decision based on learning the reason why the acne is occurring in the first place.

Too many doctors prescribe the pill to millions of people without discussing potential side effects like nutrient depletion, inflammation, increased risks of blood clots, and mood symptoms. There’s rarely a mention that we don’t have any data on what birth control does to a developing brain when this is offered to teenagers, something many researchers, including Dr. Sarah Hill has raised concern about.

Birth control can disrupt the natural balance of your microbiome—the bacteria happily residing in your gut. There's a close connection between gut and skin health—so much so that I make gut health a priority when working with anyone dealing with acne. A healthy gut is vital for healthy hormone balance, and an imbalanced gut can significantly contribute to hormonal acne. 

Your gut is one of the ways your body clears hormones you no longer need and with it being the home of your immune system, it can be where inflammation stems from. In addition to the dietary recommendations I make for acne, I also include the Women’s Probiotic in my approach with patients because it can help with seeding the gut with beneficial organisms and feeding what grows there with prebiotics.

Plus, the pill can mask the hormone related conditions that contribute to acne (more on this below), so as soon as you stop taking it, boom, your acne comes back with a vengeance, possibly worse than before. But more concerning than acne, there are conditions that can lead to diabetes, infertility, and heart disease to which acne is only an early sign of.

Hormonal birth control is a complex subject, to say the least. My book Beyond the Pill is a must-read to help you heal if you're dealing with post-birth control acne or wanting to support your body while using the pill.

Understanding the Relationship Between Your Hormones and Acne

Most people make the connection that acne is closely tied to hormones, but let's look at why it happens. While acne is multi-factorial and can include overgrowth of bacteria or inflammation, hormones are common culprits.

Overproduction of sebum, an oily, waxy substance made by your skin to protect the surface, can cause acne by clogging pores and worsening skin inflammation. Your hormones, especially androgens like testosterone, ramp up oil and sebum production.

So when hormones are out of balance, or if you have conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), characterized by higher androgen production, you have the perfect scenario for hormonal acne.

A well-meaning care provider may give you birth control to suppress androgen production, but it's like putting a band-aid on the problem. The pill can bring welcomed acne relief for some people, but we should try to understand what causes the acne first by doing a thorough exam and testing. Once you’re on the pill, we cannot accurately test hormones like androgens and because it masks symptoms of androgen excess, it can interfere with the diagnosis of PCOS.

PCOS is a complex metabolic and hormone issue that if left untreated can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and other issues. While the pill can help the androgen piece, it’s not the only option and should be offered after a diagnosis is made.

But there are other ways to manage hormonal acne without birth control and you deserve to learn about them in order to make the best decision for yourself.

Natural Women's Skincare for Hormonal Acne

One of the most important things you can do for clear skin is to choose gentle skincare that is right for your skin and free from hormone disrupting chemicals. Many conventional products are loaded with endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs are hormone disruptors) and other harsh chemicals that could further contribute to hormone imbalances and contribute to hormonal acne.

Check your skincare products (including makeup) for ingredients that are known endocrine disruptors here.

While scrubbing your skin aggressively with rough exfoliators may seem like the answer, it can actually damage the skin barrier and worsen inflammation. Instead, opt for a simple skincare routine that includes a cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and spot treatment. 

Be sure to cleanse your face twice daily, in the morning and at night before you go to bed. Choose a natural cleanser that won't strip your skin of its natural oils.

Follow up with a light, non-comedogenic moisturizer—which means it won't clog your pores. For spot treatment, there are over the counter tea tree oil products available. Tea tree oil is a natural plant oil with anti-inflammatory properties that could help clear up spots and speed up the healing process. Pure tea tree oil is strong on its own, so I don’t recommend applying it directly to the skin.

Changing your pillowcase at least weekly can also help with preventing clogged pores.

Retinoids for Acne

Retinoids are another choice for hormonal acne. They are derived from vitamin A and help normalize skin cell turnover and unclog pores. They also have anti-inflammatory properties to help with acne redness and swelling. 

How to Adjust Your Diet for Hormonal Acne

There's no one-size-fits-all diet for hormonal acne, but there are some general guidelines that might help. The dietary changes that I suggest focus on eating foods that decrease inflammation in your body and dialing back foods that could contribute to increased androgens. 

High glycemic foods break down quickly into sugar and cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps bring your blood sugar back to normal, but it also can increase the production of hormones that contribute to acne, including androgens and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).

IGF-1 also increases androgen production and is linked to severe acne and inflammation. So by eating high glycemic foods, you may be increasing the hormonal precursors for acne.

Milk products (but not yogurt and cheese) also increase IGF-1, so you may want to limit or avoid these if you have hormonal acne.

On the other hand, beautifully colored and nourishing foods containing anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and omega-three fatty acids help decrease inflammation in your body. Fiber-rich carbohydrates can also help to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels and regulate hormone balance. 

And gut healing foods are also helpful in reducing inflammation and keeping your microbiome healthy and happy. I have a diet and hormonal acne guide that goes into specific details along with a free meal plan and recipe guide to help you get started.

Focus on These Diet Tips for Hormonal Acne

In other words, diet can be a powerful tool when you’re dealing with hormonal acne. If you want to explore this further, you can try an elimination diet, but as a start, you can experiment with the following:

  • Limit all dairy to see if it makes a difference for your hormonal acne. You can test yogurt and cheese after a few weeks since these usually are better tolerated.
  • Reduce or eliminate high glycemic foods like sugar, white flour, white rice, and processed carbohydrates.
  • Focus on eating anti-inflammatory foods like wild-caught salmon, olive oil, and avocados. Consider adding a cup of green tea each day.
  • Increase gut-healing foods like bone broth and fermented vegetables. Aim for at least ¼ cup of fermented foods each day.
  • Add fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains as tolerated to meals.

When to Consider Vitamins or Supplements for Hormonal Acne

Some key nutrients can help hormonal acne by reducing inflammation, balancing hormones, and supporting natural detoxification. Generally, I recommend using a combination of supplements to address the different factors that can contribute to hormonal acne. 

Taking supplements won't work without other lifestyle and diet changes, but they can be a part of your toolbox. You can find many of these nutrients in food, but sometimes you need more than what you can get from diet alone. If you’ve been trying everything diet wise, it may be time to bring in supplemental support.

Supplements to support healthy hormone balance could help with hormonal acne by reducing androgen production or by providing your body the necessary nutrients it uses in the detoxification process and removing excess hormones. Examples include diindolylmethane (DIM), a derivative from cruciferous veggies like kale or cabbage, or myo-inositol, which studies show could also support healthy blood sugar balance.

Additionally, supplements that target gut health can also be helpful. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live in your gut and help with digestion, and certain strains have been found to help with hormonal acne. Gut diversity is key, which is why diet can be so helpful and Women’s Probiotic can offer additional support.

Zinc also has a lot of research about its efficacy for hormonal acne. Zinc is an essential mineral for skin health, and studies show that it can help decrease inflammation and increase collagen synthesis, which supports healing.

These are only some of the acne supplements (link to supplement article here when live) I use, but they can be an excellent place to start. Sometimes it takes trial and error to find what works for you.

Other Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Hormonal Acne

In addition to diet and supplements, examining your other lifestyle choices can also be helpful for hormonal acne.

Stress Impacts Our Hormone Balance

Stress can increase blood sugar, so your body releases insulin and bumps up androgen production. To help manage stress, consider adding relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. 

You can also try taking adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha or holy basil, which could help your body better deal with stress. We combine adaptogenic herbs, along with other nutrients to support a healthy stress response in our Adrenal Support and Adrenal Calm supplements.

Sleep is Non-Negotiable

Sleep is critical for our overall health, and hormonal acne is no exception. When we don't get enough sleep, our cortisol levels increase, leading to higher insulin levels and inflammation. 

To help improve your sleep, establish a regular sleep schedule, avoid screens before bedtime, and create a relaxing bedtime routine. Some of the stress management tips above can also help with sleep.

Exercise the Right Way

Exercise is a great way to manage stress and support our overall health, but it's crucial to exercise the right way. Too much high-intensity exercise can actually increase cortisol levels, so it's important to find a balance. 

If you like high-intensity activities, I recommend mixing in exercises like walking, yoga, or light weight lifting to keep your hormones in check.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Treating Hormonal Acne Naturally

Here are some of the top questions I get about hormonal acne and natural options.

Is Birth Control the Only Treatment for Hormonal Acne? 

Hormonal birth control is not the only treatment for hormonal acne, but it is commonly prescribed because it can suppress testosterone effectively. Other pharmaceutical options also include antibiotics like tetracycline, spironolactone, Retin-A, and other topical treatments.

There are also many other options for resolving hormonal acne, including diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes. If you want to try natural acne approaches, you have many other options. You can use birth control in combination with many of these. 

What Medicines Treat Hormonal Acne? 

Medicines for treating hormonal acne include the birth control pill and spironolactone. Birth control works by suppressing estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone hormone production, while spironolactone blocks androgen, the hormone that contributes to hormonal acne. While these medications work for some people, they often come with side effects or could worsen acne, especially once you stop taking them. You can learn more about acne after birth control here.

What Triggers Hormonal Acne? 

There are many possible triggers for hormonal acne, including stress, poor sleep, and certain foods. Identifying your individual triggers can be helpful for managing your hormonal acne. Sometimes this means working with a professional to help you figure out the best plan for you.

How Do You Know If Your Acne Is Hormonal? 

There are a few ways to tell if your acne is hormonal. While hormonal acne can be constantly present, there may be times in your cycle where it flares or gets worse. Hormonal acne is typically found on the lower part of the face, including the jawline, chin, and mouth. It's also often triggered by hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. If you're experiencing any of these changes, it's worth considering hormonal acne as a possible cause.

How Can I Balance My Hormones to Stop Acne? 

Balancing hormones takes a root-cause approach, which means examining all the potential factors contributing to hormonal acne. Simple diet changes, supplements, or identifying and managing stress are critical for hormonal balance. 

What Gets Rid of Hormonal Acne Fast? 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best way to get rid of hormonal acne depends on the underlying cause. However, some simple lifestyle changes can help manage hormonal acne, including diet changes, supplements, stress management, and exercise. Also, pay attention to your skincare routine, as using the wrong products can make hormonal acne worse.

Hydrocolloid patches can also work overnight to help reduce and eliminate a zit that comes on unexpectedly.

Does Hormonal Acne Ever Go Away? 

Yes, but it can take time. Making lifestyle changes and using the right skincare products can help improve hormonal acne, but results don't always happen overnight, and sometimes it takes trial and error. Patience and consistency are essential for treating hormonal acne, but it's worth it!

Key Takeaways

  • Hormonal acne is a common type of acne triggered by excessive androgens and inflammation.
  • Birth control is not the only approach for hormonal acne, but it is commonly used and not without side effects.
  • Natural options for hormonal acne include diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
  • Hormonal acne can be successfully treated naturally, but it can take patience and consistency to see results.

If you're struggling with hormonal acne, remember that you're not alone. There are many approaches and strategies available. If it feels overwhelming, I've created a free hormone balancing kit to help you get started. The kit includes a free meal plan with recipes, along with a lot of other helpful information to help you begin your journey to clear skin.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.