The Instagram logo

Face facts

Expert advice for tackling hormonal acne the natural way

Many of us experience painful and unsightly acne during our teenage years, but unfortunately these nasty skin breakouts can resurface during adulthood too. Hormonal acne is associated with fluctuations in our hormones and is especially common in women. According to research from the University of Southampton, almost a third of women who have acne in adolescence continue to be affected in adulthood.

"Hormonal imbalances, including oestrogen dominance, may contribute to acne," explains Katia Frank, nutritionist at Nordic Balance, a health club and gym in Central London ( "Oestrogen dominance occurs when there is an excess of oestrogen relative to other hormones in the body, such as progesterone, leading to increased sebum production and the development of acne."

According to Gemma Barry, a holistic menstrual coach, founder of the Well Woman Project, and author of Periods Aren't Meant to Bloody Hurt, "hormonal acne tends to break out a few days before your period arrives and hangs around for about a week." It can be caused by a number of factors including "different stages of your period career (puberty, perimenopause and menopause); pregnancy; irregular cycles and stopping synthetic hormones." Other factors include "PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome); genetics; and sometimes certain medications like steroids. Stress, poor sleep, and products that are very oily can also make it worse."

The importance of fibre

"Fibre, and in particular soluble fibre, plays a role in supporting hormonal balance, as it binds to oestrogen in the intestines," says Katia. "This helps to facilitate its elimination from the body through the digestive system. This process prevents oestrogen from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream, promoting its elimination from the body. A varied daily diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will ensure you have adequate fibre. These colourful foods are also rich in antioxidants, nutrients that are essential in combating oxidative stress which can contribute to inflammation."

Healthy fats

"Foods rich in omega-3s are essential as these healthy fats have anti-inflammatory properties that may help with acne," says Katia. "Key sources are fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Zinc is a particularly important nutrient which plays a role in immune function and may have anti-inflammatory effects. It is found in pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils and cashews."

Resist the urge to squeeze!

"It can feel awful to be covered in spots that sometimes get very angry and painful," says Gemma Barry. "Try to resist squeezing them as this could lead to infection and scarring your skin. Keep your skin clean but don't use harsh cleansers that strip all your oils away. Your skin will try to make more, and this will exacerbate the problem further." Gemma recommends keeping a track of your menstrual cycle and noting your symptoms. She says: "If you have irregular cycles, look up PCOS and see if any of it relates with you. Start getting curious about your symptoms and how long they have been going on for."

Limit dairy and sugar

"Reducing or eliminating dairy products can improve acne symptoms for some people," says Katia. "This may be due to the hormones present in dairy or the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) content. Foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, leading to increased insulin production. High insulin levels may contribute to hormonal acne. Choose low GI whole grains over refined carbohydrates and limit sugary foods. Finally, pay attention to your individual triggers. Some people may notice that certain foods, such as chocolate, caffeine, or spicy foods, worsen their acne. It's advisable to keep a food diary to identify potential culprits."

Read articles from our latest issue here...