How Hormones Effect our Skin
Our Endocrine Systems are responsible for hormone production. Hormones are chemical messengers working 24/7 throughout our bodies that help organs, tissues, and cells communicate within the body. From congestion and other skin conditions, hormones play a major role alone in our skin health and one of the most common skin concerns I treat is breakouts on the chin/jaw area, also known as the hormonal zone of the face. Let’s take a look at common hormones we’ve all heard of before & how they effect our skin.
Estrogen is often thought of for more mature skin concerns, as it decreases during menopause. Estrogen is the predominant hormone in the beginning of our cycle and effects skin thickness, moisture levels and wrinkle formation, helping skin to remain supple, youthful and plump. With a balanced cycle, estrogen and testosterone peak right before ovulation. The peak of testosterone increases oil production, leaving us with a healthy glow when balanced properly with our estrogen amounts. Without the balanced levels of estrogen, the sebum spike from testosterone is what may cause clogged pores instead.
Known as the pregnancy hormone and the predominate hormone in the second half of your cycle. Progesterone is beneficial for skin elasticity, circulation and encourages the production of oil during the second half of our cycle. While sebum production increases during this phase, the skin may swell, causing skin to look supple and pore size to minimized, not a bad thing, but this compression may also trap oil underneath the skins surface, leading to inflammation and breakouts.
Males hormones that are found in women, just in much smaller amounts then men. These hormones make men, well, manly, and is what creates healthy bone density, muscle growth, balanced fat distribution, healthy mood function and red blood cell production. All healthy functions for women as well but in excess can cause conditions such as PCOS, irregular periods, unwanted facial hair and excess oil production in skin, leading to congestion and acne.
Known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, a condition in women, not completely understood but genetics may play a factor, where women’s sex hormones become out of balance and the body starts producing more male androgen’s then normal. This may cause a cease in periods, extra facial hair, oily skin, acne, etc. PCOS has also been found to be related to insulin resistance, increasing blood sugar levels throughout the body, which stimulate oil production, leading to skin congestion. If you experience the above conditions, PCOS is something to explore with your doctor, as it leads to an increased risk of diabetes and reproductive concerns.
Known as the stress hormone, cortisol will not damage skin in low quantities and is actually what keeps us going, motivated and thinking quickly on our feet. It is when we experience chronic stress and excess cortisol levels that lead to ailments including weight gain, anxiety, sleep disorders, fertility issues and hormonal imbalances. Chronic elevated stress hormones also offset blood sugar and insulin balance. Cortisol and other adrenal steroids can act as androgen’s (male hormones) and stimulate oil glands, resulting in flare-up’s of acne. Women suffer from both the pro-inflammatory cortisol-sugar-insulin connection, as well as the effect of excess androgen male-type hormones. Men are not as noticeably affected by high levels of androgen’s in the same way women are.
Sugar and Insulin
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates for energy or to store for future use. Foods that breakdown quickly, such as sugary, refined and processed foods cause a spike in blood sugar, causing the body to release more insulin than it does with balanced foods such as vegetables and whole grains. A diet high in processed foods and consistent blood sugar spikes cause your cells to become insulin resistant, leaving insulin floating around in your blood steam. These high levels of unused insulin have been shown to stimulate oil production and androgen activity. When our blood sugar and insulin levels rise, whether from a poor diet or from stress, we experience a serious increase in inflammation at a cellular level, which will continue to inflame skin.
Balancing Hormones & Decreasing Breakouts
1. Birth control. Plays a huge role in hormone functions and balance. If you are starting, switching, coming off of birth control, monitor your body’s changes during these times to understand how the pill/patch may be directly or indirectly affecting your skin.
2. Cut back on dairy or avoid completely. There are synthetic hormones found in much of the dairy industry today and most dairy products, organic or not, are made from the milk of pregnant cows, which contain their own amount or female hormones that disrupt our endocrine systems.
3. Keep blood sugar levels balanced by avoiding high sugar and processed foods. Your skin will thank you, as will your mind and body as a whole.
4. Omega Fatty Acids. Omega 3’s and healthy fats play a huge part in keeping our cells fluid and are the starting point for making and regulating hormones that directly effect numerous cellular functions in the body, including inflammation. Skin inflammation not only causes breakouts and acne but will breakdown tissue, collagen and elasticity in skin, leading to aging skin concerns as well. Consume foods high in Omega-3’s, which include fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, leafy vegetables and I highly recommend adding a cold pressed, high quality Omega 3 supplement into your diet that you can find here.
5. Manage stress. Cardiovascular activity, yoga, meditation, sex, anything that makes your heart sing and I’m going to say this loud and clear, do not hesitate to say NO to things in life that aren’t serving you on a healthy level. Do not let uneasy emotions fester. We can’t always control external situations or change things overnight but it is often about baby steps, everything has a starting point. Don’t be scared of change, embrace it.
6. Proper product use and gentle care for acne and inflamed skin. I treat acne as an inflammatory condition and make it a priority to soothe, calm and balance skin as holistically as possible. Less is more, it is never necessary to aggravate acneic skin further. Ingredients found in conventional beauty products are stripping and will further cause skin to produce excess oil in order to protect itself, contain a host of chemicals that further irritate inflamed skin and these chemicals disrupt our endocrine systems as a whole. Also take extra care of skin during your menses, as hormone fluctuation causes everything from our mood, breasts and skin to become extra sensitive during this time. Begin your product practices with an effective cleanser and choose yours here.
7. Don’t pick skin. In any case of acneic or congested skin conditions. aggressively picking and irritating breakouts will only inflame skin more. Picking can lead to scarring and will spread bacteria under the skin. Only whiteheads should, if necessary, be gently extracted at home with the proper care. For more information on the cycles of acne and skin picking, read Are You A Skin Picker.
8. Have your hormones tested. An Acupuncturist or Naturopath would be my recommendation if you have further questions are striving to balance your hormones and health through holistic practices.