I have been dealing with hormonal acne for years. There, I said it. Whew. And I will even go a step further. I will share pictures. Real pictures, still painful for me to look at. And difficult to share.
Why am I still doing it?
First of all, I don’t want to be ashamed, made small, put into a corner by my acne. Second of all, I know there are so many people suffering from it as well. I want to tell them that they are not alone. And that there is hope. My hormonal acne as of today is mostly under control. You will be able to see the progress in the pictures.
My third reason for writing this is that I firmly believe that my hormonal acne has taught me valuable lessons. In a weird way, it has had some very positive effects on my life.
What is adult hormonal acne?
Before I get into my personal experiences with adult hormonal acne, let me give you some background on this condition. We all have seen examples of hormonal acne in teenagers. While it’s still not entirely clear how all those hormones play together to make acne in some people and not in others, the connection between hormones and acne is clear.
Adult hormonal acne is much meaner than that. It is not linked to a certain phase in your life. So the comfort of “It will be over soon” doesn’t work. Second of all, it is incredibly hard to find a general “therapy” for it. The mechanisms behind it can be so complex that the standard western medicine approach often cannot work.
Unless you happen to see a holistic practitioner, you will most likely be sent from doctor to doctor. I got sent from the dermatologist to the O.B. gyn and from there to the cosmetician. None of them checked for the cause. All of them treated symptoms. And I get why. The current state of research is too unclear. And they don’t have the capacity nor the go-ahead to experiment on us, the acne patients.
My history with adult hormonal acne
Since I hit puberty, my skin had never been great. It tended to be oily in the T-zone and I would get an occasional pimple. Such horror, being an insecure teenager! A classmate recommended some face cleanser to me, I started using it and that kept everything not good, but under control.
The older I got, the fewer problems I had with my skin. Stress would always show, but generally, it was okay. Not super clear, but okay.
During university, I pretty much forgot about the topic. The occasional pimple would still stress me out like crazy, but I didn’t think much about it. I always simply used the face products I could afford.
Growing angst and hormonal acne introducing itself
Towards the end of my studies, something changed. Not only on my skin but for me, as a person. I was full of anxiety because I had no idea what to do after graduating. And my lifestyle at the time didn’t contribute to my mental health either. My skin started getting worse than usual.
I would spend days at a time not leaving my apartment, eating some junk food and working on my thesis. No real contact with people, no direct sunlight. Only me and my growing anxiety about the future. My skin started breaking out like I hadn’t seen it before on myself. Trying tips and tricks I found from googling around only worked to increase inflammation.
I got severely depressed. Spending several days at a time just laying in bed, feeling unable to move. Doing anything felt impossible. My whole face got inflamed. Everything was red and burning. It felt like my depression was coming out through my skin, for everyone to see.
I felt absolutely defeated. Facing the outside world seemed more impossible than ever. For anyone having dealt with severe facial acne, “facing” anything is a true act of courage. I was supposed to finish my thesis and start applying for jobs. All I could think was that no one would hire me anyways looking like that.
Going to a dermatologist seemed impossible. Just going across the street to get groceries was such a fight. Sometimes I would just not eat.
To get out of my unhealthy routine, I went to visit my sister in another city. No need to leave the house there, unless I felt up for it. Real human connection and someone who knew me pre-acne. It gave me enough strength to get back on my feet mentally.
Seeing a doctor about my hormonal acne
So back home, I finally made an appointment with a dermatologist. Anxiety levels were through the roof, but I had a mission!
The dermatologist was very clinical. He took a magnifying glass to look at my skin and then told me that it was really bad looking. Like I didn’t know. For some reason, that comment really hurt. I didn’t feel like he was telling me that I had sick skin. I felt like he was telling me that I am worthless, looking like that.
He asked me a few questions about my skin care, my diet, and my lifestyle. According to him, it was pretty impossible to know why my skin had started acting like that. I simply had adult acne. No further investigation. He recommended me some acne skin care products and prescribed a topical antibiotic. Once that was used up, I should come back and we would re-evaluate.
Hormonal acne improvements and taking my life back
The antibiotic was awesome! Yes, my skin was red and flaky and I couldn’t go into direct sunlight. But it peeled everything off! All that hot, inflamed, painful skin, that I hated with a passion. I was so happy!
This also had a great effect on the rest of my life. Feeling like there was something I could do. During my depressed phase, I had read a lot of others experiences with acne. And I kept stumbling on thelovevitamin.com. Unlike the doctor who basically told me there wasn’t much I could do, this gave me hope. And insight into what a holistic lifestyle could do for me.
So I started working out. Used my slim student budget to eat the healthiest way I could afford. Researching Ayurveda and other holistic topics. Yoga and meditation became a big part of my life.
But then the antibiotic ran out. And my acne instantly came back as if nothing had happened. I waited impatiently for the next derm appointment, feeling a little bit like a junkie. What if I couldn’t get my life saving antibiotic again? Obviously, it wasn’t done working!
I did get the antibiotic again. But for the last time, to avoid any resistance to antibiotics. The dermatologist said he couldn’t do any more for me. I was on my own once again.
After the treatment, my skin was finally okay. I had quite a few scars and kept getting way more pimples than I had before. But the cystic breakouts seemed under control.
My life was back on track as well. I found a great entry level job in my preferred industry. And most of the good new habits I developed stayed with me. Having slight acne became part of my identity. Knowing how bad it could be, I was grateful for it being mild. Easy to cover up with makeup.
A new flare-up and some more learning
Last year the acne came back. With a vengeance! It all started with an emotional stressful phase beginning of last year. My skin started getting gradually worse and I decided to try cutting out dairy and sugar at the same time. NOT a good idea!
Don’t get me wrong, eating less dairy and sugar is absolutely recommended. But take a slow approach and don’t change everything at once! My hormones went crazy. Like, seriously crazy. Erratic periods, skin as inflamed as never before, dry eyes, depression, insomnia… I have to admit that I was quite a sugar junkie before and taking it out completely made my body think there was some kind of emergency.
My OB-gyn just told me that this could happen after lifestyle changes and to sit it out. In the meantime, she recommended seeing a cosmetician about the skin issues.
I did. Afterward, I looked like this.
Not unexpected, the treatment hurt like crazy. But my skin didn’t heal afterward. It got seriously infected and I had the worst and most painful breakout in my entire life.
It was devastating. Every day it took me tears and a lot of mental preparation to just go outside and be seen by people. Feeling judged. Feeling like everyone can see how “wrong” I am. While writing this and remembering, I still have a lump in my throat.
A planned approach to finally defeat hormonal acne
It was enough. Something needed to happen and so far no doctor or cosmetician seemed to be able to help.
Luckily, I had help. Resources like acne.org, where people share what works for them and what doesn’t. My awesome fiancé, who is incredibly good at researching and remembering which chemicals do what in our bodies and how to influence that.
Together we created a plan to finally manage my acne – and it was quite some trial and error.
What I learned through my hormonal acne
I learned how to balance hormones naturally. Working out. Not eating certain things at certain stages of my cycle. Taking certain supplements for hormonal acne and sometimes avoiding others. Figuring out which skin care products work for me.
It was serious work. But this is what I look like today:
(No makeup, no filter, no special light, just standing close to the window. I took these pictures right now while writing this. No preparation. I mean, look at those eyebrows…)
Yes, I still have scars. No, my skin is not suddenly without pores or perfect in any way. But to me, this is a miracle!
I certainly hope my acne doesn’t come back. But in a weird way, I am grateful for it.
My hormonal acne taught me to not give up, even when it looks like there is no way anything could change. It taught me a healthy new lifestyle. One that has had so many positive effects on other aspects of my life! I also learned how to be brave and hold my head high even when I feel so ashamed of my face.
I don’t wish hormonal acne on anyone. But if you, reading this, should be dealing with it as well:
It is okay.
You are okay.
And it can get better!
(Update: In case you are dealing with hormonal acne right now, I published a more actionable post on How I beat hormonal acne with the 6 things I think made the biggest difference for me.)