Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Barnes, RDN
Hormonal acne is an inflammatory skin condition driven by changing hormones. It is thought to be caused by an imbalance in androgen hormones.
However, a hormone imbalance doesn't always lead to acne, which may make diagnosing hormonal acne challenging. Fortunately, treatment options are available, including natural solutions.
Various herbal supplements have been studied for their potential roles in healing hormonal acne. However, research results on the use of herbs for hormonal acne are mixed.
This article will provide an overview of hormonal acne and its causes. It will also discuss the research behind a number of herbal and other types of supplements for hormonal acne.
What Is Hormonal Acne and What Causes It?
Hormonal acne is a type of acne that typically occurs in adults and only appears on certain regions of your face.
If you have hormonal acne, you may get acne on the lower portion of your face, including your jawline and chin. You may also see acne on your upper neck. Hormonal acne may be in the form of inflamed bumps, pus-filled bumps, or large cysts.
Both males and females can get hormonal acne, but females tend to be affected in greater numbers.
Typically, hormonal acne is caused by an increase in sebum, an oily substance made up of lipids secreted by glands in your skin. While sebum is important for skin protection, too much may increase skin inflammation and, thus, the formation of acne.
An increase in sebum may be due to a hormonal imbalance. Specifically, sebum production may increase when androgen hormones are high and other hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, are low. The androgens most often correlated with hormonal acne include testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S).
Such hormonal imbalances may occur during puberty, pregnancy, menopause, a menstrual cycle, or as a result of certain conditions, like Cushing's syndrome or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Stress and sleep deprivation may also lead to a hormone imbalance.
Can Supplements Help Treat Hormonal Acne?
A great deal of anecdotal evidence is available regarding the use of supplements for hormonal acne, yet strong scientific evidence is lacking.
A 2022 review called the overall safety of acne supplements into question. Per the review, many products on the market contain potentially harmful amounts of vitamins and minerals. The review also pointed out that about 96% of the acne supplements included had not been third-party tested for safety or quality.
Regardless, a large market for acne supplements remains, with some products claiming to help hormonal acne specifically.
Supplements for hormonal acne often contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other nutrients that are thought to reduce pimples, inflammation, and sebum production.
However, while some nutrients, like vitamin A, are well-known for their anti-acne effects, others require more research.
Additionally, certain ingredients that may be included in acne supplements have been found to cause breakouts instead of preventing them. For example, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 have both been linked to acne breakouts in research studies.
Ultimately, dietary supplements alone probably won't heal hormonal acne. It's recommended that you work with a healthcare provider to determine if you should use hormonal acne supplements in addition to other treatment measures.
Herbal Supplements for Acne
Herbal supplements contain phytochemicals, which are bioactive ingredients extracted from plants. Phytochemicals may benefit human health due to various properties, including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, and even anti-acne effects.
Such effects have led researchers to investigate various plants and herbs as potential natural treatments for hormonal acne.
Despite their potential, not all herbs used for acne are supported by scientific evidence. Below is a look at some common herbal supplements for acne.
The chasteberry plant (Vitex agnus-castus) has been used medicinally for centuries to treat various health conditions.
When it comes to hormonal acne, chasteberry has mostly been studied as a remedy for acne that surfaces prior to menstruation. This is because chasteberry has been found to affect the fluctuations in hormones that occur before menstruation.
In some studies, chasteberry has been shown to decrease levels of the hormones estrogen and prolactin but increase progesterone levels. High prolactin may cause premenstrual acne for some.
As a whole, however, research on the efficacy of chasteberry for acne is inconclusive. More research is needed.
Aloe vera is a plant commonly used to treat sunburns. But it may be useful for acne, too.
Several studies have reported a benefit of topical aloe vera gel for varying types of acne. These effects may be due to the plant's anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
In one study, participants with mild to severe acne were randomly divided into either a control or treatment group. In the treatment group, ultrasound was used to apply aloe vera gel to the participants' faces, followed by a soft mask application that lasted 20 to 30 minutes. The treatment occurred three times per week for seven weeks.
At the end of the seven weeks, the aloe vera gel therapy was found to significantly reduce the amount of pimples. Hyperpigmentation and skin roughness caused by acne were also improved in the treatment group.
Berberine is a phytochemical present in a number of plants and herbs. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects that may be useful for hormonal acne.
In one small study, berberine was evaluated as a potential treatment for PCOS symptoms, including acne caused by high androgen levels. Participants took 1.1 grams (g) of berberine per day for 60 days. At the end of the study, berberine supplementation was found to significantly reduce androgen levels and acne.
While berberine shows promise, it would be best if additional, large-scale human trials were performed to further determine the role of the phytochemical in acne treatment.
Tea Tree Oil
Topical tea tree oil has long been used as an herbal remedy for skin ailments, including acne.
According to lab research, tea tree oil has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties that may be useful in acne treatment. Researchers have put these properties to the test in various clinical trials.
A review of clinical trials found that tea tree oil may reduce the number of papules (red bumps) and pustules (pus-filled bumps). However, overall, the studies included in the review yielded mixed results. Scientists feel that additional, well-designed research is needed in this area.
Research suggests that green tea extract may improve acne by reducing sebum production.
Green tea is known to contain a number of polyphenols, which are phytochemicals with antioxidant, antimicrobial, and other beneficial properties.
According to one review, topical green tea extract has been shown to significantly reduce sebum secretion in various human trials. Per the review, green tea extract may also reduce the number of acne lesions.
Assessing the Safety and Quality of Supplements
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements the way it regulates prescription drugs. That means some products may not contain what their label states. When choosing a supplement, look for third-party-tested products and consult a healthcare provider, registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN), or pharmacist.
Vitamins for Acne
Certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) may help treat hormonal acne.
A deficiency in a vitamin or mineral may cause acne or hormonal changes that may lead to acne.
Both vitamins and minerals are important for skin health, but there is more scientific evidence supporting the use of vitamin supplements for acne. While there is some positive research on the effects of the minerals zinc and selenium on acne, the list of vitamins for acne is much longer.
Based on scientific evidence, the following vitamins are thought to be useful for acne:
Certain B vitamins, like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and biotin, may also treat acne. However, vitamin B12 use may cause acne or make existing acne worse, especially when used in excess. High doses of vitamin B6 may also cause acne.
Related: Vitamins and Minerals for Acne
Alternative Methods for Treating Hormonal Acne
Hormonal acne supplements may not work for everyone. Fortunately, there are other ways to treat hormonal acne.
If you have hormonal acne, it's best to work with a healthcare provider to find the best treatment option. Factors such as the severity of acne, the cost of treatment, and/or how well previous treatments have worked should be taken into consideration.
Prescription oral and topical medications may be necessary in some cases. These medications may block sebum production or reduce androgens. Antibiotics are sometimes used to kill off bacteria that may make acne worse.
Hormone therapy may be another effective treatment for hormonal acne.
Typically, hormone therapy is used in severe cases of hormonal acne or when previous treatments have failed. Hormone therapy is recommended to reduce androgen levels and improve hormone imbalances that may cause acne. It's recommended that hormone therapy be used in combination with other treatments, like retinoids (vitamin A) or topical ointments.
Your diet may also affect hormonal acne. However, there isn't solid evidence that one type of diet is better than another when it comes to treating hormonal acne.
The best thing to do when it comes to your diet is to eat a wide variety of foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Hormonal acne occurs when androgen hormones are too high, causing excess sebum and acne. Although hormonal acne can affect anyone, adult females are more likely to get it than other populations.
Various supplements for hormonal acne are on the market today, but not all are supported by strong science.
Additional treatment options are available for hormonal acne. Talk with a healthcare provider to find the best one for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What foods can trigger hormonal acne?
Certain foods may trigger hormonal acne, especially when eaten in excess.
There is some evidence that diets high in dairy foods and ultra-processed foods (like sweets, soda, packaged snacks, and white bread) may increase acne. However, the science is inconsistent, with some studies finding poor correlations between these foods and acne.
A healthcare provider can help you find any foods that may be triggering your hormonal acne.
What causes hormonal acne?
Hormonal acne is caused by an imbalance of hormones.
Typically, hormonal acne occurs when androgens (like testosterone and DHEA-S) are too high, and other hormones (like estrogen) are too low. This imbalance causes an overproduction of sebum, an oily substance that can clog pores and cause acne.
What is the difference between bacterial vs. hormonal acne?
Although bacterial and hormonal acne may look the same, the two have different causes.
Hormonal acne is caused by a hormone imbalance that leads to excess sebum. On the other hand, bacterial acne is caused by bacteria that get into pores or follicles.
Additionally, hormonal acne tends to affect the lower portion of the face (like the jawline) and bacterial acne mostly affects the forehead, nose, and other oil-prone areas of the face.
Is hormonal acne a sign of infertility?
A common symptom of PCOS is high androgens and, thus, hormonal acne. PCOS is also associated with infertility and causes challenges in getting pregnant.
However, pregnancy is still possible regardless of a PCOS or hormonal acne diagnosis.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.