How Hormones Can Trigger Your Acne

When you’re breaking out, people often say, “It’s your hormones.” Sure, that sounds good, but what exactly does that mean? How do hormones affect acne?

Young woman squeezing a pimple on her face at home
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Hormones Stimulate Your Skin's Oil Glands

The main players here are androgen hormones. Basically, androgens are sex hormones that are released by the adrenal glands, ovaries, and testes.

The androgen you’re probably most familiar with is testosterone. And it’s testosterone that plays the biggest role in acne development. Although it’s typically thought of as a male hormone, ladies have testosterone too, just in lower levels than men.

Androgens stimulate the sebaceous glands, making them produce more skin oil or sebum. This excess sebum clogs the pores, and also makes good food for acne-causing bacteria. Voila, you have a perfect environment for pimples to thrive.

Hormones Cause Teen Acne to First Appear

If you think way back to junior high health class, you’ll remember that acne is often the first sign that puberty has begun.

Up until this point, the sebaceous glands have just been hanging out, not doing much of anything. During early puberty, the sebaceous glands ramp up and start pumping out oil. Suddenly, the skin becomes much more oily and prone to breakouts.

Hormones Can Trigger Adult Breakouts, Too

There’s a reason why most adult acne sufferers are women. Women have more hormonal variances throughout the month.

Most of us, even if we don’t have consistent acne, can identify with “PMS pimples.” Many women find they break out a week or so before their period.

Pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause are other times when acne commonly flares up because of the hormonal shifts within the body.

But adult acne isn’t limited to women. Men can find themselves battling acne breakouts, either as a holdover from their teen years or for the first time as adults.

Acne Itself Doesn’t Mean You Have a Hormonal Imbalance

Most adults have hormone levels in the normal range.

Hormones within the body are never stagnant; they are constantly changing and that’s normal. So, just having acne in itself doesn’t mean that your hormones are out of whack. They are most likely in the normal range.

It's when you start noticing other issues as well that clue you into a larger hormonal problem. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can stimulate testosterone production and cause acne. Excessive hair growth, weight gain, irregular periods along with acne are all symptoms of PCOS.

Medications, including steroids and certain birth control drugs, can also interfere with hormonal production and trigger breakouts.

Also, if you develop severe acne very suddenly, you may want to have your hormones checked.

Hormones Aren’t the Only Cause of Acne

Obviously, everyone experiences hormonal changes during the teen years, and throughout adulthood. But not everyone gets acne.

Hormones aren’t the only cause. There are many factors that contribute to acne development, hormones being just one.

There is a big genetic component too. If everyone in your family has had acne, you’re more likely to get it too.

Even though it may sometimes feel like your body and skin are working against you, you can really see some great improvement of your acne with the right treatments.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Raghunath RS, Venables ZC, Millington GW. The menstrual cycle and the skin. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015;40(2):111-5. doi:10.1111/ced.12588

  3. Housman E, Reynolds RV. Polycystic ovary syndrome: a review for dermatologists: Part I. Diagnosis and manifestations. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;71(5):847.e1-847.e10. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2014.05.007

  4. Aydemir EH. Acne vulgaris. Turk Pediatri Ars. 2014;49(1):13-6. doi:10.5152/tpa.2014.1943

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.