Hormonal acne can feel like your own special curse, but it’s pretty common, especially for folks with vaginas.
All the things can affect your hormones, which means treating hormonal breakouts can be confusing and frustrating AF. Your diet is a super helpful place to start.
Can your diet help treat hormonal acne?
Maybe! What you eat influences everything from your blood sugar to your hormone and inflammation levels.
Many people find that eating low glycemic, dairy-free, whole foods helps with hormonal breakouts.
Here’s what to know about creating a hormonal acne diet that works for you.
Hormonal acne is also called “acne vulgaris,” which means “common acne.” So, yeah, it’s the most basic type of breakout.
Zits form when pores are clogged by excess oil and other stuff, so it makes total sense that most breakouts happen on your face, back, chest, neck, and upper arms. These areas have the most sebaceous glands — hormone-influenced glands that produce oil on demand.
Breakouts are common in the teen years because that’s when hormones fluctuate the most. But that doesn’t mean adult acne isn’t a thing.
A whole mess of factors can cause plugged pores, including:
- pore-clogging makeup and skin care products
- some meds
How do I know when it’s hormonal acne?
If you tend to break out when your hormones are in flux (hello, PMS!), you’ve probably got hormonal acne.
Common hormonal acne triggers include:
- your period
- hormonal changes after giving birth
- a change in your birth control pill or IUD
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- perimenopause or menopause
Here’s the thing: Researchers are still studying how hormones affect skin. What they know for sure is that fluctuating hormones can trigger breakouts. Hence, the whole PMS pimplefest.
If you have a period (and all the hormonal fun that comes along with it), your hormone levels naturally change throughout your cycle. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone rise and fall in turn, but sometimes things get a little out of balance. *Cue that new chin volcano.*
Research suggests that hormones called androgens (hey there, testosterone!) play a key role in this because they help control your skin’s oil production.
Some events and conditions can dial up your androgens, including:
Oh, and yes, what you eat can also affect your androgen levels. That’s where our dive into hormonal acne diets begins.
The jury’s still out on exactly how food influences hormones. But research suggests that following a low glycemic, dairy-free diet rich in whole foods could break the cycle of hormonal acne. Here’s how.
Follow a low glycemic diet
A 2021 research review reported that folks with acne tend to have high blood sugar levels and that eating sugar on the reg tends to be associated with higher rates of acne.
The possible solution? A low glycemic index diet (LGID).
An LGID involves eating foods that are low on the glycemic index (GI). This means they slooowly break down into sugar in your bloodstream, helping to keep your blood sugar stable.
High GI foods like sugar, white bread, and cookies increase your blood sugar. Long story short, high blood sugar leads to high insulin, which can also boost other hormones. And when hormones get out of whack, well… say hello to hormonal acne!
A small 2007 study supports the idea that following an LGID helps with acne. In a 12-week study of 43 dudes with acne, those who followed an LGID ended up lowering both their zit count and their body weight more than those who ate high GI foods.
Try ditching dairy
Whether it comes from chocolate or cheese, dairy has been blamed for breakouts for decades. That’s because cow’s milk is linked to higher insulin, and we know what that means (see above).
A giant research review of 14 studies involving a total of 78,529 people concluded that those who ate dairy also had a higher chance of acne.
Another review of 71,819 people suggests that folks who drink milk are more likely to get acne than those who don’t. Ouch.
Smaller studies have even linked whey protein, which comes from cow’s milk, to back acne.
But if you’re not ready to ditch the dairy, don’t worry. While the folks at the American Academy of Dermatology Association acknowledge a link between milk and zits, they say there’s not enough evidence to recommend giving up cheese or yogurt.
Opt for anti-inflammatory whole foods
Zoom in on that zit for a hot sec. See the redness and swelling? That’s inflammation.
Eating anti-inflammatory foods is probably one of the best, most delicious ways to fight back against hormonal acne.
Fortunately, oodles of foods are anti-inflammatory. Foods high in omega-3s (salmon! chia seeds!) and omega-6s (nuts! seeds! soybean oil!) might be as soothing as a facial for your poor, red breakout. And even if they don’t prevent next month’s acne attack, you’ll get other health benefits.
Of course, there are other skin-loving foods too. Colorful fruits and veggies are packed with glow-up nutrients like antioxidants and vitamin C.
tl;dr on whole foods
Fresh, whole foods and healthy fats help keep your skin happy and healthy.
First things first: The notion that certain foods, like potato chips and chocolate, automatically trigger breakouts is old-school and pretty controversial in the medical community. It’s more about a well-balanced diet than removing specific ingredients.
Still, most dermatologists agree that milk and inflammatory foods won’t do your skin any favors.
Nibble on these for the best results:
- Veggies. Broccoli, carrots, spinach, kale… they’re all full of nutrients and unlikely to trigger a breakout.
- Fruits. From berries and citrus to stone fruit (peaches, plums, cherries!) and bananas, you’ve got oodles of options.
- Whole grains. Hello, quinoa, brown rice, and oats!
- Starchy vegetables. Sweet potatoes and butternut squash deserve a decidedly autumnal shout-out.
- Healthy fats. You know the classics: olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds.
- Dairy-free milk and yogurt. Go for dairy alternatives made with soy, coconut, or nuts like almonds or cashews.
- Lean protein. We’re talking eggs, salmon, chicken, turkey, and even tofu.
- Legumes. Beans make you fart, sure, but they also soothe your skin.
- Anti-inflammatory spices. Stock your spice cabinet with cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, ginger, and black pepper for skin-loving flavors.
And did we mention hydration? Swap milky, sweetened lattes or soda for sparkling water, green tea, and plain old water.
If you’re dealing with a hormonal breakout, try to avoid these foods:
- Sugary snacks and drinks. This includes the usual suspects like cookies and cake, but don’t forget sneaky sugar bombs like sports drinks and juice!
- Dairy. Just say no to cow’s milk. Experiment with cheese and yogurt to see how they affect you.
- Processed foods. Fast food, frozen meals, chips, and granola bars are often chock-full of sugar and inflammatory ingredients.
Wanna give anti-acne eating a whirl? Here’s what you can expect to eat in a day.
Whip up a Mediterranean-style omelet with fresh spinach, tomato, and whatever other colorful veggies you have on hand. Instead of sugary juice or a glass of milk, sip green tea or an almond milk latte.
Munch on carrots, a handful of nuts, or a banana.
Lean protein and fresh veggies are the name of the game. Try a grilled chicken breast with a sweet potato over a bed of leafy greens. Or opt for fish paired with steamed veggies and citrus fruit for dessert.
Feeling peckish? Smash avocado on rye toast, and then top it with a drizzle of EVOO or a squeeze of lemon.
Stir-fries are one of the easiest — and tastiest! — ways to pack in your daily veggies. Use brown rice, bright vegetables (red bell pepper, broccoli, and red onion are great), EVOO, and tofu or lean chicken.
Limiting sugar is key, but if you’re craving something sweet, opt for a couple squares of dark chocolate. Berries are also a skin-loving way to end the day.
Can your diet get rid of acne in a week?
Probably not. Remember: Your hormones are to blame, and regulating hormones takes time. If your zits are tied to your flow, give your skin a cycle (28ish days) or two to balance out.
Diet is just one of many lifestyle factors that can trigger hormonal acne. If eating anti-inflammatory foods and reducing stress don’t help, consider these gentle options:
- Check your cleanser. Skip the exfoliators and gently cleanse your face with a pH-balanced soap each morning and night.
- Try green tea. In a small 2016 study, taking green tea extract helped women with acne reduce the number of zits at any given time.
- Pop some vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to acne, but you should still chat with your doc before adding a supplement to your daily routine.
- Take zinc. This mineral is essential for healthy skin. Some people report banishing breakouts with zinc.
- Try probiotics. Preliminary research suggests that probiotics can soothe skin inflammation.
- Go for chasteberry. This plant is known to influence hormones before your flow, so it *might* help with hormonal acne.
- Cash in on CBD. CBD face creams might calm your skin and help with breakouts.
- Try topicals. Tea tree oil, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid are all known to help zap zits.
Hormonal acne can be a beast. If your diet and at-home remedies aren’t making a dent, it’s time to chat with a dermatologist. They’ll help you pinpoint your triggers and create a custom plan to banish your breakouts.
Some treatments they might recommend:
- hormonal birth control
- anti-androgen meds
- prescription retinoids
- prescription topical treatments
Sometimes an underlying condition or nutritional deficiency can lead to acne. A doctor, nutritionist, or derm can help you figure this out.
Everything from stress to genetics can contribute to hormonal acne. Lifestyle factors like your diet also play a role.
There’s no one-size-fits-all diet for hormonal acne, but research suggests that eating low glycemic foods, ditching dairy, and opting for whole, fresh foods can help.
Combining a balanced diet with home remedies can be more effective than trying just one thing. If at-home treatment doesn’t work, contact a dermatologist.