My skin loved being pregnant, but around sixth months postpartum, it took a turn for the worse. While I’ve dealt with mild forehead breakouts off and on since college, I never had acne or breakouts on my jaw and cheek…until this past year. On top of that, I am generally on top of my skincare game. I never ever go to bed without washing my face–I can count on one hand the times I haven’t washed my face before bed in my entire life. I eat a clean and nourishing diet, use organic high-powered skincare, and put a lot of effort into supporting my health holistically.
Although it seemed like my skin should be okay, I was still dealing with hormonal acne, and my current routine wasn’t working.
While I’m obsessed with skincare, I don’t love the idea that you have a lineup of 20 serums to get good results. In my quest to calm my skin, I had carts filled with hundreds of dollars worth of skincare, ready to pull the trigger to do whatever I could to clear my skin up. Thankfully, I took a breather and remembered that there’s more to skin health than just throwing products at it. Skin is a reflection of your internal health and while yes, I’ve found new products that have supported my skin’s health along the way, there were some major non-product-related steps that were crucial when figuring out how to clear up hormonal acne.
I’ll be honest. I still get breakouts and don’t quite have the skin of my dreams, but it’s so much better. I’ve found what works for me, and the below steps have made an amazing difference. I’m very happy to have found a rhythm that feels sustainable and long-term. And thanks to the clean products in my lineup, I won’t need to switch out too much when I get pregnant again.
But before we dive in, a before and after. My skin type is regular/dry with recent congestion and hormonal breakouts. The first photo was taken in November 2020 (so inflamed!), the middle photo in March 2021 as things were starting to calm down, and the after was taken in June 2021. Still some pigmentation, but so much better.
This is by no means meant to be a step-by-step instructional or medical advice–everyone’s skin and body are different! But I find that reading about other people’s journeys is so helpful and sparks some ideas of how to clear up hormonal acne if that’s something you also deal with. Everyone’s skin is unique, so chat with your skincare professional if you’re feeling stuck. If everything below feels like a lot, keep in mind, I’ve incorporated these things over a year and started with the products I had already before slowly adding others in.
Scroll on for what I’ve learned, both internally and topically with (pregnancy and breastfeeding friendly!) products.
Things that helped clear up my hormonal acne:
Shift your mindset.
Breakouts suck. Everyone wants glowey flawless skin, and as a makeup artist and beauty writer, I didn’t love that I couldn’t seem to get things under control. But taking a step back (no, literally step back from your two-inch inspection from the mirror) and taking the pressure and stress off my skin was a game-changer. I stopped saying things like, “ugh my skin is so bad right now!” when chatting with my sisters or friends.
Skin is neither good nor bad. It just is. Mine was doing the best it could and honestly, breakouts are a very common way for your skin to signal somethings up. When things are feeling extra frustrating, I pause, take a deep breath and talk to my skin and body like I would a friend who was having a hard time. It may sound silly, but I thank my skin for working so hard and I release any pressure I’m feeling for it to look a certain way. My hormonal breakouts are a clue that my body is needing more support and this is one way I can do that.
Seek help from professionals.
I love a good health puzzle and enjoy researching and educating myself on how to best care for my body. But sometimes, it’s so helpful to have in-person help from a professional, and this was definitely the case when trying to determine how to clear up hormonal acne.
I visited Dr. Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce and she recommended a couple of products that have really given my skin the boost it needs. Additionally, she shared some great insight into breastfeeding-safe products and hormonal skin breakouts that really helped piece together what was going on (read below for her breakdown on all things hormonal acne!).
Acupuncturist and facialist Brooke Taylor at The Road Acupuncture is the best for looking at the skin holistically. A combination of traditional and cosmetic-focused acupuncture, microcurrent, gua sha, and facial massage always left my skin glowing, and breakouts cleared at record speed after a facial treatment with her.
If extractions needed to happen, rather than taking matters into my own hands — literally — I made an appointment with a trusted facialist. I’m not quite at the point of doing monthly facials, but am currently using them as a tool when my skin needs some extra TLC.
How Do I Know If My Acne is Hormonal? Get to the root.
If you’re wondering how to tell if your acne is hormonal and what to do about it, we have answers. It’s quite common for skin to take a dive as a result of the post-partum crashing hormones, which can lead to dry, easily irritated, and acne-prone skin. I learned a lot from Dr. Geddes-Bruce, board-certified dermatologist, who shares that especially during breastfeeding the hormone your body produces to stimulate milk (prolactin) leads to a state of lowered estrogen, which usually gives us that rosy glow during pregnancy. In general, there are a variety of things that can cause hormonal breakouts. Sometimes, the liver is needing more support to clear excess hormones or it can be caused by excess androgens (the more “male” related hormones that all women make in lesser amounts).
You can tell your breakouts are hormonal if they are deep, cystic, and affect areas where androgens exert their effects — the lower cheeks, jawline, chin, and neck. Dr. Geddes-Bruce’s top tips for hormonal acne include always cleansing your face before bed, keeping a consistent, tailored skincare regimen, and avoiding picking. If you’re still having trouble with hormonal breakouts, you can also consider a trial of avoiding dairy and high glycemic foods.
Change your pillowcase.
I know, duh. But once again, post-baby life left me not as diligent as I usually would be. I try to change it every two to three days and to keep it simple, I keep a stack of a few clean pillowcases in my nightstand. I also try to do it in the morning while we’re making our bed so that I don’t skip when I feel too tired at night.
Support your liver.
Hormonal acne is often a symptom of liver congestion. Liver support is something I’m always doing, but I’ve worked to put a touch more effort in here. You don’t really want to do hardcore liver detoxing while nursing or pregnant, so a few of the things I’ve loved for gentle support are herbs like milk thistle and dandelion root, dry brushing, and castor oil packs which support detox pathways (just started these at 18 mos postpartum, check with your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding). I’ve also incorporated some acupuncture and chiropractic to help ensure my body is zinging along.
Go easy on your gut.
I had reintroduced dairy after being dairy-free for over five years (and maybe did too much too fast), but the acne clued me in that I needed to back off and work on my gut some more before trying dairy again. I’ve focused on healing things like bone broth, fermented foods, daily collagen/gelatin, supplements like probiotics, and ION Biome. One of the easy ways I incorporate these items is a daily scoop of collagen into my morning chai and gelatin gummies for a quick snack. I’ve been able to add high quality, grassfed raw dairy in and feel great!
Keep your hands off your face.
Unfortunately, I love picking at my face. I did a two-week challenge to not touch my face at all, except when I was doing my skincare routine and my skin looked better than ever. My aesthetician always says, stay a sink’s lengths away from your face. Nothing good happens when you lean in and let’s be real, no one really is ever looking at your skin that close.
Double cleanse (and sometimes triple cleanse.)
While I never go to bed without washing my face, my cleansing had gotten hurried and rushed and turned into a quick scrub and splash of water. Adding a double cleanse, with an oil cleanse as the first step, has been a game-changer and one of the keys to my skin clearing. I ordered a pack of 12 black cotton washcloths and have them all rolled up so I don’t have to stress about finding a clean towel. I wash them at the end of the week and they’re ready to go!
At night, I usually oil cleanse, then follow with a gentle exfoliating cleanser. From there, I’ll use a cotton round and a gentle toner to finish off my cleansing process before applying the rest of my skincare. In the mornings, I just give my face a thorough splash with cold water, followed by a wipe down with a cotton round and my toner. I’ve found doing a traditional cleanse in the morning over-dried my skin and left it feeling tight.
Don’t underestimate the power of a simple clay mask.
For now, I tucked away all my fancy fun masks and kept it simple with a clay mask a few times a week. I was inspired by @honeynsilk‘s routine of a daily clay mask. It’s cheap (like $12 for a tub that will last you forever cheap), effective, and clears and cleanses without going overboard.
Keep skin hydrated.
My skin has always leaned towards the drier side, which felt complicated since my skin was breaking out. I didn’t want to clog my pores but also did not want to overdry my skin and compound the issue. I started using a three-step hydration system that will level up your moisturizer game and be ultra healing to the skin barrier and any acne.
- After cleansing, keep skin damp with water.
- Apply a spritz of toner for added hydration (add a hyaluronic serum here later on as skin tolerates it.)
- Lastly, layer moisturizer on.
How to Clear Up Hormonal Acne With Clean Products
Slather on all the products if it makes you happy, but for most of us, a few well-formulated products are more than enough. During the healing process, I majorly paired back the products I was using and kept things very simple for months. Thorough cleansing, moisture, consistency, and a little extra time have made a world of difference in clearing my skin and I honestly didn’t need anything too crazy intense to clear things up. I started with what I had then slowly tweaked a couple products that weren’t working for me.
My core skincare routine includes one of each: an oil cleanser, gentle cleanser, toner, and moisturizer.
Here are the clean products that have worked well for my skin to soothe, clear, hydrate, and haven’t created congestion and breakouts:
To take things to the next level, I added a couple more products (like azelaic acid!). And now that my breakouts are calmed and under control, I’m slowly incorporating products to continue nurturing my skin and heal any discoloration left over.
Here are a few things I’m loving:
I would say this is one of the key products that have helped calm and clear my skin! I first hit my skin hard with a cocktail of acids, hoping that would clear up the congestion. I soon realized that I overdid it and it resulted in breaking down the skin barrier and further inflaming my skin and acne. I backed off all peels and acid formulas for a bit before carefully adding any back in. After my derm recommended it, I started using azelaic acid and found it to be the most gentle and effective so far.
I’ve been layering this under my moisturizer for an added boost as I continue to repair and replenish my skin barrier. After a quick spray with my toner, I smooth this on before applying my moisturizer.
I love that the formula is a powder, which means it doesn’t need any potentially problematic preservatives and it lasts quite a long time, you only need a tiny pinch. Mix into your serum or moisturizer for a potent boost in free radical protection, smoothing fine lines, brightening your complexion, and fading of any acne, scars, and pigmentation.
Now that I’m really backing off of breastfeeding, I’ve added a low 0.25% prescription tretinoin and I can already see an amazing difference. If you’re curious about safety during breastfeeding, I had the same question. Dr. Geddes-Bruce shared that while most products that target acne are safe for breastfeeding mothers (granted that you aren’t applying them directly to your nipples), the only topical of question is retinoids. In general, most people avoid retinoids in nursing mothers, however, Dr. Geddes-Bruce believes that the data behind that decision is lacking. If you’re unsure, be sure to speak to your board-certified dermatologist about it. If you don’t have a prescription for it, the below retinoid serum is amazing for acne-prone skin.
This is really the only thing I’ll be dropping when I get pregnant again.
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