True or False? Acne is a teenage skin issue – False! Unfortunately for some adult women, even well into their reproductive years, each month as a menstrual period approaches so do red inflamed bumps on their skin. This is known as cyclic acne.
What Causes Cyclic Acne?
Acne is a result of increased androgen levels which cause the sebaceous glands of the skin to overproduce sebum (an oily, waxy substance) in a hair follicle. The overproduction of sebum can then plug a pore and lead to a bacterial infection in that pore which causes localized inflammation (swelling, pain, redness).
Excess levels of androgens not only cause some women to experience acne, but this hormone disorder is also linked to amenorrhea and one of the more perplexing health issues an increasing number of women face today: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS.
Acne may be caused by:
- emotional stress
- overproduction of testosterone by the ovaries
- adrenal androgen excess or Hyperandrogenism
- 21-hydroxylase deficiency (which can also cause excessive hair growth, deepening of the voice, abnormal or absent periods, and fertility problems)
- some medications
Medical Treatment with Birth Control Pills
Oral contraceptives are often prescribed to women experiencing acne. While oral contraceptives are known to be quite effective in controlling the external symptoms of acne, they come with their own set of cautions to be considered and aren’t ideal for use while trying to conceive.
Natural Treatment Options
Natural healthcare practitioners believe that the health of the skin, one of the major organs of elimination, is a direct reflection of the health of the internal organs of elimination, which are the liver, lymph system, and intestines. It is because of this belief that systemic and topical treatments are often combined, meaning that an herb or nutritional supplement is taken and a natural remedy applied externally to the skin.
So what can be done about cyclic acne? How can it be managed naturally?
1. Don’t Pick or Pop!
This may seem like a silly first step in managing acne and hard not to do, but popping blemishes can lead to additional breakouts and further infection, even scarring of the skin.
If you just can’t avoid it, be gentle! Wash your hands well and then hold a warm compress on the blemish for several minutes to soften the skin. Apply gentle downward pressure being sure not to pinch or break the skin with the fingernails. When popped, use any number of gentle topical applications (which can also be used if you DON’T POP) from the antibacterial, anti-inflammatory Lavender essential oil (no need to dilute) or a bit of antibacterial, anti-fungal Tea Tree essential oil (1-2 drops in a pump of scent-free, natural lotion), to Witch Hazel.
2. Improve Your Diet
Diet plays an important role in overall health, including the largest organ of the body, the skin.
To this day, there is still a disagreement in the healthcare world about whether consumption of excessive amounts of unhealthy fats, refined and processed foods, and chocolate really cause breakouts or not. This baffles me as science has proven that processed, fried and greasy foods are high in unhealthy, damaged fats, refined and artificial sugars, and refined flours – all of which task the liver, impact blood sugar levels, and negatively affect the immune system and hormonal balance. To me there is no question these should be eliminated entirely and certainly as much as possible when experiencing cyclic acne. It is well known that diet plays a major role in the health of the body.
Foods to Avoid – the following foods promote the body’s inflammatory response and are often man-made, making them hard to digest and eliminate.
- processed foods
- anything less than 70% dark chocolate
- fried foods
- white refined sugars and flours often used to make pastries, crackers, and breads
Foods to Add – this list supports cellular health, proper digestion, and improves the body’s natural ability to cleanse.
- Fiber – helps the body eliminate excess hormones which, in turn, supports hormone and blood sugar balance, and promotes intestinal and immune system health.
- Antioxidants – support cellular health and fight free radicals within the body.
- Fermented Foods- kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and supplementing with a probiotic provide the gut with healthy bacteria to fight infection and inflammation, as well as boost the immune system.
- Warm Lemon Water – start each day with eight ounces to support liver function. Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar suggests drinking 4 quarts of water a day to keep the body and skin properly hydrated.
- Green Tea – is known to be an antioxidant powerhouse, and is also an anti-androgen.
3. Support a Healthy Liver
When dealing with cyclic acne, it perhaps is most important to consider supporting the liver, the body’s main organ of detoxification. This organ is responsible for removing toxins from the blood and also plays a major role in hormonal balance as it filters excess hormones and toxins from the body.
Liver Supportive Herbs
Milk Thistle Seed Extract – Milk Thistle Seed (Silybum marianum) stimulates the liver to cleanse and renew itself. It also stimulates the gallbladder to secrete bile which aids in digestion.
Dandelion leaf and root – This herb stimulates liver function and is a tonic for the endocrine system. Studies have shown an improvement in the skin with the use of Dandelion (Taraxacum off.) and Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) (Vitex supports hormonal balance), along with dietary changes.
Red Clover – A nutrient-packed herb, Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) supports healthy liver function and aids in purification of the blood. In doing so, environmental pollutants are removed from the body, which may provide relief from cyclic acne.
4. Offer Your Body Endocrine System Support
The endocrine system is the message center of the body. It coordinates all hormones, which tell the body what it needs to do and when. When this system is out of balance, it becomes uncoordinated and hormone imbalance results. Optimally functioning endocrine glands may reduce the recurrence of cyclic acne by promoting hormone balance.
A class of herbs called adaptogens are great for this. Adaptogen herbs support the health of the endocrine system. Some of my favorites are Maca (Lepidium meyenii), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), and Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum).
5. Consider Evening Primrose Oil
Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) is a plant source of the omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs), Linoleic Acid (LA) and Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA). LA and GLA are important for the production of prostaglandins, which play a critical role in controlling the regulation of hormones and proper cell growth. Being that EPO is also anti-inflammatory, in combination with its hormonal support, it has been shown useful for cyclic acne associated with PMS.
6. Manage Stress & Sleep
Stress has a powerful impact on the body. It can quickly run the body down, leaving it susceptible to infection and hormone irregularities. Stress depletes the adrenal glands, can lead to dehydration, and lack of sleep, which impacts the function of the organs of elimination and boosts levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which inhibits the body’s main sex hormone GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) and subsequently suppresses ovulation, sexual activity, and hormone balance.
Cyclic acne is a symptom of the body’s need for hormone balance, and improved gastrointestinal and liver health. If you deal with acne as your menstrual period approaches, consider integrating the above foods and herbs into your daily diet and fertility health program. Oh, and please try hard not to pick or pop!
- 21-hydroxylase deficiency. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/gard/5757/21-hydroxylase-deficiency/case/21416/case-questions#460.
- Acne. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=21375
- Androgen. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.healthywomen.org/condition/androgen
- Barton, D. (n.d.). Red Clover: Fertility Herb and Tonic. Retrieved from: http://natural-fertility-info.com/red-clover-fertility-herb.html
- Gladstar, R. (1993). Herbal healing for women: Simple home remedies for women of all ages. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Rodriguez, H. (n.d.). Vitex… Fertility Super Herb? Retrieved from: http://natural-fertility-info.com/vitex
- Romm, A. J. (2010). Botanical medicine for women’s health. Chapter 5. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.
- Hormonal Acne: New Science on How to Beat It. (2017). Retrieved from: http://paleoforwomen.com/hormonal-acne-where-its-coming-from-and-what-to-do-about-it/
- Vorvick, L. and Storck, S. (2012) “Ovarian Overproduction of Androgens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001165.htm