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Can Your Acne Be a Sign of Androgen Imbalance?

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hyper-androgenism-acne

Seeing spots – What your skin may be trying to tell you

A little over two years ago, I began transitioning to veganism.  It was a time when I was exploring several options to improve my skin (breakout city). Although I was starting to focus more on my diet, I was still seeing a dermatologist. A part of me was resigned to endure any combination of prescription treatments—no matter how harsh or involved.

Indeed, I was prepared for my derm to put me on birth control and accutane. Instead, she said I should try spironolactone—a medication for high blood pressure that also happens to flush excess androgens (male hormones) from the body.  I wasn’t sure what either of those things had to do with my impossible face, but she explained that too many free male hormones are one cause of hormonal acne.  Since topical treatments were a waste on me, she figured my acne was a sign of  androgen imbalance.

It turns out she was right—when no cream or pill could improve my skin, spironolactone completely cleared my skin in two weeks. Although I currently don’t take it, I still consider it a miracle pill. Aside from feeling more comfortable in my own skin, seeing the results from this medication finally gave me some answers by isolating the main cause of my seemingly endless skin woes.  As I learned, androgens prompt increased sebum (oil) production that clogs the pores from the inside–meaning no amount of special products can nip it in the bud–the best they can do is damage control.  Of course, “spiro” wasn’t the perfect solution—in exchange for clearness, my skin became rather dry and itchy, but for a while I was more than okay with the trade off.)

But before getting into all of that, let’s get one thing straight: being androgen-dominant doesn’t mean you’re any less womanly, and it doesn’t necessarily effect your gender-identity. My fiancé jokes that for having a tendency for too much testosterone, I’m the most feminine person he knows.

It does mean, however, that you could be suffering from the following symptoms:

acne – particularly around the chin and jaw line

hair loss

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

irregular periods

difficulty conceiving

male-pattern hair growth (hirutism)

increased risk of diabetes and heart disease

Like me, you may only manifest one of these symptoms, but sometimes just one symptom can really affect the quality of your life–as anyone with chronic acne can attest.  Less visible symptoms–like being at risk for diabetes–go beyond vanity (not that I have anything wrong with a little healthy vanity).  In other words, my acne made me aware of something that involves my whole health.  In a way, it was a blessing.

How to Treat Hyper-Androgenism

Medications like spironolactone and birth control can certainly get you through a rough patch, but they’re only temporary masks of a larger problem.  Having taken spironolactone for several months, I know how valuable a mask it can be.  There are certainly times in our lives when we need a little external help! Most of the time, however, I want to address the problem at its root—without prescription medication.

If you’re not taking medication, the largest player in androgen management is probably your diet.

Fortunately, avoiding meat is already a step in the right direction—vegetarians naturally have lower levels of androgen than their omnivorous counterparts. This may be due to vegetarians’ lower intake of saturated fats.  High fat intake increases the circulation of androgens.

Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is also key in reducing excess androgen.  People with excess androgen are likely to be insulin-resistant as well.  Here’s why: Eating a meal raises our blood sugar (how much depends on the type of meal–white bread spikes blood sugar faster than kale), and to balance this spike, the pancreas releases insulin to balance the blood sugar.  If the body is insulin-resistant, however, it will not effectively respond to the insulin, allowing the blood sugar to go unchecked, prompting the body to produce even more insulin. High levels of insulin stimulate the ovaries to produce more androgens.  This post explains in greater detail the connection between sugar, androgens, and acne.

You may also consider incorporating anti-androgenic foods and herbs in your diet:

be-well-acne-spearmint-tea-androgens

Be well: As if we needed another reason to enjoy herbal tea – spearmint tea lowers free androgens, helping improve skin clarity.

Whole, unfermented soy (like tofu, soy nuts)

Pumpkin seeds

Spearmint tea

Saw palmetto

**Whole, organic foods, while not specifically anti-androgenic, are important for maintaining steady blood sugar levels and providing the body with valuable antioxidants, nutrients, and fiber (we all know fiber is essential for healthy elimination–this includes the elimination of excess hormones!)

Practice clean living by avoiding unnecessary toxins in your cosmetics, foods (go organic!), and household supplies.  By reducing the chemical load on your body, you’re taking good care of your liver, kidneys, and adrenal glands (a.k.a. your detox powerhouses). The healthier these organs are (i.e. the less taxed they are by environmental—and emotional—stressors), the better they’ll be at helping you maintain hormonal balance. The liver, for example, is partly responsible for removing excess hormones. Check out our beauty section for natural product recommendations.

non-toxic-vegan-makeup

Spring clean your beauty bag and lighten your toxic load by using non-toxic, vegan products.

Exercise! Moderate aerobic exercises like walking, yoga, and ballet support your hormone-balancing organs by increasing blood circulation to them. Exercise also reduces blood-sugar (blood glucose is burned) and improves insulin-sensitivity (regular activity improves cells’ ability to use insulin).

Yoga to Awaken Your Sacral Chakra - pigeon pose

Exercise with joy: Gentle aerobics will help balance androgen levels.

 Also in Skin care: Deeper Than Skin – Acne Sugar Connection

Book Review – Clear Skin Detox Diet by Lauren Talbot

Natural Skin Care – Getting Your Best Skin Ever

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Photos: Classic Cinema via Flickr, Mary Hood, Peaceful Dumpling

Mary Hood Luttrell

Mary Hood Luttrell

Beauty Editor at Peaceful Dumpling
Peaceful Dumpling Beauty Editor and creator of Bisou du Jour, Mary Hood Luttrell lives with her husband in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mary is a freelance writer and writing and blogging consultant. A lover of whole foods, Mary delights in learning new ways to prepare vegan dishes. Mary also enjoys reading and writing poetry, art journaling, running, and practicing yoga and ballet. Follow Mary on her blog Bisou du Jour, Instagram and Pinterest.
Mary Hood Luttrell

@maryhluttrell

Beauty Editor at @peacedumpling & Creator of Bisou du Jour.
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  • Juhea Kim

    a very close friend of mine suffered for a long time from severe adult acne. She had some of the symptoms you listed–PCOS, irregular and painful periods. (she also is very very slender like you–maybe coincidence, maybe not?) she has since found the right kind of birth control, one that helps her acne and doesn’t cause moodiness. I’m glad you wrote that this doesn’t say anything about one’s womanliness–you and my other friend are both two of the most feminine people I know!

    • That’s interesting about your friend! I discussed PCOS with my gyno once–she said it was possible that I had it, but really, if I understood her correctly, it’s kind of blanket term to describe all of those symptoms–plus more. It’s this very real but very vague thing, I guess. She also mentioned that it’s commonly associated with heavy-set women since symptom is difficultly losing weight, but really only about 50% of PCOS-sufferers are overweight. That’s great that your friend found a good BC! I know that’s kind of like the holy grail! After one bad experience (I was a total basket case), I’m afraid of experimenting :/

  • Sal

    Hi Mary!
    I found out recently i too have higher than normal androgen levels, this has resulted in a small amount of acne scaring so i found your micro needing articles also very informative.. thank-you 🙂
    I haven’t heard of Saw Palmetto before, could you elaborate on your experience with this and a recommended dosage amount?
    I have found green tea, licorice root and white peony to be good natural androgen lowers also, thanks again!!!

    • Hi Sal!
      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad that you found the micro-needling posts helpful 🙂
      I took saw palmetto for about four months, and if I recall, I took the recommended dosage on the bottle. (I took the Nature’s Way brand.) I believe it helped my skin somewhat, but I actually replaced it with Estroblock Pro and DHT Blocker (by Delgado Protocol–you can get them on Amazon). I read about these supplements on The Love Vitamin and thought I would give them a shot since my skin still needed a little help. These have really helped balance my skin. They are kind of an expensive combo, but they’ve become my “desert island” supplements. I’m happy to answer any questions you have about these–or any other supplement I’ve mentioned on the site 🙂 Best of luck in your skin journey!

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