by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

How to Get Rid of Hormonal Acne In Your 20s

Closeup of Face
Image via @hanaylee

So you’ve finally arrived in your 20s and think: “Acne be damned, I’m ready for clear skin and to never see a spot again.” The sad reality is that many women in their twenties can still suffer from hormonal acne. Filipina-American actress Ayra Mariano posted a no-makeup selfie on Instagram, opening up about her two-year struggle with hormonal acne. 

“For two years I struggled with breakouts,” she wrote. “It was a very difficult time for me, especially when I go to work. I get embarrassed about the condition of my face whenever I see others with clear skin.”

The actress later revealed that she made a trip to the dermatologist, who diagnosed her with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS triggers an imbalance in hormones, leading to severe acne breakouts.

Treating acne can be difficult, so knowing what the cause is can help keep new spots at bay. Keep reading to treat acne accordingly.

So, what is hormonal acne?

Hormonal acne is exactly as it sounds—acne associated with the fluctuations in your hormones. Many skincare experts believe that hormonal fluctuations cause increased oil production in the pores, which may be why hormonal breakouts tend to pop up around the same time each month.

One of the telltale signs of a hormonal breakout is its location on the face. They typically form on the lower part of your face, including the bottom of your cheeks and around your jawline. For some people, it may take the form of blackheads, whiteheads, or cysts.

What are whiteheads?

Whiteheads are basically a mixture of dead skin cells, sebum, and dirt clogged in your pores. They’re also known as a closed comedo (all types of pimples start off as comedones) and often show up on oilier skin types.

Unlike blackheads, which can be pushed out, whiteheads are closed within the pore, which can make them a little harder to get rid of.

Ironically, the first step of treatment is to do nothing — that is, don’t touch. Picking and poking at it will only invite more pore-clogging dirt and bacteria. It can also cause irritation and permanent scarring. Make sure to cleanse your face well every night and incorporate exfoliating products into your routine.

What are blackheads?

You know what these are; those pesky little black bumps on your nose and cheeks. Blackheads are similar to whiteheads in that they’re a buildup of sebum, dead skin cells and dirt, only, in this case, the comedo is open and it has oxidised, making it black.

You’ll treat these similarly to whiteheads—through regular, thorough cleansing and chemical exfoliation. Clay masks can also help, and if you’re extra prone to blackheads, make sure all the products you’re using are non-comedogenic.

What are cysts?

Cystic acne forms deep under the skin, almost like a burgeoning mosquito bite. These bumps are often painful and tender to the touch. Since they are more inflammatory than regular whiteheads, they require a more clinical approach to treatment that starts from the inside rather than treating them with topical products.

What should I know about hormonal acne?

There’s no quick fix. The first and possibly the most important thing to remember about treatment is don’t pick and squeeze. Minimize contact to prevent bacteria transfer, no matter the temptation or irritation.

Over-the-counter cleansers

Start with good cleansers and look out for those with salicylic or glycolic acid as a primary ingredient. Benzoyl peroxide has proven to be an effective treatment against acne but too much use may result in dry, flaky skin.

Mario Badescu’s Glycolic Foaming Cleanser (SGD27) contains glycolic acid, which helps to deep cleanse, exfoliate the skin and stimulate the growth of new cells.

Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser

Topical retinoids

Retinoids are vitamin A-based products that help improve the appearance of fine lines and hyperpigmentation, but they are also great for acne. Although retinoids may help reduce blockage of pores and prevent acne, you should take care when first using retinoids; they may cause irritation and redness. Start off by alternating using a retinoid cream or serum two to three times a week. And as retinoids are not photostable, it’s best to use them in the evening, rather than during the day, when sunlight can break them down. If you’re just starting to use retinol, try the First Aid Beauty Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate (SGD95), which is formulated for sensitive skin and is packed with vitamins C and E. An alternative would be Drunk Elephant’s A-Passioni Retinol Cream (SGD105), which contains bounce-restoring retinol and supportive peptides while helping to even skin tone and texture.

The bottom line is hormonal acne is frustrating, but you don’t have to live with it. If over-the-counter treatments aren’t clearing your acne, you may need to seek the help of a dermatologist, who can offer prescription hormonal acne treatments. It’s also a good idea to see your dermatologist if you have deep or cystic pimples, because the acne lives under your skin so to speak, so topical products won’t get you far.