HOW HORMONES AFFECT YOUR SKIN – PART 1 PUBERTY & ACNE
Our hormones are hugely powerful chemicals that surge through our system constantly. They all have different jobs and some dominate at certain times in our lives. But how do they affect our skin?
Bridget Carmady, Naturopath and Founder of Clémence Organics takes a look at different life stages, what hormones are most active at these times, how they affect our skin and what skin issues thrive in these conditions.
Part 1 Puberty & Acne
(Yes that is me as a teenager!)
Our hormones gradually increase as we grow from infancy, through childhood. Once we hit puberty, which can occur any time after 10, our hormones take a big leap in production, particularly our growth hormones and sex hormones, which includes both oestrogen and androgens. Whilst oestrogen does play a role in keeping skin healthy, it’s the androgens that have a direct affect on the amount of sebum produced by our skin. An increase in androgen production can lead to excessive sebum production, known as seborrhoea, a common cause of acne. But it’s not just the androgens that cause acne. The makeup of our sebum plays a role here too.
What’s in our sebum?
This amazing lubricant, which acts to protect our skin, is made up of a mix of oils including essential fatty acids and cholesterol. Given the right balance, sebum transports antioxidants around our skin, provides anti-inflammatory benefits, and has a natural antibacterial quality which assists in the wound healing process.
The composition of it is affected by our diet, particularly the fatty acid component. Studies have shown that low levels of linoleic acid, an omega 6 fatty acid, have been found in people with acne. This information is particularly crucial given that linoleic acid cannot be made by our bodies and only obtained via our diet.
Diet, Hormones & Acne
Dietary choices can play a role in influencing our hormones and our skin in other ways. Dairy foods (particularly milk) and high GI foods (e.g. white bread, rice) have an effect on our insulin levels (particularly IGF-1) which further stimulates androgen production. Teenage years are often a time when food intake is mixed and haphazard, and so it doesn’t help that when the skin is most susceptible to dietary influences, diet is often at its least nutritious.
Puberty and teenage years are often very stressful times. Unfortunately this also affects our hormones and therefore our skin. The key stress hormone, cortisol, plays a role in our skin’s health in 2 ways. Firstly, it has a direct effect on sebum levels, increasing production when cortisol levels rise. Secondly, cortisol has a dampening effect on the immune system, which means that infections are more likely to take hold when you’re stressed.
Whilst hormones will be hormones, there are things you can do to minimise the impact on hormone fluctuations during puberty, and therefore minimise acne occurrence.
- Take control of your diet – ensure it contains mostly low glycaemic index foods, reduce milk solids (milk and ice cream), and increase anti-inflammatory foods rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
- Manage stress – exercise is probably the easiest and most effective way to manage stress but you could also consider mediation and other relaxation methods.
For further recommendations on acne, particularly adult acne, please refer to blog post ‘How Your Hormones Affect Your Skin’s Health – Part 2 The Menstrual Cycle & Hormone Irregularities‘.