Spoiler alert, 95% of women with acne, who I get the honour of working with have… hormonal acne. Hormonal acne is the most common kind of acne. So I completely understand why you’re asking – can high estrogen cause acne.
My friend – technically yes – high estrogen can cause acne.
However – high estrogen acne is about as common as walking on the beach and finding one of those beautiful, intact conch shells your ears hear the ocean through 😉
The amount of DIM supplements and estrogen detox products you can buy might make this a mind-boggle.
Could it be that estrogen detox products are a gimmick? Let’s find out shall we? Psst – I’m also about to reveal how your finger length may predict your genetic risk of acne – yes really – it’s published and proven science.
Is Hormonal Acne Caused by Too Much Estrogen?
Before we start let’s jot down a really quick cheatsheet for your hormones. There are five which are super influential for your skin health and that cycle with you every month;
- Estrogen – highest week 2 of your cycle
- Progesterone – highest in the second half of your cycle
- Testosterone – stays the same (but there’s more to this!)
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) – peaks in the middle of your cycle
- Luteinising hormone (LH) – peaks in the middle of your cycle
And if you’re a visual learner like me, take a peek at this monthly cycle graph with all five hormones marked out in a different colour line;
Estrogen and Acne
Now, most women believe if your acne breakouts flare up in the middle of your cycle – when estrogen is at its highest then your acne is caused by too much estrogen.
Which at face value is scientifically a little confusing because of this fact.
Estrogen can be a sebum suppressive hormone meaning it helps turn down the volume button on your skin’s oil making glands. Wahoo.
There’s also this fact – there’s this sciency sounding thing that happens in every acne breakout you’re having. Hyperkeratosis.
Sounds fancy eh. All it means is your skin’s thickening inside your pores, you can think of this like an overgrowth and therefore your pores are clogging easily. Yikes – not what we want 🙂
Psst – don’t worry there’s lots we can do about this.
Which Hormone Is Responsible for Acne?
Here’s what science studies are showing us;
Androgens but not estrogens, promote the biosynthesis of growth factors… Increased staining signals of growth factors have been revealed in the dermis… in acne lesions.J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2021 Apr;19(4):509-515
Translation – androgens make us grow, grow, grow and it looks like androgens can be lighter fuel to that overgrowth of skin cells inside your pores.
Psst – studies show us that if your index finger and ring finger (fingers 2 and 4) have a big length difference (like is usual in men) then this could mean you’re extra sensitive to androgen hormones. Studies show female acne patients who have a bigger height gap have extra sensitive androgen receptors in skin.
If you have a classic presentation of acne meaning your skin is oily, combination then it’s unlikely you have estrogen acne and highly likely you have hormonal acne caused by high androgen levels.
Psst – your androgen levels can be increased by certain foods in your diet so make sure you grab your free copy of my Acne Diet cheatsheet here.
Another telltale sign your acne is androgen fuelled and not estrogen acne – can you answer yes to this question? Do your breakouts flare up the week before and during your period?
If you look back at that graph up top – see how at this time estrogen levels are reducing and although your testosterone levels are peddling away at the same speed they’re becoming relatively ‘faster’/heightened just before your bleed.
Think of your testosterone hormones like being in a car with a max speed of 30mph/30kph, the first half of your cycle when estrogen is super high is like being on the motorway – estrogens are speeding by you – zoom, zoom, zoom.
But then – yikes – there’s a motorway closure – a diversion and boom – you’re in a 30mph zone. Suddenly your car is one of the fastest on the road. Wahoo.
Bottom line – strength and speed are relative.
But what if you’re not breaking out worse just before your period? Can high estrogen cause acne then?
Can Too Much Estrogen Cause Hormonal Acne?
So say you’re acne’s getting worse at the middle point in your cycle – that’s when you’re ovulating aka popping out an egg.
It’s also when your estrogen levels are highest – so surely this means you have high estrogen acne right?
Yes, it could, but in my scientific opinion, the chances are small.
See at this time in your cycle there are other big hormones in your ovarian playground 😉
You’re suddenly also getting big spikes in;
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Luteinising hormone (LH)
Luteinising hormone is super important here because, as a paper published in the Journal of Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigative Dermatology tells us, ‘androgens are secreted by the ovaries under regulation of LH’.
You can think of luteinising hormone like a back door androgen 😂 although it’s not an androgen itself, it can cause your body to make more androgens. Boom – acne.
And if this wasn’t enough, to get an egg bursting out of your ovaries, your body needs to rupture the ‘follicle’ aka cosy home it’s sitting in.
We can’t open that egg door with our hands and so your body does something incredible.
Ever put a can of cider in the freezer to chill it quick?
Ever forgotten about your can in the freezer? 😱
You run to the rescue but it’s too late, your can is frozen solid and it’s also swollen. As the trickles of ice start melting down your cider’s sides, it bursts open, squirting itself around like Lewis Hamilton celebrating a Grand Prix win.
Your body does the same every month. Every month it bursts a bottle of cider champagne by spiking inflammation-causing hormones. It builds pressure up so your champagne bottle can explode and an egg can be released.
These hormones have a fancy name of prostaglandins – but don’t worry about that fancy word too much – it’s just a name… like ‘Priscilla’.
Priscilla can cause you acne flares because acne is an inflammatory skin condition. Imagine your body having an inflammation to anti-inflammation see-saw balance. Inflammation chemicals are sitting on the left and anti-inflammatory chemicals are on the right. Ovulation can sway your see-saw like you’re a 5-year-old kid again and your dad’s jumping on the other side of your see-saw 😂.
Can High Estrogen Cause Acne?
While technically yes – high estrogen can cause acne, it’s rare. The likelihood is your acne breakouts are being caused by high androgens and possibly low levels of estrogen.
Diet has a huge impact on this regulation so be sure to grab your free copy of my acne diet cheatsheet here.
And my friend, this isn’t just my opinion, this is what published science studies are showing us;
Estrogens suppress sebaceous gland function by opposing androgens. Estrogens are also thought to be implicated in… anti-inflammatory processes… A systematic review screening over 1000 studies found that patients with acne vulgaris had lower serum estrogen levels when compared to controls.Int J Mol Cell Med. 2019 Spring; 8(2): 162–168.
Did you see that?
Over 1000 studies show us when we’re experiencing acne breakouts (yes, I had them as an adult too!) then estrogen levels are likely lower. Meaning estrogen dominance is not a common cause of acne.
In fact, this same paper, published in 2019 goes on to reveal, that higher levels of androgens and lower levels of estrogen, specifically a kind of estrogen we make called estradiol are ‘significantly associated with severe acne’.
Bottom line; can high estrogen cause acne? Technically yes, however, the likelihood is as low as you finding a shining, in-tact conk shell at the beach 😉 if you’re at your wit’s end with acne and would love to work with me to finally start healing your skin then, you can click here to find out how.
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist, skin health expert & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim’s to help you get healthier, happier skin you feel comfortable, confident and like the freakin’ awesomesauce you are in. Select the option which best describes your skin health here to see and hear the amazing transformations you could be getting.