By:  Dr. Nastasia Irons ND

A common concern for people who are coming off hormonal contraception in their 30’s and 40’s is adult acne. The only solution you have been given so far is to go back on birth control, but this isn’t something you want to do. So now what? 

Does this sound like you? I see a lot of women who are looking to stop hormonal contraception and who are afraid they will experience acne breakouts once they do. It isn’t always the case, but for some women, acne after birth control can be a real problem for our skin, and our self esteem. 

So why is this happening?

Acne can happen for many reasons but a very common cause is hormonal imbalance and inflammation. When our hormones are out of balance, we get higher levels of androgen hormone (think testosterone) – which stimulates the oil glands and tells them to make excess oil production, which in turn feeds the bacteria on our face. The bacteria grow, and cause mini infections on the skin – leading to painful bumps and swollen nodules – cystic acne. 

Throughout life, we naturally experience hormonal changes during ovulation, pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause, but there are also other factors that can affect your body’s hormone levels. Coming off birth control is one of them, but we need to pay attention to other sources of exogenous hormones (think makeup and body care products). Many moisturizers, lipsticks, sunscreens, nail polishes, and mascara brands contain parabens and other chemicals that disrupt hormone production.

Stress may also be a cause of adult acne. Stress causes our body to produce another hormone, called cortisol. When we are making a lot of cortisol, we make less of our sex hormones, like progesterone. This can lead to changes in our menstrual cycle, as well as changes to our skin and hair. 

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a common cause of adult acne. PCOS contributes to acne because there is a relationship between the ovaries, insulin, and testosterone production. A lot of people have a diagnosis of PCOS once they come off birth control – where we see elongated menstrual cycles, weight gain, cysts on the ovaries, and increased hair growth on the chin, abdomen, and nipples, and often cystic acne along the jawline and chin. 

Deficiencies in vitamins can also contribute to acne. For example, vitamin D and vitamin A are two vitamins that have effects on our skin and help regulate oil glands. When we have high levels of these vitamins in the body, the skin can become very dry. When our levels are low, oil production goes up, and can make our skin extra oily. These two vitamins are only absorbed with fat – so we need to make sure we are eating enough sources of fat in our diet – fish, nuts, and avocados – so that we don’t become deficient. Vitamin D is also absorbed through the skin when exposed to sunlight – not a common thing for Canadians in the winter! So make sure you get your levels tested and supplement throughout the winter months as necessary. 

When we are talking about oil glands – we also want to look at the type of oil our skin is making. The more inflamed we are, the more inflammatory oils we make – which will lead to more acne breakouts over time. When we consume a diet high in omega 3, we naturally make oil that is less inflammatory – which will lead to less inflammation on the skin. It really is that cool! 

Lastly, we need to talk about sugar. There is a direct association between high sugar diets, and acne that lasts longer. When our body is under stress, we naturally crave more sugar because of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol gets us to crave anything that will digest fast – think refined carbs – and these sugars will feed the bacteria we have growing naturally all over our body. When the bacteria are exposed to sugar, they will be more likely to grow, and then we end up with digestive problems, and acne breakouts. 

If you want to learn more about acne and natural ways to improve your skin, book in with me and lets get that skin glowing from the inside, out!

xo Dr. Irons