My Holistic Approach to Treating Hormonal Acne

This post has been a long time coming, months honestly, but it has been something I’ve struggled with for the past few years. Up until I hit 30 I had pretty good skin. I rarely had breakouts, it was a little dry but overall, something I honestly didn’t really think about. I did my normal skincare routine, wore sunscreen, slapped on some tinted moisturizer and called it a day. And then I hit 30. All of a sudden something changed. It wasn’t just a random pimple every once in a while. It was constant breakouts, basically never a day went by when I didn’t have something going on with my skin. I was able to deal with it for the most part until this past winter. My skin just went into a complete and utter tailspin. Breakouts like I’d never had before. They were painful and frequent. There were times I honestly didn’t even want to go out in public because of the way my skin looked, and that made me feel even worse. How could I let my skin dictate my self-worth? I felt ridiculous for allowing it to control me and how I felt about myself. It can be a very lonely experience. I felt very self conscious and embarrassed. And then, I decided to start posting about it. I couldn’t believe how many of you sent messages saying you were dealing with the same thing. It not only made me feel a bit better about my situation but it forced me to do something about it. So I did some research.

What is hormonal acne? Well, it’s basically exactly what it sounds like, acne tied to fluctuating hormones, and it’s especially common in women. It’s estimated that 50 percent of adult women have acne and 95 percent of all people will suffer from acne at some point in their lives. And yet, there is no cure, and there is no clear cut way to treat it. Here’s the thing about acne, everyone has different skin. I can’t tell you how many people sent me messages of “you have to do this” or “this is the only thing that works.” The reality is, what works for me, may not work for you. And that’s what makes it so frustrating and so hard to treat. I didn’t want to go on prescription medication to treat mine, so I tried everything else to see if I could get it under control. If medication works for you or you want to try that route you should 100 percent do it. I am not a doctor and I’m not here to tell you there is only one way, trust me when I say, I know that’s not true. It’s still an ongoing battle. My skin right now, is 1000 times better than it has been in years but it’s still not perfect. I get the occasional breakout, but I finally feel like I have a good grasp on keeping my skin clear and healthy. So I’m breaking it all down for you, this is my holistic approach to treating hormonal acne. And if there is one thing I’ve learned from this experience it’s that I promise you, if you’re struggling with your skin, you are not alone.

Jess Ann Kirby makes a green smoothie bowl to pack nutrients into her diet

Diet

First things first, let’s talk about how diet can affect hormonal acne. Once again, this is a case of, everyone is different, the foods that make my skin worse might not have any impact on yours, but there are some common foods that almost any search about hormonal acne will turn up. They are: sugar, dairy products, refined carbs, red meats. I decided to eliminate all of them. As a migraine sufferer since the age of 7, I am no stranger to eliminating foods from my diet, so this wasn’t all that hard for me. I will say as someone who has said on multiple occasions “I will never give up cheese,” that was difficult. After about two weeks of no dairy though, I honestly was shocked that I didn’t miss it at all. I also don’t eat red meat and can’t really eat sugar because of my migraines so the hard part was refined carbs and dairy.

Ultimately I found that dairy was a major factor in contributing to my hormonal acne. Refined carbs and processed sugar were up there too, so I drastically reduced my consumption, but I have eliminated dairy completely. I didn’t eliminate eggs but the esthetician I met with today recommended eliminating them for 30 days to see what happens so I’m going to do that. At the same time I started incorporating some key foods that I think have helped my skin including: fresh cold pressed juice (with carrots, oranges, leafy greens-I have this juicer and love it) and smoothies with dark berries (blueberries are a superfood especially for skin). I have one cup of coffee per day, drink kombucha daily (probiotics) and spearmint tea at night. I did not eliminate alcohol but I drink sparingly and make sure I am hydrating if I am drinking. Staying hydrated is important and drinking plenty of water is great, but you don’t have to be extreme about it, just drink enough, stay hydrated and you should be fine.

Jess Ann Kirby takes a holistic approach to skincare to help heal hormonal acne

Supplements

If I’m being honest, the jury is still out on whether these things actually help my skin, but I did stop taking them for about a week and then had a breakout so I started taking them again. I think of these as more of a complimentary thing to what for me are most important, diet and skincare routine. Here’s what I’ve been taking daily (not all of these are for skin but wanted to include everything). I also want to mention I went off the pill a few months ago. I did notice my skin leveled out a bit after going off, but I didn’t go off birth control for my skin. After being on it for 15+ years I just felt I wanted to give my body a break and stop messing with my natural cycle and hormones (I have a blog post coming on that experience as well).

Hum Nutrition Red Carpet, Daily Cleanse and Hair Sweet Hair -I don’t buy directly from Hum because I don’t like that you have to sign up for a monthly membership which you can only cancel by calling their 800 number.
Evening Primrose Oil
Magnesium
Vitamin D
Vital Proteins Marine Collagen (I can only take marine collagen, I tried the collage peptides-beef, and it gave me headaches and stomachaches).

Skincare (What Not to Do)

I tried a lot of different products, a lot. Ultimately it came down to not only the products I was using but my overall routine and methods that had a major impact on my skin. First I want to talk about some of the don’ts because I was doing a lot of them. Again, everyone’s skin is different but I think most of these things will apply across the board.

Don’t Do This
– Over-exfoliate. When I was breaking out really bad my instinct was to exfoliate because my pores must be clogged and that’s why I’m breaking out right? Not quite. In fact, over-exfoliating was making my skin WAY worse. It wasn’t until I had a skin consult with True Botanicals who explained to me that by over-exfoliating I was not only drying out my skin but damaging it’s ability to repair and protect itself, and making it even more exposed to bacteria and prone to breakouts.
– Use too many products. In my desperate attempt to clear my skin I was trying a ton of different products and it was actually making my skin way worse. It can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks to notice anything when using a new product, so try and stay as consistent as possible with what you use.
Use Hot Water/Cleanse Too Much. Not only was I over-exfoliating I was also cleansing too much. My instinct was to keep my skin clean but once again I was stripping my skin of it’s natural oils and messing with it’s pH levels. Using hot water when you wash your face can also really mess up your pH levels and dry it out.
Clog Your Pores With Makeup. This is tricky, I know, the last thing I wanted to do when my skin was at my worst was go anywhere without makeup (and I never even wore makeup until recently!). Now that my skin is in a good place I pretty much just don’t wear make-up at all unless I’m shooting or going out for an event/dinner/etc. I really love RMS Beauty because it’s very lightweight and all natural. Just try to minimize wearing make-up when you can and always, always, always wash it off at night.

Jess Ann Kirby shares her hormonal acne skincare routine and holistic approach to beauty and skincare

My Skincare Routine

Finallyyyyyy. Let’s talk products. I met with an esthetician today who recommended using lactic acid only once a day instead of twice, so I might try that for a few weeks. I also scheduled a new treatment called Vivace. It’s essentially microneedling with radio frequency so it treats fine lines and firms skin but also can help with brown spots and active acne breakouts. Honestly it is really expensive ($800/treatment) but after the first three treatments (every 4-6 weeks) maintenance is every year/year and a half. Unlike traditional micro-needling there is also basically no downtime. For me it’s a great alternative to Botox which I am not interested in, so I will keep you guys posted on what I think. The esthetician mentioned I won’t really see results until after the third treatment because essentially it is stimulating the skin to produce collagen so it will be a few months. I also get monthly facials from my cousin Emily and we alternate between a regular facial and microdermabrasion.

After realizing I was cleansing and exfoliating too much I cut down to exfoliating 1-2x/week and cleansing once a day (products below). In the morning I use toner and occasionally if I feel like I need it will rinse with cold water. I also use a hydrating mask 1-2x/week.

Products

-Cleanse. I use both Farmaesthetics Herbal Cleanser and True Botanicals Clear Hydrating Cleanser. I honestly can’t say I like one more than the other. I use the Farmaesthetics when I exfoliate (below).
-Exfoliate. I use Farmaesthetics Rose Face Polish and Sweet Milk & Lavender to exfoliate. Depending on how my skin is feeling I might use each once per week. I mix with the herbal cleanser and massage gently on my skin, leaving it on for a few minutes.
-Tone.  In the mornings I use Indie Lee or Fresh Beauty Rose Hydrating Toner. I do this instead of a cleanser. I also loved the True Botanicals Clear Nutrient Toner I just ran out and want to use what I have before I purchase again.
-Lactic Acid. I probably don’t need to be using both of these and eventually I may eliminate one but for now I am using both, one in the morning and one at night. I use Sunday Riley Good Genes in the morning after serum and before sunscreen. At night after cleansing and before serum/face oil I use P50 1970.
-Moisturizer/Serum. I actually don’t really use moisturizer anymore (that will probably change in the winter). Right now I use Sunday Riley C.E.O Serum in the morning after toner (and before Good Genes) and at night after P50. If my skin needs it I will use the True Botanicals Clear Pure Radiance Face Oil at night as the last step.
-Masks. I try to do a hydrating mask once or twice a week. For sheet masks I like this one from Karuna. I also love the Farmaesthetics Herbal Hydration Complex and Erno Laszlo Hyra-Therapy Skin Vitality Mask.
-Sunscreen. Seriously this is probably most important. Especially if you are using products to treat acne which can make you even more sun sensitive. I usually wear Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen and I saw Coola just came out with a new sunscreen that I’m going to try.

Whew. That was a long one you guys. I hope it’s helpful. I will do a video on my Youtube channel with my skincare routine to help make sense of all this. Please, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments or on this Instagram photo. At the end of the day, what I have learned through this process is that no one knows your skin better than you. Trust yourself and listen to your body. What works for me might not work for you. It’s a process and clear skin doesn’t happen overnight. Just remember that you are not alone. It’s something so many people struggle with so don’t be hard on yourself.

My Skincare Routine

10 Comments

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  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much Jessica. This post comes at a great time for me–I just recently came off of birth control and spironolactone and my adult acne has reared its ugly head worse than ever.

    It’s so hard to make sense of the skincare “rules”, especially since our skin is so unique to us. Some people tell you that you should be using an acid every single day (should we also consider it exfoliating even though it’s chemical?). Some people say you have to wash your face 2x a day, others say only 1x a day. Plus there is the eternal allure of new products that promise skincare perfection. It feels frustrating to constantly have a battle with your skin and let it define your self worth as adults. It’s always really refreshing to hear how others are managing it all, so thank you. I look forward to reading your post on coming off hormonal birth control.

  2. Aim says:

    Great post! I swear I could read about skincare forever (even as I sit here eating cheese 😑). I’m curious to see how your vivace treatment goes! When you mentioned it on stories I thought for sure you were going for fraxel- which sounds sort of terrifying. Good luck and thanks for putting all of this together!

  3. Cecilia says:

    I am 1 year shy away from my 30s and I want to find different methods to treat my skin better. This post has helped me tremendously, thank you.

    Great, great blog post! I visit your site everyday and just really love the consistency/quality of your work. ^_^

  4. This post is so helpful! You are definitely not alone in the hormonal acne department. I struggled with acne for over a decade and tried literally everything, even Accutane and nothing did the trick. It wasn’t until last year when we were struggling with infertility and I got the gut feeling that it was due to a hormonal imbalance that I cleared my skin as a byproduct! The steps I took to balance my hormones in hopes of getting pregnant actually cleared my skin!

    I can’t even explain how much better I feel about myself now that my skin is clear (I still have blackheads, some fine lines appearing, and the occasional breakout – but I finally feel like a “normal person” being able to complain about my one breakout whereas before it was just my entire face.

    If there’s anything I can recommend in addition to what you’re already doing, it’s to read the book WomanCode by Alissa Vitti. It is so well-researched but she writes in plain English explaining how our female hormonal system works. It is eye-opening and so fascinating. If your acne is truly hormonal, I think it would be a super beneficial read simply to understand the process of what is going on in your body. That knowledge eliminates a lot of the trial and error and also for me, it just made me feel so much more empowered having the knowledge of what was actually going on inside this body I live in every day. Can’t recommend it enough!

  5. This post is so helpful! You are definitely not alone in the hormonal acne department. I struggled with acne for over a decade and tried literally everything, even Accutane and nothing did the trick. It wasn’t until last year when we were struggling with infertility and I got the gut feeling that it was due to a hormonal imbalance that I cleared my skin as a byproduct! The steps I took to balance my hormones in hopes of getting pregnant actually cleared my skin!

    I can’t even explain how much better I feel about myself now that my skin is clear (I still have blackheads, some fine lines appearing, and the occasional breakout – but I finally feel like a “normal person” being able to complain about my one breakout whereas before it was just my entire face.

    If there’s anything I can recommend in addition to what you’re already doing, it’s to read the book WomanCode by Alissa Vitti. It is so well-researched but she writes in plain English explaining how our female hormonal system works. It is eye-opening and so fascinating. If your acne is truly hormonal, I think it would be a super beneficial read simply to understand the process of what is going on in your body. In the end it’s not our skin we are trying to fix, it’s actually our hormones (which are showing up on our skin). That knowledge eliminates a lot of the trial and error and also for me, it just made me feel so much more empowered having the knowledge of what was actually going on inside this body I live in every day. Can’t recommend it enough!

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you for the recommendation. I’ve actually had a few people suggest that book, I am going to order it today! xx

  6. Maria says:

    Hi, thank you so much for your post. I would maybe stop using Good Genes in the morning, I don’t think it s a good idea to combine lactic acid with vitamin c. You could maybe alternate it with P50 in the night if you want to use them both. And please please write the pill post!

  7. Rachel says:

    Love this! I can’t believe you don’t use an oil or moisturizer daily, but I completely agree you do what works for your skin. Plus, you regularly get facials, so if you were doing something too off your facialist would advise you. I looked up Sunday Riley CEO & it does have Sweet Orange, oil so in summer I could see how that is enough. I follow close to the same routine & my skin is slowly getting better, so this is encouraging. Anyways, the point in leaving this comment is to recommend a little weight moisturizer for winter if you don’t want an oil somedays. The moisturizer is OSEA Blemish Balm. When I’m dry I do a pump mixed with either my Odacite Pimple oil serum or Odacite Oily/Acne Prone oil serum. For a super gentle/non-drying manual exfoliation, Odacite has a Jojoba bead exfoliant if you want to try something new when you finish what you have. I searched far & wide for the lowest irritation manual exfoliant & Odacite won for me. I also love their Synergie 4 Mask. It’s a clay mask, so I add a few drops of an oil (usually my Odacite Pimple serum) to it to make it more hydrating. Anyways, enough products talk. Thanks for the CEO serum recommendation! I can’t use silicones (even my makeup is silicone free) & she doesn’t use a silicone in her vitamin C serum. Definitely looking for a good serum to help with scars & melasma. Thanks so much!

  8. Jillian says:

    I LOVED this post! I’ve struggled with acne since I was 12/13 and still do (although it has changed over the years)!. The struggle is real and I really enjoyed reading your approach to handling it. 🙂
    xx, Jillian
    https://rhymeandreason-jillian.com

  9. Whit says:

    My husband swapped non-organic dairy out and only eats organic dairy and it did the trick! So you might not have to swear it off all together. Apparently organic dairy uses cows that aren’t pumped with as many hormones