Women and acne


So why do women continue to get acne throughout their lives? There are a number of reasons.

First lets look at some quick facts:

  • women’s hormones fluctuate more than men’s, which helps explain why acne in women tends to be less constant and more erratic
more than half of all adult women experience at least occasional breakouts.
  • 60-70% of women who battle with acne experience premenstrual flare-ups.
  • acne can occur throughout a woman’s adult life: in early adulthood, in the late twenties and thirties (which I have personally seen quite a bit), during pregnancy, and during menopause.
  • female adult acne can be effectively treated and breakouts prevented.

Treatment options for women and acne

For many women, the right topical treatments can manage acne well. In my experience, men and women do not differ much in terms of effective acne treatments as it comes down to a consistent and appropriate method of treatment.

If for any reason topical treatments do not work, hormonal treatments can. Doctors sometimes prescribe oral contraceptives (birth control pills), or androgen receptor blockers (most notably spironolactone and cyproterone acetate). Both of these work internally to mediate the effects of male hormones, which are the main culprit of the development of acne.  Both options come with numerous side effects and should be carefully researched, and then discussed with a trusted physician before coming to an educated decision on whether or not to embark on hormonal therapy.

As a last resort, for women with very severe, widespread, and deeply scarring acne, Accutane is also an option. However, because Accutane causes severe birth defects in the fetuses of pregnant women, and because of Accutane’s other serious side effects, Accutane treatment should be entered into carefully and upon mutual consent with your family and doctor.


Premenstrual acne

A study in 2004 showed 63% of acne-prone women experienced premenstrual flares, with a 25% increase in total lesions. This probably comes as no surprise to the millions of women out there who experience a monthly flareup of their acne symptoms. Normally the increase in acne comes about 7-10 days before the onset of menstruation, and often subsides when menstruation begins. No one is sure exactly why this occurs, but it’s safe to say that it has something to do with the intricate hormonal changes involved in the menstrual cycle.

When it comes to premenstrual acne, prevention is key. Because hormonally-induced acne can be hard to treat, there may be no way to completely combat it, but having a consistent cleansing routine will assist you in preventing any pimples or acne at all.
Using makeup with acne

Sometimes the cosmetics women use can aggravate their skin that then produces the onset of acne.  45% of women in a Brazilian study had skin disease associated with the cosmetics they were using. 14% had active lesions due to cosmetics. Cosmetic induced acne is so widespread in the U.S. and worldwide that it has its own name, ‘acne cosmetica’. People typically experience cosmetic induced acne on the chin and cheeks more than on the forehead. It shows up as small, whitish bumps, sometimes referred to as “grains”, although it can also show up as plain red pimples. Cosmetic acne tends to scar less frequently, but can be incredibly stubborn, sometimes lasting for years as the person using makeup enters into a vicious cycle of covering the breakouts, which lead to further breakouts. Cosmetic induced acne can also sneak up over a period of time as it can take months to form.  This can create confusion as a breakout seems to come out of nowhere, when in fact it was the cosmetics that slowly caused the acne to form over time.


Pregnancy and acne

Typically, women who suffer with acne may see a worsening of their condition in the first trimester of pregnancy.  Women who were previously clear sometimes see acne form during this time, both on the face and sometimes on the body as well. This is due to changes in hormone levels. Any time hormone fluctuations occur, acne can develop or worsen. Typically there is a respite during the second and third trimester, and often acne will subside considerably. Then, about three months after delivery, new mothers may see yet another occurrence of acne as their hormones return to pre-pregnant levels.

Treatment options: First, stick to a consistent anti-acne cleansing routine each day.  This is your best method of defence.  If it is getting to a point that you can’t seem to manage it yourself then you may need to talk to your doctor. The vast majority of acne treatments, both prescription and over-the-counter, have not been studied in pregnant or lactating mothers. Your doctor may have options for you that he/she considers safe for use during your pregnancy.

One option that is absolutely unsafe is Accutane. The active ingredient in Accutane, isotretinoin, is highly dangerous as it can cause birth defects. It is absolutely vital that women who plan on becoming pregnant or who are already pregnant avoid any products containing isotretinoin.

Your baby: Yes, even babies can have acne. It is referred to as neonatal acne, and it normally subsides on its own. If your son or daughter show signs of acne as an infant, chances are they will suffer with acne as an adolescent. Be sure to have an open and honest talk with them when they start breaking out as a teenager and explain their options. I sure wish someone had done that with me when I was 11!


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