Understanding how hormonal cascades in your body work to promote acne can be confusing. This doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t understand it though; quite the contrary. In fact, if you understand the chain of events that leads to acne, you can interrupt it.
Not all acne is related to hormones, but a lot of it is connected, so understanding what sort of acne you have means you can better treat it, looking to treat the cause, instead of just symptoms.
Where we start – androgen production
Androgens are the hormones that cause men to be manly, and women to be, well, with lesser amounts, more feminine. If you give a woman extra testosterone, she’ll probably start to grow a beard, amongst other changes. Women need testosterone to be healthy, just like men need oestrogen to be healthy, so it’s important to remember that androgens are not bad, but in a woman’s body, they can wreak havoc if too many are around, interrupting normal fertility.
The reason we are talking about androgens is that androgens are the hormone that directly stimulates your skin’s sebum-producing cells. It’s the last part of the hormonal cascade. Androgens force your sebum-producing cells into making more sebum than they might otherwise. The cause of an abundance of androgens varies, and may include hormonal imbalance disorders.
This extra sebum production that androgens cause is the main driver of acne, because it fills your pores with oils and dead skin cells, which first blocks the pore, then provides a feast for bacteria. The result is the inflammation and lesions caused by acne that can be incredibly difficult to manage when you focus on just the skin alone, without addressing the cause – too many androgens.
So how does your body end up with too many androgens stimulating all this sebum production?
A few ways, but one of the most common is too much insulin.
Let’s look at insulin in a bit more detail
Lots of insulin floating around in your blood can cause an increase in androgen production, and therefore trigger more sebum production in your skin.
Diets high in sugar, carbs, alcohol – that is, pizza, fizzy drinks, burgers, bread, pasta, chocolate – you know the drill. All the bad stuff, that causes a blood sugar spike. This blood sugar spike causes a subsequent spike in insulin, to get the sugar out of your blood.
Why does insulin matter, you ask?
Because insulin inadvertently stimulates your ovaries to produce more androgens!
This seems unrelated, but it’s just a thing that insulin does in your body, whether you like it or not. When you eat a chocolate bar, the sugar is absorbed into your blood. You need the sugar taken out of your blood and into your cells, which is what insulin is for. Insulin is the KEY that turns the LOCK on your cell doors, to let the sugar into the cell.
The more sugar you have, the more insulin you need to unlock all the cell doors.
The more insulin you have, the more your ovaries are stimulated to produce more androgens.
And the more androgens in your blood, the more sebum your skin cells produce, resulting in more acne breakouts!
Managing your blood sugar – insulin levels – may be the most important thing you do for your acne.