Testosterone is "male-type" steroid hormone known as an androgen, and it is directly responsible for many types of acne. Inside the pores of your skin are tiny glands that produce a type of oil called sebum. Sebum helps to carry dead skin cells from the follicles to the skin's surface. When there is too much sebum, the follicles can get clogged, and pimples form. Testosterone increases the production of sebum--which is why it is a major acne culprit, according to an article published in 2009 in "Medical News Today."
Pimples in Women
If testosterone causes acne, and testosterone is a male hormone, then why do women get pimples? Although men make 40 to 60 times more testosterone than women do, ovaries do produce it. The female body produces other androgens, too, and these can also exacerbate acne.
Testosterone and the Life Cycle
Adolescence and acne go hand in hand, and that's partially because hormones run rampant in teens. But pimples also come and go at other key points in life: before the menstrual cycle in women and during pregnancy. This is because the hormone balance in women changes drastically at these times.
Controlling Testosterone Through Dairy
According to the book "The Clear Skin Diet," written by Harvard Medical School doctor Alan C. Logan and nutritionist Valori Treloar, it's possible to improve your skin by manipulating your body's testosterone levels. One way to do this is to avoid dairy products. Many dairy products are made from the milk of pregnant cows, which contains hormones that the human body converts to the equivalent of testosterone.
Controlling Testosterone Through Sugar
The "Clear Skin Diet" also argues that you can control acne by minimizing your sugar and starch intake. According to the authors, sugars ramp up the production of insulin, a hormone that has a range of effects on the body. Insulin also ramps up androgen production, and in this way has an indirect effect on acne.
Medications that Target Testosterone
Some acne medications work by inhibiting androgens like testosterone. One is spironolactone, marketed as Aldactone. According to the community website Acne.org, sprionolactone is primarily prescribed as a heart and liver failure drug, but it also improves acne, especially in women.
Another such drug is Cyproterone acetate (sold as Androcur and Cyprostat), which prevents testosterone activity by blocking the cellular sensors for the hormone. It is typically used to treat hypersexuality, prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia, but again, it can also improve acne.
Birth control pills also help acne. Most available pills contain a combination of estrogen and progestin; estrogen is a hormone that slows sebum production, and thus can help clear up pimples, according to the Mayo Clinic.