Many women notice that pimples pop up around the time of ovulation, which occurs approximately two weeks before their periods. It's perfectly normal for the hormonal surges women experience around ovulation to exacerbate acne. By understanding the relationship between acne and hormones, you may be able to control these monthly flare-ups.
Hormones and Sebum
Acne develops as the glands deep inside the skin's pores become clogged. This typically happens because the body is producing too much of an oily substance called sebum. Sebum production is directly controlled by male-type hormones called androgens, one example of which is testosterone.
Ovulation and Androgens
Hormone levels change right around the time of ovulation. Among other things, testosterone levels spike, notes a study published in 1981 in "Psychosomatic Medicine" by P. Schreiner-Engel and colleagues. This testosterone increases sebum production, which then clogs pores.
Birth Control Pills and Acne
Birth control pills like Ortho Tri-Cyclen, which prevent ovulation, can help control acne, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is because the pills regulate hormone activity. They typically contain estrogen, a hormone that inhibits sebum production. A study published in 2007 in "Skin Therapy Letter" by J. K. L. Tan reported that Ortho Tri-Cyclen reduced acne lesions in women by more than 50 percent.
Controlling Hormones Through Diet
Some women may be able to improve their cyclical acne by eating a modified diet. According to the book "The Clear Skin Diet" by Harvard doctor Alan Logan and nutrition expert Valerie Treloar, dairy products are often made from pregnant cows and contain hormones that the body then converts into testosterone. By limiting the consumption of dairy products, women may experience less acne.
Logan and Treloar also argue that limiting sugar intake may help reduce pimples. Foods high in sugar and simple starches--that is, foods with a low glycemic index--cause spikes in blood levels of insulin, a hormone that indirectly increases androgen activity.
Women who have serious cyclical acne may be candidates for other hormone-modulating drugs. Such drugs include spironolactone, sold as Aldactone, a heart failure drug that impairs testosterone signaling. However, this drug can cause serious side effects, such as muscle numbness and pain.