If you're a woman and you have bad acne -- especially if you have acne combined with an irregular period -- you've probably wondered if your hormones have anything to do with your condition. Hormones can affect both. You may suffer from a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, which lists both acne and low progesterone, leading to irregular menstruation, as symptoms. You'll need to see your doctor for testing to determine if this is your problem, but if it is, treatments may help you clear up your skin.
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Acne, a common teenage problem that can linger into your 20s and even 30s, results from a combination of blocked pores, rampant bacteria and too much oil in your skin. It generally starts during puberty and hormones do seem to play a major role in its development. It's not clear exactly what interplay of hormones might lead to an improvement in acne, but many women find relief from the skin condition when they take birth control pills that contain progesterone.
Polycystic ovary syndrome may affect up to 7 percent of all women, according to Northwestern University. Like acne, it's not clear exactly what causes it, but most sufferers have unbalanced hormones; specifically, they have high levels of male hormones like testosterone, and low levels of female hormones, including progesterone and estrogen. Polycystic ovary syndrome raises your risk for serious health conditions, including diabetes and coronary artery disease. It also causes unsightly facial and body hair growth along with severe acne and infertility.
In women with normal menstrual cycles, the ovaries produce progesterone each month following ovulation. In women with polycystic ovary syndrome, the ovaries don't function properly and they often fail to produce an egg each month. Therefore, they also don't produce progesterone, which leads to low progesterone levels. This allows the male hormones in your body to dominate, which may lead to acne development.
Many women with polycystic ovary syndrome find their symptoms improve when they take oral contraceptives, which provide your body with a set dose of female hormones -- either progesterone alone, or estrogen and progesterone combined -- each month. Progesterone helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and to clear acne, while estrogen can help to lower your levels of circulating male hormones. If you have acne and your doctor has told you your progesterone levels are low as well, talk to her about whether you should take oral contraceptives to improve your symptoms.