"Why am I struggling with acne in my 30's -40's?"
... Is one of the most common questions we hear at Miiko Skin Co.
Some acne or pimples during menstruation is normal. However, consistent blemishes, cystic acne, or other chronic skin conditions could be related to a hormonal imbalance.
We wrote this blog to remind everyone that your skin is a communicative organ. If you experience consistent, chronic, or new symptoms it could be indicative of something occurring internally. Understanding how things like stress and lack of sleep can cause hormonal imbalances is essential to holistic wellness and long-term joy.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers secreted by your endocrine glands that have a tremendous effect on bodily processes. They affect growth and development, mood, sexual function, reproduction, and metabolism
Often when we think about hormones we think about the menstrual cycle, but we have dozens of hormones, each with a specific role to “turn on” or “turn off” different functions in the body. Check out this list of hormones!
What causes hormonal cycles to go out of rhythm?
Many lifestyle factors can affect the body’s natural ability to produce, process, move, and eliminate hormones.
Things like cortisol (stress), insulin spikes, puberty, genetics, and synthetic xenoestrogens can throw hormones in any person's body out of their ideal cyclic pathways. Stress is a major component of hormonal imbalance.
What are xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens are a xenohormone that either occur naturally or synthetically (man-made) which have hormone-mimicking properties.
Naturally occurring xenoestrogens found in our food are broken down in the digestive system and not considered to be dangerous.
Synthetic xenoestrogens are commonly used in industrial compounds like pesticides, plastics, sealants, cleaners, cosmetics, and skincare.
Synthetic xenoestrogens can have estrogenic effects on living organisms and cause endocrine disruption. Common synthetic xenoestrogens easily pass through the skin membrane and are absorbed into the body. Studies are finding chronic exposure to synthetic xenoestrogens can lead to early onset of puberty and hormonal imbalances.
Common synthetic xenoestrogens are:
- Atrazine - herbicide commonly used on corn, sugar, wheat, golf courses, and other recreational areas.
- BPA - epoxy resin (#7 plastic) - one of the highest volume chemicals produced globally. Commonly used to coat can linings and receipt papers.
- DDT - pesticide - banned in the US but still used in other parts of the world in agricultural practices and to fight malaria.
- PBB - fire retardants - added to most furniture and appliances.
- Dioxin - a group of toxic chemicals released in the combustion process of common manufacturing processes.
- Phthalates - a plasticizer used to make hard plastic more flexible and durable. Used in flooring, wall coverings, medical devices such as IV bags and tubing. Also, found in perfumes, lotions, cosmetics, varnishes, lacquers, and timed release pharmaceuticals.
- Parabens - the most common preservative in cosmetics and skincare
- Birth Control - see below.
- And more!
How do we avoid coming into contact with them?
- Learn more about synthetic xenoestrogens and endocrine disruption
- Eat local and organic.
- Wash/soak your produce using water and vinegar.
- Follow the dirty dozen and clean fifteen from the EWG
- Avoid reusing soft plastic containers or all together by choosing glass, stainless steel, or other eco-friendly options.
- Avoid contact between food and hot soft plastic (i.e. reheating with saran wrap, styrofoam to-go containers, or drinking from a to-go hot plastic cup lid)
- Choose natural skincare, cosmetics, and household cleaners.
- Read the ingredients - avoid the dirty dozen for cosmetics from the David Suzuki Foundation.
- Eat hormone-free local meats and/or follow a more plant-based diet.
- Avoid the use of pesticides at home.
What hormones relate to the female reproductive system?
Progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone are hormones responsible for the follicular and luteal phase of the menstrual cycle; however, they also play an important role in bone density, cardiovascular health, libido, gut health and so much more.
How do hormones play a role in pregnancy and menstruation?
Pregnancy is the ultimate goal of the female reproductive system and reproductive hormones. The menstrual cycle is the process of the uterus preparing for fertilization: releasing an egg (ovulation), and shedding its lining (menses) when fertilization does not occur.
The first day of bleeding is considered to be day 1 of the menstrual cycle. Menstrual cycles normally range between 25-36 days. The menstrual cycle is regulated by luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone produced in the pituitary gland. These hormones stimulate the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone which stimulates the uterus and breasts to prepare for possible fertilization.
Image from: The menstrual cycle: more than just the period
If fertilization occurs… a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) is secreted. It can be detected in the urine as early as 8-9 days after conception. At this point, the production of estrogen and progesterone fluctuate to prepare the uterus to grow a human being, and to prepare the body for childbirth and breastfeeding.
What happens when you are on birth control?
Hormonal contraceptives (the pill, the patch, Hormonal IUDs, the vaginal ring, and more) all contain synthetic (man-made) hormones that work to inhibit the body's natural cyclical hormones and prevent pregnancy. ... Hormonal contraceptives usually stop the body from ovulating.
Ask your doctor exactly what the birth control you choose to use is doing in your body to prevent pregnancy. Find out your options and learn about the side effects. It is every person's individual right to use birth control, and you should be informed about the options available.
An Interview with Stefanie Miska
Stefanie is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), registered acupuncturist and herbalist. Her practice has a strong focus on women’s health, including reproductive and hormonal health. She practices out of her clinic, Focus Health, in Victoria and works with clients virtually from around the world.
What is a hormone imbalance?
A hormonal imbalance is when there is too much or too little of a hormone in your bloodstream and side effects occur. Side effects can range from mood swings, weight fluctuations, pain, acne, and premenstrual symptoms.
What are some signs that my hormones may be out of balance?
- Painful periods
- Irregular periods
- Low libido
- Cystic acne
- Weight gain
- Depression and/or anxiety
How do I balance my hormones naturally?
- Diet & Supplementation: Depending on where you are at, I might recommend supplements in addition to a diet change. Ask for a professional opinion on your supplements and get high-quality supplements from someone who can tell you about it. Diet shifts should happen in small sustainable incremental stages. Try to increase whole foods, fruits and vegetables. Then try eliminating processed sugar and reducing caffeine.
- Castor oil packs: this remedy has been used throughout history for digestive and reproductive health. Castor oil packs over the uterus can help with low abdominal and lower back cramping around your period. Packs over the liver can assist the body in detoxifying unused hormones and eliminating them through excretion.
- Herbal supplements: There are MANY supplements that can help regulate hormones in the body. Some of the main ones recommended by practitioners are magnesium, chaste tree, zinc, B vitamins and specific Chinese herbs like Angelica and White Peony.
- Check-in with a practitioner who specializes in reproductive health and hormones. This may include getting blood work done and completing a tailored treatment plan.
- Reduce xenoestrogens: these are artificial hormones that easily pass through the skin like phthalates, BPA, parabens, scents, fragrances, cleaning products.
- Patience: your period is just a monthly report card of what you have been doing for the past few weeks. In order to see the results, you must commit to a longer time frame and do small sustainable changes over time.
What is the difference between the Copper IUD and the hormonal IUD?
The Copper IUD creates an inflammatory reaction that is toxic to sperm and eggs. The copper IUD does not have any hormones, but it can cause more severe premenstrual symptoms such as cramping, and heavier blood flow.
The Hormonal IUD is available in a wide variety of brands and types of hormones and levels. It uses synthetic hormones, which (for some) stops ovulation and also thins the lining of the uterus which lowers the chances of pregnancy. The majority of hormonal IUD users will lose their monthly bleed or have a much lighter bleed.
What are some common skin symptoms you see related to hormonal imbalances?
- Post-birth control acne is very common - going off birth control can cause a Kaskade - aka “cluster f*ck” of hormones. This can make people want to go back onto the pill.
- Pregnancy and post-pregnancy acne is also common
- Dryness and flaking skin
- Rosacea and redness - related to heat and wind in the body - can be caused by spicy foods, dairy, stress, drinking, taxed liver
- Eczema related to stress
- Acne related to stress
What got you into hormones and women's reproductive health?
I went through a personal journey with my reproductive health and felt alone and isolated. The ‘solutions’ offered through western medicine felt invasive. I found myself wondering if there were alternative options for me. After my experience, I realized I was not alone. So many women struggling with reproductive health imbalances are not getting the support they need. I set out to educate myself on women’s reproductive health through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Traditional Chinese Medicine focuses on balancing qi and blood, yin and yang, and pathogens in the body. I studied the concepts of TCM and paralleled them with western terminology to create an essential niche for women’s health in my community.
- Book recommendations:
- Beyond the Pill - Dr. Jolene Brighton
- The Fifth Vital Sign - Lisa Hendrickson