Acne is something most people struggle with at some point in their life and I was no different. As soon as puberty hit I began getting pimples that soon developed into cystic acne as a teenager. Many people also experience hormonal acne when they get pregnant and hormones are fluctuating.
I began taking birth control pills to help with acne when I was about 15, since my acne didn’t respond to topical drugs such as benzoyl peroxide. I was able to manage it somewhat using this method but I still would get breakouts frequently. When I was about 22, I added in an additional medication called Spironolactone, a blood pressure medicine with the secondary effect of lowering testosterone, a key factor in hormonal acne. If you are experiencing hormonal acne, I would highly recommend asking your dermatologist about this because it can work really well for many people.
This combination, along with a decent skincare routine of cleansing and moisturizing (no serums or sunscreen though!) worked well for me until I moved to Japan in 2016 and my prescriptions ran out. I decided to see what my body did naturally, hoping I had grown out of my hormonal acne after a decade of taking pills for it. Unfortunately, over the next few months my acne started coming back. In a dramatic turn of events, I met my husband and got pregnant with Asahi and over my pregnancy and breastfeeding journey, my acne cleared. Yay! It was such a relief to not worry about my skin.
This was short lived however because once my cycle returned around 14 months postpartum, so did my hormonal acne. From the photos above, you can see how intense it was. Huge, painful cystic acne. The thing about hormonal acne is that it doesn’t respond to skincare remedies necessarily. No matter how good your skincare routine is, you won’t see much effect in the acne itself. I had terrible scarring as well from constantly picking my face and this was one of the hardest things to heal over the next two years. My first trimester acne with the twins (a very normal occurrence in pregnancy) was more manageable than before we conceived.
It was about this time that I started getting more into learning about skincare and finding out what worked for me. As a younger person, I didn’t buy any products unless it had some sort of acne fighting claim because that’s all I focused on. But after doing more research, I found out that soothing my skin and focusing on deeper skin health was going to make the most difference. The fact is that many acne products can cause a lot of irritation and actually make your skin appear more red and inflamed.
For me, ingredients such as centella asiatica/mugwort extract and niacinamide were game changers. They soothed my skin and helped with texture and scarring. I also began wearing sunscreen every day without fail. It really helps prevent skin damage which can also encourage sebum to oxidize in your pores (aka blackheads).
I follow a simple skincare routine of cleanse, tone, serum, moisturize, and sunscreen. I try not to strip my skin and make sure to use moisturizing products even though I would describe my skin as combination/oily. Even if you have oily skin, you still need to nourish it so it can maintain balance, otherwise you will overproduce oil (which can also cause more acne). Most of the products I use now are Korean and Japanese brands because they are easily sourced here and fairly affordable.
DISCLAIMER: Because it has to be said. This is MY routine and what works for MY skin. There is a (good) chance these products may not work for you. Please don’t believe that these products will change your skin because I can’t even say they changed mine. These are the products that help my skin maintain itself while using hormonal birth control.
My Current Skincare Routine
- Rinse with water and pat dry with a clean towel.
- Toner: Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner (I have also liked the I’m From Mugwort Essence)
- Serum: Purito Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence (I’ve also used The Ordinary Niacinamide serum and that worked well too but it’s hard to get in Japan)
- Moisturizer: Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream (In the summer I don’t always need this but just use my sunscreen)
- Sunscreen: 紫外線予報 Non-Chemical UV Cream (Physical sunscreen)
- Oil Cleanse: DHC Cleansing Oil (Although I am looking for an alternative because DHC is openly racist towards Koreans and I don’t support that)
- Cleanse: Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser
- Toner: Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner
- Serum: Purito Centella Green Level Buffet Serum
- Moisturizer: Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream
I avoid acids such as the famous glycolic and even vitamin c because they are too strong for me. If I want to use a mask, I tend to use the I’m From Honey Mask,
Finally, after two years of healing my skin, I can say that I am happy with it. And yet, once my cycle returned postpartum last month, I started to get acne again! This is the power of hormones! No topical treatments can compete with that. I am now taking birth control pills again and within a week the small amount of acne I had developed is gone.
I’m sharing this for anyone who has struggled with hormonal acne or otherwise. Get to know your skin! Figure out what works for you!
Some of my favorite Youtube accounts for skincare information are:
If you have any questions or experiences to share regarding hormonal acne, let me know!