We’ve all been there: A huge blemish pops up and lasts for so long that it feels like you’re practically in a relationship. If you find yourself in this situation, you might be dealing with more than the common zit. While a typical pimple appears as a whitehead that sits on the surface of the skin, hormonal acne tends to consist of deeply embedded cysts found along the lower cheeks to jawline that may feel tender or painful, says N.Y.C. dermatologist Cybele Fishman. They’re tougher to tackle, so we reached out to a few pros for their advice.
1. Swap out Skim Milk — Studies have shown that proteins, whey and casein, in skim milk can exacerbate and cause inflammation in the skin, says N.Y.C. dermatologist Whitney Bowe. In its place, try a nut milk like almond or coconut. If you use a protein powder, check to see if it contains whey (which is common in many formulas). If it does, look for a plant-based version made with pea or pumpkin seed instead. We like Aloha’s mix (Vanilla Protein Tin, $35; aloha.com)
2. Add in Probiotics — If you’re getting a huge eruption, you may want to look to your stomach. Studies have shown an imbalance in the gut can show up in the skin. Probiotics can help with the normalization of gut flora by “encouraging healthy bacteria to grow and reducing inflammation,” says N.Y.C. dermatologist Allan Dattner. Start incorporating probiotic rich foods into your diet, like miso soup, kombucha, sauerkraut, or yogurt. If you’d prefer a supplement, look for strains like lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, says Bowe who like Culturelle (Probiotic Digestive Health Capsule, $22; drugstore.com)
3. Cut Down on Sugar — Call it a chain reaction; high sugar (from sweets or simple carbohydrates like white bread) increases insulin. “These easily digested sugars are shown to trigger a hormonal cascade that leads to acne," says Bowe. "This hormonal cascade increases oil production which leads to inflammation,” says Bowe. Reduce your sugar intake for at least three weeks to see if you notice any difference in your skin. Also, try reducing consumption of high glycemic foods and reach for complex carbs instead (like trading those french fries for sweet potato).
4. Take it Easy —Sebaceous glands have receptors for cortisol (a hormone induced by stress) so every time you get stressed out, your oil glands become activated, says Fishman. This is exactly why you might see a zit pop up before a big event. Whether you prefer to meditate or sniff some lavender, work in ways to relax daily.
5. Tweak Your Skin Care Routine — Help keep pores clean so oil doesn’t build up. Use anti-acne products containing salicylic acid. This ingredient “penetrates deeply into the pore lining and helps keep them clean so you don’t get breakouts in the first place,” says Austin facialist Renee Rouleau. Use an all over formula like Rouleau’s skin clarifying gel so you don’t miss any spots ($36; reneerouleau.com).