Excess estrogen built up is extremely common for adult women today more than ever, causing an array of issues such as acne. Stress and aging cause testosterone and progesterone levels to decline, while estrogen levels increase, leading to estrogen dominance. If we look at the problems that are occurring with women’s hormonal issues during aging, we can begin to understand how this imbalance causes the majority of adult acne.
Hormones work best when they are in balance with one another. Like everything else in our bodies, there is no good or bad: it’s the balance that makes homeostasis possible, and in turn allows the body to function at its best without annoying problems.
Too much estrogen in the body can be responsible for many common symptoms, including:
- Mood problems
- Female cancers (breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers)
The Role of Estrogen
Before you go and think estrogen is the plague that causes your acne, weight gain and PMS symptoms, it’s important to understand its role in the body and why it is needed. Estrogen is one of two main sex hormones; the other is progesterone, which is just as important for its effects on acne (more on this later). Estrogen is responsible for our girly figures, everything from hips, curves, breasts, shiny hair and of course it allows us to reproduce (women’s monthly cycle). Men have estrogen as well, but in much lower amounts. Other important functions of estrogen include keeping cholesterol levels in check and allowing for healthy bone density. Estrogen can also have a direct effect on your mood, heart, skin and other tissues.
Your body makes 3 types of estrogens: estradiol, estriol, and estrone. Estradiol is more prevalent with women of childbearing age, estriol becomes dominant during pregnancy, and estrone is the only estrogen a women’s body makes after menopause.
Because estradiol is mainly responsible for the menstrual cycle, this is the estrogen I’m discussing herein. Estrogen levels vary throughout the month, with the highest being in the middle of the month and lowest during menses. In menopausal women, estrogen levels drop significantly.
The Estrogen Acne Connection
Too much estrogen alone is not solely responsible for hormonal acne. Estrogen dominance is a more accurate term, as it’s not necessarily about having high estrogen levels as it is about having a higher amount of estrogen compared to progesterone. Having low progesterone in relation to estrogen is usually the cause behind pre-menstrual breakouts and the acne that some women experience when going off birth control.
Why is this?
Low progesterone levels are a big problem because of the protective mechanism that progesterone exhibits against acne. You may have heard that high levels of testosterone cause acne, which can definitely be the case; however, it is really DHT (Dihydrotestosterone), which is the harmful form of testosterone. High levels of androgens (male sex hormones) become converted into DHT by an enzyme called 5 Alpha Reductase. As a result, DHT production of sebum (oil from glands) increases, which can lead to oily skin and cause a cycle of clogged pores and breakouts.
However, a balanced amount of progesterone helps regulate the production of 5 Alpha Reductase, preventing testosterone from turning into DHT.
Mystery solved! Estrogen dominance WITH low levels of progesterone can cause acne.
How do you get High Estrogen levels?
Unfortunately, a female body is quite efficient at accumulating estrogen. As discussed above, it’s not only about the concentration of estrogen, if the levels of progesterone decrease and bad testosterone increases, this can also be problematic.
How does this happen? There are really only two ways of obtaining estrogen: our bodies either produce too much or we can absorb it from the environment.
The following are the most common factors that can lead to higher levels of estrogen and an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone:
The food we eat contains toxic pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones. Many of these toxins are known to cause weight gain, which in turn produces more fat cells that produce more estrogen. Likewise, additional weight gain results in insulin resistance, which then increases estrogen dominance. A vicious cycle indeed. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried, author of the Hormone Reset Diet,
“When you go meatless, your estrogen decreases. That could be due to the hormones in the meat, or a combination of factors. We do know that a meat based diet is linked to a higher body mass index and that too much of the wrong type of saturated fat raises estrogen.”
I do not believe you need to become a vegetarian, but having a primarily plant based diet that includes healthy, quality and pasture-raised protein sources is ideal. These include chicken, eggs, turkey, and especially wild game, as these are less likely to contain hormones.
Constant stress. This could be the worst offender as it is the hardest for most people to control. Stress leaves the body in a state of survival, so as the body responds to high levels of stress, it “steals” progesterone to make cortisol, the stress hormone. This can lead to an abundance of estrogen left behind.
- Hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) or the birth control pills. Don’t think that just because you’re not on it that it couldn’t make its way into your drinking water. Please always use a filter. I have a Berkey filter which I love, however sink units are convenient as well. (FYI: Not just any filter removes small molecules like hormones, make sure you are using a reverse osmosis filter)
- Alcohol. When mixed with metabolic issues, insulin resistance, stress and a bad diet, alcohol is a recipe for estrogen dominance. Anything that impairs liver function can lead to estrogen build-up. If you do drink, always take a 1 mg folate and a B complex to reduce the negative effects. Activated charcoal taken while drinking alcohol may help as well.
- Environmental toxins. May also be referred to as xenoestrogens. Think about your *plastic tuperware, conventional skincare and makeup – all of these can contribute to your total estrogen accumulation. The world of beauty products is one of the worst offenders when it comes to estrogen environmental exposure. This is why I recommend cleaning out your bathroom and replacing all products with non-toxic counterparts. These here are some of my favorite acne safe oils to play with for making your own cleansers and moisturizers. The Enviornmental Working Group’s Skin Deep, cosmetic database is one of my favorite resources to look up toxicity levels on products.
*FYI: Tupperware would not typically have estrogen mimickers as it is made of HDPE or PET and does not have additives like phthalates, but cans certainly do.
Do You Have Too Much Estrogen?
- Fibroids/ Cysts
- Amenorrhea (missing periods)
- Fertility problems
- Weight gain primarily in the waist, hips, thighs and butt
- Bloating or fluid retention
- Consumption of conventional meat
- Treatments with oral hormones or antibiotics
- Autoimmune conditions
- Increased bra cup size or tenderness
- Abnormal pap smears
- Heavy bleeding
- Mood swings
- Irritability/ Anxiety/ Weepiness/ Mini breakdowns
- Migraines or headaches
- Red flushed face or frequent blushing, or Rosacea
- Gallbladder problems or removal
Get your estrodial and progesterone levels tested either through blood or saliva if you have 5 or more of these symptoms! But even if you have a few, it may still be a good idea to get tested.
What to do to Correct your Estrogen levels
Please Note: Any supplement recommendations/ links I list throughout this post are professional products that have been tested for quality assurance. This is what I personally use and recommend to my clients. You may use promo code, DFH50235 to get 15% off first order through Amazon here.
Not only does estrogen dominance lead to acne, but it can also put you at risk for weight gain, breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers, pre-diabetes and diabetes. Luckily, if you feel like this may be you, there are many things you can do to facilitate estrogen clearance.
- Start fresh. I always have my clients start with a cleanse. This helps to reset the system, cleans and supports the liver, gets them feeling great, and allows for more progress to be made after. This 21 day cleanse is what I recommend and use in my office.
- Blood sugar support. This is essential to stop the vicious cycle of testosterone conversion (DHT). The body also requires a sufficient intake of zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and other nutrients to support healthy estrogen levels. This formula can act as a multivitamin, providing you with specific nutrients scientifically shown to help control blood sugar. As a bonus it’s also amazing at helping with sugar cravings if you find this is a weak point for you.
- Choose protein over heavy carbohydrates. I would recommend trying to stick with lean proteins and avoiding conventional meat. Quality protein shakes can be a convenient way of doing this. This pea protein version also contains additional vitamins and minerals, and comes in chocolate 🙂
- DIM. This is what actually made the biggest difference for myself in terms of clearing my skin. It wasn’t until I added this supplement into my regimen that I immediately knew I was alleviating the congestion of estrogen from my poor liver. DIM, also known as
3,3′-Diindolylmethane, is a compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale. I can’t express how much I love this particular DIM. It may not be needed for everyone, but if you have tried the rest of the suggestions above and find yourself still stuck, please do yourself a favor and get on DIM.
- Increase your fiber intake. According to Dr. Sara Gottfried: “Increased dietary fiber improves the ability of the liver to clear excess estrogen – that is, more fiber lowers estrogen levels in the body – and you poop more estrogen out of your system“. Insoluble fiber (sweet potatoes, squash, green peas, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and spinach), does this well as it binds to the excess estrogen in the digestive tract. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are other great food sources for adding extra fiber on top of increasing vegetable consumption. If you’re finding it still difficult to work your way up to 40 grams a day, this non-irritating fiber supplement can also help. Warning: If you have digestive issues, certain fiber sources may irritate your stomach. Take caution, introduce slowly, increase water intake, and listen to how your body responds.
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Do you have symptoms of estrogen dominance? What has worked for you?
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