I’m a Dermatologist, and This Is What I Want You to Know About Spot-Treating Hormonal Acne

Photo: Stocksy/Javier Diez
Acne's certainly not easy to deal with, but trying to fight hormonal acne makes dealing with whiteheads feel like child's play. That's because your hormones are involved (obviously), which means that the skin-care products you use are only one part of the acne-fighting equation. Even though other factors should be taken into account, like what you're eating, a lot of acne sufferers wonder if you can spot treat hormonal acne just as you can with other breakouts... so we asked a dermatologist for the lowdown.

The good news: "You can spot treat hormonal breakouts with an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide gel to help dry them out," says Morgan Rabach, MD, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical.  "Sometimes using an over-the-counter wash with salicylic acid can also be super helpful." Besides those two acne-quashing superstars, she also recommends turning to retinols (of course), and alpha and beta hydroxy acids to stimulate cell turnover and keep your pores free of gunk as the hormonal zits clear up.

Even if you use one or a mix of these ingredients, know that the breakouts won't go away as easily as other forms of acne because hormonal acne is deeper below the skin's surface. "Whiteheads are a much more superficial type of acne flare-up, and are more likely to be treated by topical treatments alone," says Dr. Rabach. "Whiteheads and blackheads are most responsive to retinols." And her overall top suggestion for fully fighting hormonal zits is an oral medication prescribed by your dermatologist. "The absolute best treatment is oral medication with either oral birth control pills, which help regulate the hormone fluctuations of the menstrual cycle, and/or Spironolactone, which we use to decrease levels of androgens in the body," she says, noting that topical treatments alone will not fully stop hormonal breakouts.

For stocking up on the best products for hormonal acne to add to your arsenal, Dr. Rabach recommends Differin Gel ($14), a derm-loved drugstore retinol, or PanOxyl Face Wash with benzoyl peroxide ($12). Also helpful? Redditors and Well+Good editors love Renee Rouleau Anti-Bump Solution ($48), which uses a special form of lactic acid to reduce inflammation.

FYI, here's a dermatologist-approved game-plan on how to prevent acne from forming in the first place. And this is what we know about a just-FDA approved acne treatment that's a non-irritating retinol. 

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