How To Tell The Difference Between Hormonal And Bacterial Acne

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), a whopping 85% of the United States population experience some form of acne between the ages of 12 and 24. That isn't to say that acne only affects individuals within this age bracket. Adult acne does exist and refers to individuals older than the age of 25 who experience acne, per Harvard Health Publishing. Although pimples can be embarrassing and uncomfortable, everyone has fallen victim to a nasty pustule at one point or another. Thankfully, there is no shortage of skincare treatments available at your fingertips to help speed healing and even prevent future breakouts.

However, before you add every acne product on the shelves to your cart, it is important to first understand the type of acne that you are dealing with. If you try to treat your acne without understanding the root cause, you may waste more time and money than necessary on products or remedies that simply won't work. The two most common causes of acne breakouts include hormones and bacteria. So, how do you tell what type of acne you have? Here is everything you need to know about hormonal and bacterial acne.

What is hormonal acne?

Simply put, hormonal acne describes a form of adult acne directly tied to changes in hormone levels (via Healthline). Your hormones are responsible for the sebaceous gland activity in your skin. Therefore, changes in hormone levels can cause excess sebum production which leads to acne in the form of whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, or cysts, per Cleveland Clinic

To determine if you have hormonal acne, it's important to evaluate changes in your life that may be playing a role in your frequent breakouts. Aside from puberty, which affects everyone, hormonal acne more commonly affects women due to the instability of hormones that naturally occur during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, according to Healthline. High stress levels and certain foods can also cause hormonal fluctuations.

According to a study published in the Medical Clinics of North America, hormonal changes can also occur due to pre-existing health conditions such as Cushing syndrome and PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (via ScienceDirect). In these cases, you may want to reach out to a health professional to determine the appropriate course of action. However, if you notice that your acne breakouts seem to occur more often during your menstrual cycle, during times of high stress, or after eating certain foods, then you can most likely treat your acne at home. In these cases, addressing the specific cause and making the necessary lifestyle changes will help you manage future breakouts.

What is bacterial acne?

Bacterial acne is one of the top causes of acne and it often occurs more sporadically than hormonal acne. For instance, you may not notice as clear a pattern as you typically would with hormonal acne, which can make it more difficult to treat. Typically, with bacterial acne, there is an imbalance between the different kinds of bacteria that live on the surface of the skin as a direct result of excess sebum production.

According to a study published in the journal "microorganisms," all humans have a certain type of bacteria called Cutibacterium (formerly Propionibacterium) acnes (via MDPI). This type of bacteria feeds on sebum, so when your skin produces too much oil, the amount of C. acnes grows and disrupts the natural balance. The uneven balance of good and bad bacteria on the skin leads to inflammation and infection in the hair follicles, resulting in acne.

There are many reasons for this bacterial imbalance, some of which overlap with hormonal acne, such as diet, environment, genetics, sweat, heat, and certain medications (via HealthMatch). To treat bacterial acne, look for acne treatments with benzoyl peroxide or tea tree oil. A doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic gel or oral antibiotics. Once your acne is under control, invest in a probiotic cleanser or serum to maintain the delicate balance of bacteria on your skin which will prevent future breakouts and create a healthy skin barrier.