Hi, I suffer from hormonal acne and I am open to trying plant medicine. What do you recommend? Diane, Invercargill

Hi Diane, thank you for your question.

Hormonal acne can be difficult to get to the bottom of - but plant medicine can certainly help.

In females, the first half of their menstrual cycle is dominated by estrogen, and the second half by progesterone. The problems for some women is that the rise in progesterone can lead to the skin producing more sebum or oil, and the skins pores tend to stay shut leaving a build-up behind - leading to acne. Also contributing to this issue is the male hormone testosterone (which mostly remains at a steady level throughout the month), however at the time of menstruation these levels are higher than the female hormones and can contribute to further acne (as this increases sebum production as well).

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Plant medicine can help to regulate hormone levels, which also helps those suffering from hormonal conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. They can support healthy skin and reduce the amount of break outs.

With skin it is important to help support the body's natural clearance pathways, such as the liver, kidneys, lymphatics and the digestive system. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is the perfect plant to help support both the liver and the digestive system as it is naturally bitter, which activates the bile production and digestive juices. This is important for women suffering from constipation, digestive upsets or a sluggish liver (which may show up through congested skin). The bitterness of this plant supports the body to eliminate toxins, wastes, pollutants and metabolised hormones so they do not build up and further aggravate the skin.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) acts as an astringent within the body, helping to dry up excess oil. It helps to support and enhance lymphatic clearance which is important for skin health, including acne. Calendula also assists with liver function and helps with metabolising extra hormones so that they don't become bothersome. It has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory actions which is important for cystic acne. It is a great plant to use topically as well. You can dab it directly onto the skin, for example in a cream base that contains therapeutic amounts of Calendula.

Supporting the liver daily throughout the cycle (not just when acne shows up) is a very helpful way to improve the health of skin long term. Luckily the plants mentioned above (specificly Dandelion and Calendula) are great at helping with this. You could consider adding in Nettle as it contains important nutrients for the skin and supports the kidneys in their cleansing function. Medicinal teas are a good way to take these healing herbs as the hot water will additionally help to flush out the skin irritants.

Please also consider reducing the amount of fatty, sugary and processed foods you eat as they will burden your liver.

Chaste tree (Vitex Agnus-castus) is another researched plant that has been used to help to balance hormones in both men and women, especially those suffering with cystic acne. In a trial of 161 male and female patients, an improvement in 70% of cases was documented. Chaste tree is thought to work in the body by reducing the amount of androgens (male hormones) circulating in the body.

A Medical Herbalist might be able to help you with a targeted approach to help with the cause of the excess hormones. Many women in my clinic have found great relief from their acne when they started to use plant medicine as part of their daily self-care routine.