I’ve tried basically everything in my quest for zit-free skin: Retinol creams, juice cleanses, cortisone injections. Well, I thought I had, until a conversation over holiday break with an acne-suffering friend enlightened me to a different method: Hormone panel tests.
Hormone tests, often used to help women approaching menopause, are now being commonly used by 20- and 30-somethings to determine the root cause of symptoms such as cystic acne, low moods and fatigue, and even weight gain. Many of us just assume our adult acne is triggered by hormones, but by taking this test, you could quickly discover whether the most likely culprit is, say, high levels of testosterone—and then strategically plan your approach accordingly.
Blood tests can be ordered by your doctor, but hormone expert and Flo Living founder Alisa Vitti suggests saliva hormone tests at home for a more holistic view of how your hormones spike and drop throughout the month. “Saliva testing involves several samples taken over a few days. It’s more accurate method because you’re tracking hormonal concentrations as they change over time,” she told me over the phone. Meanwhile, a blood test only reflects your hormone levels at the exact moment of the blood draw. So if you’re trying to decipher why you feel a certain way during specific times of your cycle, you would have to draw blood at the precise moment—which is basically impossible. “Saliva tests can give tremendous insight into why you feel certain things or symptomatic at certain times of the cycle,” Vitti added.
If you opt for a blood test anyway, Vitti suggests asking your ob-gyn for a hormone panel test that includes estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH (follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone). “Also ask for a thyroid test, a blood sugar test using a glucose meter at home preferably, and a vitamin D3 test,” she added. Typically, anyone noticing symptoms like cystic acne or weight gain may see test results that point to an issue with testosterone, estrogen, and cortisone levels or thyroid function.
Once you’re able to determine a hormonal imbalance, Vitti warns against “spot treating,” which she says is when people try and address the specific hormone—like prescribing spironolactone for high levels of testosterone—rather than treating the whole endocrine system more holistically. “When there is a hormonal imbalance, women should focus on nourishing the whole endocrine system based on how it functions. This way, all those levels begin to come back into normal concentrations and your symptoms diminish,” she said. Symptoms like cystic acne, for example.
This treatment strategy involves first balancing blood sugar levels, which helps to balance cortisol and thyroid hormones. Then Vitti says to “look at stress reduction” to further bring down levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Finally, you should work to balance estrogen through diet and lifestyle changes so “you’re not experiencing bloating, acne, heavy bleeding, and other symptoms.”
One diet change that Vitti recommends for women with a hormone imbalance is to take a micronutrient supplement. “In the 20 years I’ve been working with women, I’ve learned that there are key micronutrients that your endocrine systems absolutely needs including vitamin B3, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin K, and vitamin A,” she explained. Vitti says taking hormonal birth control or a medication like spironolactone can cause these key micronutrients to become depleted. “Even if you’re many years off the pill, this deficiency could still be plaguing you and causing hormonal disruption,” she explained.
Keen to test your hormones at home? Try one of these easy kits.