How To Tell If Acne Is Hormonal Or Bacterial

Acne is very common and it can be annoying to deal with, especially if you don’t know what causes acne to appear. A lot of people from teenagers up to adults can get acne. There are a lot of reasons for acne development. Hormonal and bacterial acne are two common types of acne.

Both hormonal and bacterial acne look similar but you can usually determine what type of acne you have. Hormonal acne is triggered by hormonal spikes and it usually appears on the lower part of the face such as your chin or jawline. Bacterial acne is instead caused by skin pores having an inflammatory reaction to bacteria.

If you keep on having acne, this article will help you determine whether it is caused by hormones or bacterial growth. We will also talk about how to treat bacterial acne and hormonal acne so you can prevent acne flare-ups in your face.

Hormonal Vs Bacterial Acne

Acne is a common skin condition when the hair follicles are inflamed or the pores get clogged. Our bodies produce sebum naturally, which is a waxy and oily substance, that moisturizes the skin.

The combination of too much sebum production and dead skin cells causes the pores to clog. When the pores get clogged, this leads to outbreaks occurring most commonly on the face. However, acne can also appear on your chest, back, and shoulders [1]. Acne can be whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules or pimples, nodules, or severe nodular acne.

Acne typically starts to appear in teenagers aged 12 to 19, when their hormones begin to change. Unfortunately, acne does not go away after your teenage years. Acne can still develop well into your young adult years [2]. Even adults that are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s can still get acne [3].

Several factors can cause acne and your acne development can either be caused by hormones or bacterial growth. Let’s take a closer look at what hormonal and bacterial acne are.

Hormonal Acne

As the name implies, hormonal acne is triggered by fluctuations in your hormone levels. When your androgens (including testosterone) increase or when there are imbalances in your hormones, this can cause you to break out. When there is a fluctuation in the hormones, the sebaceous glands tend to produce a higher amount of sebum making the skin more oily.

Hormonal acne can develop in both men and women. For women, hormonal acne can appear before, during, or after a menstrual period. This can take the form of a blackhead, a whitehead, or small pimples. Hormonal acne in men typically appears as they are going through puberty in their teenage years.

Bacterial Acne

This type of acne develops when the hair follicles and the pores have an inflammatory response to bacteria. As we said earlier, when there is excess oil in the skin, it can cause the pores to clog.

Excess oil as well as dead skin cells cause bacteria to thrive in the area surrounding the pores and hair follicles. This results in acne development such as whiteheads, blackheads, papules, or pimples.

How To Tell If Acne Is Hormonal Or Bacterial

While hormonal and bacterial acne have the same appearance (whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples), there are ways to determine if your acne is caused by hormones or bacterial growth. However, do note that bacterial and hormonal acne can appear at the same time.

Here is how to tell if your acne is hormonal or bacterial:

1. The location of the acne is usually a tell-tale sign if it is hormonal or bacterial. If acne appears on the oily regions of your face, it is most likely bacterial acne. The oily region, or the T-zone, is your forehead, nose, and chin. On the other hand, hormonal acne typically appears on the lower part of your face such as the chin or jawline. If you find your acne developing on the same spot, you will have an easier time determining if it is hormonal or bacterial.

2. The severity of your acne can also determine if they are caused by bacterial growth or hormones. Bacterial acne typically appears as pimples or cysts and is usually red and inflamed to the touch.  Bacterial acne can also appear as whiteheads or blackheads, especially on the nose. Hormonal acne is typically painful cysts or nodular lesions on the jawline or the chin.

3. For women, the appearance of acne can be a sign of an upcoming menstrual cycle. Acne typically appears before, during, or after a woman’s menstrual period. Women’s hormones change a lot before menstruation which causes the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. This leads to clogged pores and causes acne breakouts. If your acne only appears once a month and they happen right before, during, or at the end of your period, it is most likely hormonal acne.

4. Teenagers going through puberty will experience hormonal acne as this is when the growth hormone in the body is flaring up. Aside from puberty, stress can also be a factor for hormonal acne. Stress causes hormonal fluctuations and can cause acne development.

How To Treat Hormonal Acne and Bacterial Acne

There are a lot of options for acne treatment whether it is hormonal or bacterial. For hormonal acne, using topical treatments such as retinol, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid can prevent the growth of bacteria, keep the inflammation down, and prevent the pores from clogging up. 

When using such products, make sure to only apply an appropriate amount as using too much product can irritate or dry your skin. Most of these topical treatments can be bought over the counter but make sure to ask your dermatologists about the best treatment for your acne.

For women, taking birth control pills can also help with the fluctuation of your hormones. Make sure to consult with your doctor before getting birth control pills as they can have side effects such as headaches or even more acne.

Try to also keep your stress levels low as this can cause your hormones to spike. Watching what you eat and not consuming too many foods that can trigger hormonal spikes can help prevent hormonal acne from developing.

For bacterial acne, benzoyl peroxide and retinoids can also help to kill bacteria and prevent pores from clogging up. If you have severe acne, make sure to consult a dermatologist. Your doctor may prescribe some antibiotics for you, especially if the inflammation of your acne is severe.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do I Know If My Acne Is Healing?

Acne is typically red, inflamed, and has a pus-filled center. When the redness starts to subdue and the acne appears to be dry, it means that the inflammation is improving and the acne is starting to heal.

Is It Better To Let Acne Heal On Its Own?

You can let acne heal on its own but you can also use topical treatments to treat acne. Acne will typically clear out in a couple of weeks. The most important thing is to not pop your pimple no matter how tempting it is. Popping pimples can lead to infection, scarring, and even a delay in healing.

Wrap Up

Unless you have very good genetics, you will experience getting acne at some point in your life. Acne can be caused by hormonal spikes or bacterial growth. Both bacterial and hormonal acne look similar and, understandably, you may have confusion about the type of acne you have.

We talked about how to tell if your acne is hormonal or bacterial and we hoped this article answered any questions you have regarding acne. If you have any other questions, let us know!