As a woman living in 2017, I’ve begun to feel quite concerned about my reproductive rights, which is why I ended up getting an IUD earlier in the year. (Well, that and the fact that I’m the kind of person who spends a solid ten minutes every day looking for my keys. Which is to say, I need something reliable that requires little to no effort on my part.)
For the most part, my IUD is great. No more monthly prescriptions or embarrassing NuvaRing fiascos (you know what I’m talking about) … except that it gave me hormonal cystic acne. I was relaying my woes to a friend—the topic having come up because one cyst was so huge and so garish on my pale skin that I felt the need to apologize for it to everyone I came in contact with—when she let on that the same thing had happened to her. Not to pull a Carrie Bradshaw, but I couldn’t help but wonder: Is IUD-induced acne a thing?
To help get to the bottom of the issue, I called upon (read: begged) Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and general skincare goddess. She responded to my frenzied questions to help me get to the bottom of my skin issues. Here’s how I’ve been keeping my hormonal acne under control.
Out, Damned Spot!
Aside from the occasional blemish, my skin used to be clear. So, one morning as I stumbled to my sink in the throes of just-woken-up fuzziness and splashed my face with water, you can imagine my horror when my fingertips touched my chin and I was met with searing pain. It was a deep-beneath-the-skin insidious cyst that I swear had its own heartbeat like some sort of alien creature come to take over my face.
It finally went away, two weeks and one “oh my God what happened to your face?” later. But it would be far too soon before I once again felt the pain of another cyst lying in wait underneath my skin. These painful, unsightly blemishes kept popping up.
"Acne is listed as a side effect of IUDs containing progesterone, specifically Mirena and Skyla," says Renée. "What happens is that the IUD releases progestin into the body and gets converted into progesterone, which then turns into various types of testosterone. These hormones will overstimulate your oil glands and, when mixed with dead cells in the pore lining, can trigger acne, particularly cystic acne—the hard, painful bumps that develop deep within the skin and can linger for weeks." Fun.
"Acne is an inflammation disease of the skin, so the goal is to not dry out your skin with harsh acne products, especially when the breakouts only on certain areas of the face," Renée says. "Instead, treat the skin as needed with the use of gentle, calming, pore-clearing, antibacterial ingredients and you just may find that your hormonal blemishes are a thing of the past."
Okay, so my scorched-earth technique of layering a benzoyl peroxide–based spot treatment over a salicylic acid–based treatment topped with some sulfur is definitely the wrong way to go about this.
Renée tells me that cysts will stay deep under the skin until the body eventually reabsorbs it. (Gag.) "Mostly occurring in the chin and jaw areas, it is important to remember that cysts are like submarines: They are meant to stay under the skin. No matter what method you employ, cysts will never rise to the surface of the skin. This means no picking!" she orders.
My arsenal of products includes some standouts from Renée's own skincare line:
Anti Cyst Treatment for whenever I felt a painful bump coming on to dissolve the infection from the inside.
Post-Breakout Fading Gel to get rid of post-breakout dark spots. "The inflammation from the blemish triggers the skin to produce pigment cells," she explains.
Every three days, I cycle between her Skin Drink Concentrate and Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum. I've waxed poetic about the latter before; the main takeaway here is to ensure that you're exfoliating your skin with chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid while keeping it hydrated with super moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and aloe.
I've also incorporated the Rapid Response Detox Masque into my routine; it's gentle but powerful and contains tea tree leaf oil, licorice and a salicylic acid complex that was designed to keep hormonal breakouts at bay.
The cyst treatment is no joke. The second I feel a blemish coming on, I pat a tiny bit of this on, and I keep applying throughout the day. I can't rave about this magic concoction enough, it's been the single best thing I've done for my breakouts.
In addition to following a routine that was a little more involved than my regular routine, in that it involves using face masks, I've also cut back on dairy. While it's the hormonal imbalances from my IUD that are likely causing my cystic acne, you can never be too careful.
"The hypothesis is that since the majority of milk in the US comes from pregnant cows (and some cows are given growth hormones), the hormone levels in milk may play a role in excess sebum production, which promotes acne," explains Renée.
I woke up the other morning, took a look in the mirror and thought, Damn, girl, you look glowy. So yeah, you could say it's working. At the end of the day, the benefits of my IUD outweigh the cons, but I am beyond relieved that I have a plan of attack to deal with my hormonal cysts.