#SpaExpertSeries - Hormonal Skin with Ishbel Kennedy

Ishbel Kennedy qualified as a therapist in 2003 from Mary Reid’s International School of Beauty. In 2011, she qualified as a trainer with City & Guilds. She has worked with a number of different skincare brands and product houses across a variety of salons and 5 star spas over her career, and now she is the fantastic Spa Manager at The Balmoral Spa in Edinburgh.

As a true spa expert, Ishbel knows a thing or two about skin problems. So, we asked her about hormonal skin…

What do we mean by hormonal skin?

Hormonal skin is also known as hormonal acne, which refers to acne that happens due to hormonal fluctuations, and in particular, an increased level of androgens. Hormonal break-outs usually appear on the lower section of your face, such as the chin, jawline and neck.

How do you know if your break-outs are hormonal acne?

Have you been told by a doctor that you have a hormonal imbalance? Are you going through fertility treatment? Are you hitting puberty or menopause? Do you suffer with stress or anxiety? Are you on birth control? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then you probably have hormonal acne.

Can you improve hormonal acne with the right skincare regime?

Good news, yes! Improvements can be made; however, there is no magic recipe, as hormones are a very powerful source in our bodies.

What type of skincare and products would you recommend?

Please remember that it’s important to know your skin type (e.g. normal, dry, oily/combination or sensitive), and your skin concern (which in this case is hormonal acne). Please don’t just run out and purchase a full skincare range for hormonal acne, as this is likely to only occur once a month. Instead, what I like to do is keep up with my standard skincare routine, but pimp it up slightly when I have a concern. So, here’s what I do regularly, along with some tips; the exfoliate, oil and mask parts are how I pimp it up:

Cleanser (AM & PM): use a cleanser that does not leave your skin feeling tight or stingy. You should enjoy using your cleanser and it should leave your skin feeling clean, fresh and hydrated. I like to use the Irene Forte Almond Cleansing Milk. At night, think about doing a double cleanse if you wear heavy makeup or live in a heavily polluted city.

Toner (AM & PM): I follow cleansing with a refreshing toner; a toner should not leave your skin feeling tight. I really like the Irene Forte Lemon Toner. I feel it’s important to tone to get more out of the next products you apply.

Serum (AM or PM or both): currently I’m only using the Irene Forte Hibiscus Serum at night or after I exfoliate, as this is what works for me. You may find you need it both mornings and evenings, one week on or one week off, one month on or one month off, or simply winter and not summer. Always try and figure out what works best for you.

Moisturiser (AM & PM): ensure that your moisturiser is not a mineral oil base as this will only lock in moisture rather than adding hydration. I like to use the Irene Forte Aloe Vera Face Cream. Remember, it’s important not to avoid moisturising because if you do not feed your skin with hydration it will attempt to hydrate itself by producing even more sebum which could ultimately increase your break-outs. 

Exfoliator (not daily): I like to exfoliate my skin when it looks drab in the mirror or if I have a special occasion. Yes, exfoliation removes dead skin cells which will help unblock pores. However, an exfoliator also stimulates your skin and thus your sebum production… so please don’t over scrub. Do gentle circular movements; you should be exfoliating your face differently to scrubbing a saucepan or a foot.

Face Oil (at least once a week): to boost my skin, I like to massage my face with an oil. A good face massage brightens and detoxifies. I think the Irene Forte Rose Face Oil smells divine and I love rose on sensitive skin (remember spots can be sore, inflamed and red). Face Oil can be applied under a mask to help it absorb deeply into the skin.  

Mask: I personally increase the use of masks during hormonal acne break-outs. I also usually change what mask I’m using. I have been known to use the Irene Forte Lavender & Rosemary Face Mask every night during a hormonal break-out on the specific break-out area.

Are there any treatments that you would recommend for hormonal acne?

Any spa treatment relaxes, helping to reduce cortisol surges. Oxytocin is released after 20 minutes of human touch; this is our happy hormone and, therefore, any spa treatment can make us happy.

Having a monthly facial at the start of a break-out could be a way for you to keep control of it and actively work towards clearing up your skin. Alternatively, a facial at the end of the break-out can aid recovery.

You may have been prescribed something by a dermatologist or doctor, e.g. topical retinoids, topical antibiotics, azelaic acid, antibiotic tablets, or the oral contraceptive pill. It’s important that you share this information via the consultation form before having a treatment.

Thinking outside the box, if I have a manicure, I find I’m much less likely to pick at my skin, because I don’t want to damage my perfectly polished finish.

If hands on treatments are not for you, how about going in a sauna or steam room? These detoxify and help to clear complexions. Working out is also great to release endorphins, lowering stress. 

Can lifestyle changes improve hormonal acne?

Yes, lifestyle changes can improve things; however, they cannot completely stop hormonal break-outs. I have accepted that hormones come from within, so there is no magic recipe to completely get rid of dreaded monthly spots.  

Here are some small changes I have personally made:

  • When I’m craving chocolate, I allow myself to indulge in 2 squares of a high quality chocolate with a high cocoa percentage. If I’m avoiding caffeine, then I choose a similar quality white chocolate as an alternative.
  • I have cut out alcohol from my diet and replaced it with water, diluted fresh juices and for special occasions (currently zoom parties), fresh ginger or elderflower with sparkling water in a champagne flute. This allows my liver to focus on regulating my hormones.
  • If I do treat myself to biscuits/sweets, I take a couple from the packet and place it on a plate. By using this small technique, I have greatly cut down my junk food intake.

It’s also important to eat a balanced diet with all the colours of the rainbow. Irene Forte Skincare is the ‘Mediterranean diet for the skin’, so it will topically aid in completing the bits missing from your skin’s health. Also, staying hydrated keeps skin at its optimal level of radiance and helps to cleanse our entire body.

Any other tips you think our reader should know?

  • Do not pick, squeeze or burst your spots. I’m a complete hypocrite in asking you to abstain from my favourite habit, but it’s an important tip. You may find that you are more likely to pick at your face or pluck your eyebrows on the week running up to your period when you are starting to pick at everything in your life. It may be an idea to make a pact to not pick at your face in the last week of your cycle.
  • I’m tea tree oils biggest fan; I love using it in my vaporiser at home. I call it my five aunties (antiviral, anti-bacterial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and antifungal). This makes it a perfect oil/ingredient for break-outs.
  • I like to incorporate my Clarisonic brush into my cleansing routine when I feel overly congested. I like to use a muslin cloth to remove my cleanser and it’s important to cleanse your face regardless if you have makeup on or not.
  • I like to use mineral makeup to disguise my monthly break-outs. My personal favourites that I have worked with are ESPA’s tinted moisturiser SPF15, Jane Iredale, id Bare Essentials original foundation SPF15 and their translucent powder, as well as Mineral Veil. Using makeup makes me feel happier within myself.
  • Please remember you are not in this on your own; all of us will probably experience skin problems at some point, and there are many specialists that you can reach out to for help.