I am not acne-prone in general, but when I do break out, it’s big and cyst-y and within a half-inch of my jaw. It’s been that way pretty much since puberty. It’s like a fun game of whack-a-mole where I know more or less where it’s going to come up but not exactly where.
For about a zillion years I thought this was a cleanliness issue, because it only happened in one spot. I wiped my phone down daily, put my shirt sleeve between my chin and hands when I sat at a desk (this looks as weird as you’re picturing) and rested my head on my now-husband’s sleeve, not his shoulder. The acne persisted, though, and always in that same general area.
A few years ago, pre-pregnancy, I came to the realization that it was hormonal acne! It ebbed and flowed (though there was almost always at least one cyst on my face), it improved slightly with the birth control pill, and it didn’t respond to any changes in cleansing, hydration or exfoliation. I read that the dermatological solution for hormonal acne is spironalactone, a medication that regulates the hormone androgen. I also read that spiro could have some rough side effects, especially if excess androgen isn’t the cause of your acne.
This is about where I fell down a Google hole. Turns out excess androgen is also the cause of one type of PCOS, and some women find that spiro regulates symptoms of PCOS–weight, excess face and body hair, and, yes, acne. I also read that spearmint tea or capsules can accomplish the same thing, and that many women whose health insurance wouldn’t cover spiro or who couldn’t swing the expensive derm visit chose to self-treat with spearmint.
To be very clear: I’m not a “natural cures” person at all. I started experimenting with the spearmint because I wasn’t sure if it was excess androgen or some other hormonal imbalance causing my hormonal acne, and testing out a box of spearmint tea seemed a lot easier than going to the doctor, getting the blood test, the prescription, and the follow-up blood tests. It seemed like a cheap experiment to see if it was worthwhile to even try the spiro.
And that was that! For me, the spearmint tea was enough. I expected to see my acne slightly improve, indicating that it was a too-weak concentration of the correct solution and suggesting that spiro, presumably stronger, would solve it completely. But in actuality, the spearmint tea cleared my hormonal acne completely! At 25, I had a fully clear face for the first time in my life.
The trial period went like this: I drank one mug-sized cup of spearmint tea every day for a month, then dropped down to every school day, then dropped down to three days a week. I can’t guess whether I would have experienced the same speedy results if I had started at three days a week, but I can say for sure that I didn’t experience any increase in acne as I slowly dropped doses. (I dropped the doses, really, because the tea is on the expensive side! It doesn’t taste bad or anything, comparable to any other mint tea, but I wanted the box to last longer.)
I actually have a written log of the original experiment back in 2015–I had figured I would be counting blemishes per day but it actually turned out to be a log of how quickly everything disappeared! Here’s a photo of the daily notes I was taking at the time.
So, obviously a lot has happened since 2015! Two kids and two years of nursing later, I’m actually writing this post because I just started to get hormonal acne again after weaning my kiddos in September. Just the same as it ever was, it pops up just above the jawline or chin, big and conspicuous, often without a white head on it. Turning 30 hasn’t done me any good in this department!
So, I restarted the spearmint tea about a month ago. I use a mix of the Traditional Medicinals spearmint tea (it can be kind of hard to find, but my local natural foods store stocks it) and spearmint that I grew in my herb garden and dried in the microwave. I have never been able to find it in store in a specialty tea shop, either neighborhood or one of the large chains. Spearmint capsules are readily available online as well, if you’re not into the tea.
It’s still working for me when I stay on top of it–the difference for me right now is that my life has changed pretty dramatically! Before my kids, I was working as a teacher and would pour myself a cup of spearmint tea right before starting my afternoon classes, like clockwork. It fit very easily into my life that way. As a stay-at-home mom of two toddlers, there’s much less predictability and I haven’t been very successful in staying on top of the tea. I’ll remember it for a few days, and then I won’t think about it again until a few weeks later I’m reminded by a big old cyst popping up on my chin. It definitely works for me–it’s just a matter of staying on top of it.
Okay, which tea?
It’s not super easy to find straight spearmint tea in the grocery store. Bigelow’s Mint Medley has spearmint in it, but that may or may not be enough–I’ll use it in a pinch but I don’t prefer it.
Usually I use Traditional Medicinal’s straight spearmint tea:
This tea is more expensive than your average grocery store box, but much cheaper than David’s Tea or Teavana, both of which also carry spearmint. I usually buy it in bulk from Amazon, which cuts the price almost in half compared to the single boxes on Amazon. The cheapest option is almost certainly to grow your own: last summer, I bought a spearmint plant at my local plant nursery and used the fresh leaves! But any of these options is a pretty cheap solution, all things considered.