If you’ve dealt with hormone imbalances or acne, you’ve probably heard of this simple, inexpensive remedy: spearmint tea.
The emergence of spearmint tea as a natural remedy for hormone imbalances and acne was inspired by two studies published in 2007 and 2010. Both studies found that consuming a cup of spearmint tea twice per day decreased the levels of active testosterone in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS, a hormonal disorder characterized by high male hormone levels) and women with hirsutism (which can be a symptom of PCOS).
For this reason, spearmint tea has become a popular herb for balancing hormones, specifically excess androgens (male hormones like testosterone, DHEA, etc.) in women. As a result, it’s also become a popular catch-all remedy for symptoms typically associated with excess androgens and PCOS: acne, hair loss, and hirsutism.
Suffice to say, the popularity is not unfounded! Spearmint is a great, supportive herb for conditions of androgen excess — the available studies clearly support that.
But, like with most natural approaches to healing hormonal imbalances or acne, nuance can sometimes get lost in the noise.
In the case of spearmint, it’s important to know that not every androgen-related symptom, i.e. acne, hair loss, and/or hirsutism, is necessarily caused by excess androgens. In other words, just because you may find yourself dealing with acne, hair loss, or hirsutism, doesn’t necessarily mean you actually have excess androgens.
In these cases, treating symptoms that look like androgen excess (with something like spearmint tea) when no excess is actually present may not prove ineffective, but can also cause unexpected and uncomfortable side effects.
Let’s talk about why.
Spearmint tea for hormonal imbalances: why it’s not that simple
When thinking about hormone imbalances, we often think in terms of quantity and at the point of production. As a result, you hear a lot about excess testosterone production, excess estrogen production, or deficient progesterone production.
But, the way hormones affect our body are so much more than just the amount of hormones we directly produce.
The truth is: hormones are extremely complex. Production (a.k.a how much of one hormone we make) is only the very first part of the hormone cascade. After that, hormones bind to their respective receptors, are converted into other hormones, are metabolized by enzymes in different tissues, and more.
The point I’m trying to make here is less that we need to understand all the ins-and-outs of our hormones and more to highlight that there are many ways that hormone balance can go awry aside from just quantity and production.
To say it simply, it’s possible to have zero issues with the amount of hormones you produce (so, your blood levels are normal), and yet still have some of the same symptoms as someone who is. In these cases, your hormone imbalances may be an issue at the receptor or metabolism level, instead of the production level.
A really great example of this is acne. Acne can be caused both by excess androgen activity at the production level (a.k.a producing too many androgens) and excess androgen activity at the receptor level (a.k.a the receptors are too sensitive) in the skin itself.
So, someone with excess androgen activity at the receptor level may have no hormone issues show up on a blood test, and yet still have the same jawline hormonal acne as someone with high androgen production!
Does this mean you’re not dealing with a hormone imbalance? No! You’re dealing with a hormonal imbalance all the same, just at a different point in the hormonal cascade.
But, here’s the problem and where things can go wrong: a lot of treatments for androgen imbalances in women, especially the ones you hear about online, are mainly targeted at the production level. This includes spearmint tea.
So, while spearmint tea may prove effective for some, using spearmint tea if you don’t truly have excess androgens will not only be ineffective, but may also further exacerbate the hormonal imbalance you’re trying to treat in the first place.
What are the side effects of spearmint tea?
Although spearmint tea is generally safe and free of side effects for the majority of women, there are some specific cases where this may not be true. This is mainly going to be women with symptoms of androgen excess, but without a true androgen excess (although, this can apply even if you don’t have symptoms of androgen excess, I just think that you’re much less likely to be using spearmint tea anyway!). This includes:
- Normal androgen levels but high androgen receptor sensitivity (can cause high androgen symptoms)
- Normal androgens levels but low estrogen production (can cause high androgen symptoms)
- Low testosterone levels with high androgen symptoms like acne and hair loss, but unrelated to hormones (not all acne / hair loss is hormonal)
In each of these cases, spearmint tea will not only be ineffective, but may cause side effects. Here’s why:
- If testosterone is normal, but you have high receptor sensitivity, lowering your testosterone levels with spearmint tea may improve symptoms like acne or hair loss, but can also cause low testosterone symptoms like lack of energy, low libido, trouble building muscle, and anxiety.
- If testosterone is normal, but you have low estrogen, spearmint tea may not only cause low testosterone symptoms, but potentially low estrogen symptoms as well — like anxiety, headaches, dry skin, hot flashes, and even acne (or exacerbating acne that is already present). This is because some estrogen actually comes from the conversion of testosterone into estrogen by an enzyme called aromatase. Consequently, by lowering your testosterone with something like spearmint tea, you actually may be inadvertently lowering your estrogen as well.
- Lastly, if you have normal testosterone levels and are dealing with androgen excess symptoms like acne and hair loss, your symptoms could be unrelated to hormones entirely. Instead, you might be dealing with hair loss and acne caused by a zinc deficiency, vitamin A deficiency, gut imbalances, mold toxicity, or even using the wrong skincare / haircare. In these cases, not only will spearmint tea not be helpful, it could cause low testosterone symptoms and/or estrogen dominance symptoms.
To avoid these side effects, it would be ideal to get your hormones tested comprehensively to know exactly what’s going on before trying something like spearmint tea. Otherwise, you risk throwing your hormones out of balance even further.
My experience with side effects of spearmint tea
As someone who used to recommend spearmint tea and use it often, but sporadically, I decided it was time that I actually dedicate a full month of consistent use of spearmint tea, drinking it everyday, twice per day (as recommended by the spearmint tea studies). My hope was that it would help the mild hirsutism I had been dealing with for years. It was the last high androgen symptom I had been dealing with and even though it doesn’t bother me much, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to see if the spearmint tea worked!
At that point in time (I know better now, of course, lol), I didn’t really understand the potential side effects of spearmint tea and generally held the belief that it would be good for high androgen symptoms with minimal side effects.
So, I brewed some loose leaf, organic spearmint tea each day, starting on the second week of my cycle, up until the end of my cycle. And while I felt good at first — no major changes, but feeling generally better — I started to feel awful the day before my period.
I experienced symptoms that I’ve never had before, not even around my period — a cervicogenic headache (pain at both sides of the base of my skull and neck that spread to my temples) and panic attacks, both of which can be related to low estrogen.
I suspected the spearmint tea (since it was the only thing that changed!) so I stopped immediately.
As expected, my symptoms improved around day 5-7 of my menstrual cycle when estrogen naturally rises again, which further cemented my theory that the symptoms were caused by a lower-than-normal estrogen.
So, why do I think this happened?
While I haven’t had my hormones tested in a bit, I think my high androgen symptoms (historically hirsutism, hair loss, and cystic acne — although my acne is under control with our Sana skincare!) are not actually caused by high androgens at all at this point in time. Instead, I think I’m probably dealing with low estrogen, which mimics high androgens.
This means that, by trialing spearmint tea, I actually probably inadvertently lowered my estrogen levels by decreasing the amount of testosterone available for conversion to estrogen! This explains why I experienced symptoms of low estrogen right around the time of the characteristic estrogen drop that started to get better once my estrogen increased.
And after this experience, I found out that it’s not just me! There are many other women on Reddit who have shared very similar experiences — anxiety, panic attacks, late periods, brain fog, headaches, sore breasts, insomnia, and more (see here and here).
So, be sure to exercise caution when starting a new herb, even in a gentle form like tea, and always pay attention to how you’re feeling, even if there’s a generally low risk of side effects.
What can you use instead of spearmint tea for acne?
My philosophy with herbs, as a sensitive individual, is to take a gentle, tonic approach. I love to use gentle, nourishing herbs that help to optimize the cellular state that work from the bottom-up. For this reason, I love nourishing, gentle herbs like oatstraw, cleavers (great for lymphatic flow), alfalfa, holy basil (great for stress), and raspberry leaf. These herbs provide minerals that your cells need for optimal function, including glucose regulation (which is super important for healthy hormones). While specific herbs that are more potent and specific for imbalances can be extremely helpful when used under the guidance of an experienced herbalist or physician, nourishing, foundational herbs can also make a huge difference. I truly believe a nourished body is the foundation for balanced hormones.
You can also opt for other approaches to balanced hormones that are a bit gentler on the system — prebiotics, probiotics, and healthy fats.
Probiotics are really gentle on the system and work on a foundational level like nourishing tonic herbs. I really like Lactobacillus rhamnosus (Culturelle®) and Lactobacillus reuteri (BioGaia®), especially for acne. Prebiotics can be a little more finicky, especially if your gut is sensitive to FODMAPs or you’re dealing with pathogenic overgrowth in the gut, but I also think that there’s a misconception that prebiotics / fiber requires an all or nothing approach. I’ve seen prebiotic fibers have a positive effect even at a dosage of less than 1g (for example, ¼ - ⅛ teaspoon of inulin powder) without causing side effects. There are also prebiotics that are better-tolerated for sensitive individuals, like Sunfiber®, and polyphenol-rich foods like green tea, pomegranate, and berries (which also have a prebiotic effect)!
Lastly, skincare is a great way to support the skin directly, by providing direct nourishment and counteracting the negative effects of hormone imbalances on the skin, including breakouts. I’m a bit biased (of course!), but our Sana formulas are amazing for nourishing the skin on a cellular level to balance breakouts and power your skin’s natural healing process.
The verdict: exercise caution with spearmint tea
Learn from my mistakes (and the mistakes of others!) and don’t underestimate the potency of spearmint tea. While it’s a potent, healing herbal medicine for those whose imbalances are compatible with it, using it based on symptoms alone can possibly open you up to side effects and exacerbating hormonal imbalances further.
It’s best to talk with an herbalist or functional practitioner who can help you decide if spearmint is right for you, preferably alongside comprehensive hormone testing via both blood and urine hormone panels (like DUTCH testing), which can give you a more holistic picture of what’s going on with your body. A more precise understanding of the hormonal imbalances you’re dealing with will help direct you (and your practitioners) to the safest and most effective treatments for you as an individual.
If you need support with the symptoms of hormone imbalances, like acne, please feel free to reach out! Skincare can be extremely supportive as you work with a practitioner to identify the root cause of both skin and hormone conditions. I’m happy to help!
- Akdoğan M, Tamer MN, Cüre E, Cüre MC, Köroğlu BK, Delibaş N. Effect of spearmint (Mentha spicata Labiatae) teas on androgen levels in women with hirsutism. Phytother Res. 2007 May;21(5):444-7. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2074. PMID: 17310494.
- Grant P. Spearmint herbal tea has significant anti-androgen effects in polycystic ovarian syndrome. A randomized controlled trial. Phytother Res. 2010 Feb;24(2):186-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2900. PMID: 19585478.