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How the menstrual cycle impacts your skin

By Bonnie Azoulay, Contributing writer

Many people experience breakouts right before their period. Period acne is caused by estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones run the period show! Read on for more information about how the menstrual cycle impacts your skin.

How the menstrual cycle impacts your skin

Just before you get your period, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This hormonal shift can trigger your sebaceous glands to secrete more sebum, an oily substance that lubricates your skin. Too much sebum can clog your pores and cause breakouts. By the end of your period, you’ll have higher levels of testosterone, which can also secrete sebum. Much like hormonal puberty breakouts, PMS breakouts tend to appear on the cheeks, jawline, chin, and neck. Although, it’s not uncommon to see a flareup on your forehead, too. 

To learn more about period acne and how to manage it, we’ve compiled all the information you need up ahead.

Premenstrual acne symptoms 

Breaking out a week or so before your period (during the luteal phase) can be a clear indicator that you’re about to start menstruating. Some people may experience more flare ups and others may find that their existing acne worsens before their period begins. These blemishes typically appear as red and inflamed bumps. Premenstrual acne is extremely common. According to a 2014 study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, these flare ups affect 50% to 80% of people who menstruate. So, the next time you suddenly wake up with a family of pimples on your face, you might be able to point a finger at your period. 

Managing premenstrual acne

Luteal Phase

During the luteal phase (which occurs between ovulation and menstruation), your skin will typically be at its most inflamed. Premenstrual acne may form due to the rise in progesterone and testosterone, causing clogged pores and oily skin. 

Menstrual Phase

By days 1 to 5 of your period, premenstrual acne should start clearing up because your progesterone levels are going down. Still, you may have some residual pimples from the week before that could use some TLC. In that case, you’ll want to use an oil-free cleanser and moisturizer that contains ingredients like salicylic acid, niacinamide, and benzoyl peroxide that combat and treat acne. 

Follicular Phase

As estrogens levels rise during days 5 to 8, your skin may become smoother. Estrogen stimulates the body’s production of collagen and oils, which keep the skin naturally moisturized. This is why collagen, which is responsible for the skin’s elasticity, starts to deplete as you enter menopause. The lower the estrogen, the dryer the skin. Still, some experts report that the drop in hormones during this phase can actually cause your skin to become dry because there’s a decrease in sebum. In that case, you’ll want to moisturize. 

Ovulation Phase

During ovulation, which typically ranges between days 12 to 16 (though it depends on your cycle), the rise in progesterone will increase the production of sebum. That oil will leave you with a healthy glow but once it becomes too oily and clogs your pores, you’ll know that you’re right back where you started: the premenstrual timeframe. As progesterone increases while you’re ovulating, so will estrogen and collagen production. Prepare for plump, glowy skin all around!

Severe acne treatment

If you experience severe acne before your period, your doctor might suggest a combination birth control pill (which contains both estrogen and progestin) and can decrease the production of sebum, helping to reduce acne. Or, they may recommend over-the-counter and prescription products like retinoids, spironolactone (taken orally), benzoyl peroxide and clindamycin. 

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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