Your menstrual cycle is lots of fun; mood swings, cramps, bloating, and as if that wasn’t enough… your skin flares up while on your period. Not everyone experiences challenges with their skin throughout their cycle, but we’re willing to bet that at the very least you’ve noticed some changes in your complexion, such as acne and oily skin. Thanks, hormones! Here’s everything you need to know about your skin during your menstrual cycle, and how the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone affect it...
Estrogen is most prominent during the first half of your cycle (around the first 10-16 days), and stimulates the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid in your skin. Throughout this time, estrogen levels rise slowly, and you might notice that your skin looks and feels plump, hydrated, and all-round clear. You may also notice your mood lift during this time due to increasing levels of serotonin. Around day fourteen you will start ovulation, which is when your skin tends to behave itself and you might feel that it looks its best.
Progesterone can be a tad problematic for skin. When levels of this hormone start to increase in the second half of your cycle, you may experience oilier skin as it stimulates the production of sebum. We all know this can lead to an unwanted buildup of oil, and as a result, breakouts come knocking.
The medical term for having oily skin is ‘seborrhea’, and it’s easy to blame this on our periods, but it’s important to remember that there can be many other factors playing a role when it comes to sebum levels. Changing weather, sun exposure, overuse of skin care products, and of course good old fashioned genetics are all examples.
During the second half of your cycle, remember that the increase in luteinizing hormones (that control the ovaries) can make skin prone to bacteria, so always remove your makeup at night, and regularly wash your hands to avoid the spread of acne.
Testosterone is present throughout your cycle, and when estrogen and progesterone levels lower during your period, testosterone becomes the most prominent hormone. It tends to stimulate the sebaceous glands and produce more sebum, which can clog pores and cause acne. Again?! Yup, some months your skin just can’t catch a break!
Those with higher levels of androgens (testosterone is one) throughout their cycle, such as women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), are more likely to experience things like excess hair growth and acne.
What can we do about it?
It’s important to know that not all acne is hormone-related, and everything from stress to diet can influence your skin day to day, so consider all possibilities before you condemn your hormones. If, however, you experience problematic skin on a recurring monthly basis, hormones could be to blame. Everyone experiences some level of fluctuation in their complexion throughout the month, but monthly acne and irritated skin can be frustrating and disheartening. Just remember, you're not defined by your skin, but we get it. It’s normal to want to do something to fix the issue.
To help release your skin-inducing stress, the first thing to try is keeping a skin diary that focuses on your menstrual cycle, and look for patterns. After a few months of this, you will begin to recognise specific days or weeks that pose the biggest issues, and can therefore adjust your skincare routine accordingly, as well as discuss options with your GP or dermatologist. Some women are prescribed hormonal birth control for the sole purpose of regulating problem skin throughout the month, so if this is of interest to you don’t be afraid to ask your doctor and explore your options.
Got questions about hormones and your skin? We’ll always try to answer all your queries, and if we can’t, we’ll point you in the right direction. Let us know what’s on your mind over on Instagram @itsyoppie or in our private FB group FEM LIFE.