The menstrual cycle is a complex process to prepare the body for a potential pregnancy. There are four phases, each with its distinct physiological components that result in a range of symptoms, including skin changes. This article will discuss the skin changes that occur in each phase, offer tips to manage these changes, and explore ways to minimize breakouts.
Here's what to expect:
Understanding the cycle: skincare tips tailored to each phase
A step ahead from breakouts: a guide to clear skin during your period
Stubborn skin: when to turn to an expert
Skincare tips for each period phase
Learning what occurs within each cycle and how it impacts your skin can help you to develop a skincare routine to manage these changes more effectively.
Menstruation phase (days 1–6)
The menstruation phase occurs when the lining of the uterus sheds, and bleeding lasts 3–5 days. During this phase, estrogen and progesterone hormone levels are low. Prostaglandin hormone levels are high to release the uterine lining.
The skin appears dry and dull on days 1–6 of the cycle. You will want to focus on providing your skin with enough hydration by including:
- A moisturizer containing ceramides
- Hyaluronic or glycolic acid serums
- Sheet or overnight masks
Additionally, it would be best to hold off on exfoliating during this period due to skin sensitivity.
Follicular phase (days 1–14)
The follicular phase begins on the first day of a period and ends at ovulation. The uterus lining begins to thicken to prepare for a pregnancy. Additionally, the pituitary gland releases a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to schedule an egg for ovulation. Estrogen levels increase in the mid-follicular phase.
Research suggests estrogen improves the skin’s moisture, collagen production, and elasticity. The skin barrier might appear at its best in this phase. You can continue your routine skincare regimen, including:
- Using hyaluronic or glycolic acid serums to maintain moisture
- Using a vitamin C serum to maintain a natural glow
- Switching to a lightweight moisturizer
Ovulation phase (around day 14)
A mature egg is released from the ovary two weeks before a period and moves through the fallopian tube into the uterus. The body increases the luteinizing hormone (LH) to release the mature egg from the ovary. Estrogen levels start to decrease, while hormone progesterone levels rise.
Progesterone increases sebum production. This phase may cause oily skin and is likely to precede hormonal acne. Around this time, you’ll want to focus on preventing and controlling sebum production by:
- Using oil-free skincare products classified as non-comedogenic
- Exfoliating with clay or enzyme masks to deep-clean pores
- Removing makeup with double cleansing
Luteal phase (days 15–28)
During this phase, the progesterone levels of the body reach their peak. If a sperm fertilizes an egg, the body continues to produce progesterone. However, if a pregnancy does not occur, the ovary dies, and both estrogen and progesterone levels drop. The uterus line sheds, and the menstruation cycle starts all over again.
A week before your period, the appearance of period pimples could develop. According to a survey by the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 91% of participants reported that their acne symptoms began seven days before their period. You’ll want to focus on eliminating excess sebum by:
- Applying oil-free, water-based makeup and removing it before bed
- Using a pore-purifying mask to unclog pores and hydrate skin
- Using blotting papers throughout the day to absorb oil
- Using a fragrance-free gentle foaming cleanser
- Switching to a lightweight moisturizer
Minimizing skin breakouts during period phases
Hormonal acne is a common struggle for many people due to the fluctuations of hormones in a menstrual cycle. While we may not have control over our hormone levels, we can implement lifestyle changes that could help minimize breakouts.
- Use non-comedogenic products. Skincare and makeup products labeled 'non-comedogenic' avoid pore-clogging. In addition, remove your makeup before going to bed.
- Manage stress. Exercise, yoga, meditation, and enough sleep can help to lower stress levels.
- Eat a balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables have lower sugar levels compared to processed foods and soda beverages.
- Avoid touching your face. By touching your face, you transfer oil, dirt, and bacteria from the hands that could potentially clog pores and cause acne.
When to seek professional help
If your skin changes are persistent or worsening and over-the-counter products are unsuccessful, you should seek help from a dermatologist. They can prescribe a treatment plan that may involve the use of topical or oral medication if necessary.
Adapting your skincare routine to the different phases of the menstrual cycle can minimize breakouts and keep your skin feeling fresh and healthy. Avoid comedogenic products, practice self-care, and consult a dermatologist if you see no improvement or the acne gets worse.
Can periods cause skin problems?
Yes. Although symptoms can vary per individual, the skin could experience dryness, dullness, excess sebum secretion, and acne due to the physiological effects of the menstrual cycle.
How long can hormonal acne last?
Hormonal acne is different per individual. However, it can last a few days or weeks. If hormonal acne is persistent or worsening, seek help from a healthcare provider.
Which period phase affects the skin the most?
Most skin characteristics change one week before menstruation, landing within the luteal phase. High levels of progesterone lead to excess sebum production, resulting in the likelihood of developing hormonal acne.
The skin can experience physiological changes because of hormone fluctuations in the menstrual cycle.
High estrogen levels could contribute to an improved skin barrier during the follicular phase.
Period pimples have the likelihood to appear a week before menstruation due to an increase in sebum production from the hormone progesterone.
Minimizing breakouts involves using non-comedogenic products, managing stress levels, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding touching the face.
Seek further evaluation from a dermatologist if over-the-counter products fail and the skin changes get worse.
- Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. The menstrual cycle and the skin.
- The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. Perimenstrual flare of adult acne.
- BMC Women's Health. The menstrual cycle regularity and skin: irregular menstrual cycle affects skin physiological properties and skin bacterial microbiome in urban Chinese women.
- International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Effect of systemic hormonal cyclicity on skin.
- American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to control oily skin.