Whether your menstrual cycles run like clockwork or you’re constantly surprised every month when your period arrives, the telltale signs of nature’s monthly gift are hard to miss. One of those signs is the way in which your skin changes on the days leading up to and following your cycle. Here’s a breakdown of what’s happening and what you can do about it.
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Here’s What’s Happening With Your Hormones
Your monthly cycle begins on the first day of your period. During this time, although it may feel like your hormone levels are spiking, but they’re actually not. “Your skin is affected by the hormone shifts that happen during your entire menstrual cycle, but during your actual period, all your hormones are at relatively low levels,” says Santa Monica, CA, dermatologist Karyn Grossman, MD. Your levels of progesterone and estrogen drop, which contribute to the overwhelming emotional feelings that come with your period. Estrogen also stimulates skin-smoothing collagen and oils, which means when levels are low, your skin can feel drier and lines and wrinkles can appear more prominent.
According to Eagan, MN, dermatologist Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, keeping your skin hydrated is the key to healthier skin during your period. “Hydration is probably the most important thing you can do for your skin during this time,” he says. “For this step I recommend three separate things: a gentle, nondrying cleanser; a moisturizing lotion rich in lipids and ceramides, which are the essential building blocks of the skin barrier; and an ammonium lactate–containing cream or lotion that acts as the humectant, the factor that holds the water in the skin.”
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Those Pesky “Period Pimples”
A dramatic drop in estrogen before and during your period is the usual culprit for the dreaded “period pimples” that can crop up along your chin and jawline. “Every person will have a slightly different skin reaction, but many women have issues as the estrogen drops and the progesterone rises, causing an acne flare just before or right when they get their period,” says Dr. Grossman. “Higher levels of estrogen, in general, usually result in clearer skin. However, some people get more ‘ovulation pimples,’ or breakout right when their period is over.”
But all is not lost and you can fight the good fight against “period pimples” if you know you’re prone to breakouts. “If you get a regular cystic acne breakout during your cycle, I recommend applying topical antibiotics three to four days prior to the onset of your period,” says Dr. Grossman. “While it may not prevent the breakout altogether, it often helps significantly.”
Why You’re Breaking Out Like a Teenager
Even if you’ve had clear skin during your teen years, your age can trigger an onset of period-related skin issues. “In general, women’s hormone levels are highest during their 20s, creating bigger swings and causing more havoc with acne,” says Dr. Grossman. “During your 30s and 40s, your skin becomes more even and less volatile relating to the menstrual cycle. However, as menopause approaches and estrogen and other hormone levels change, you may see that ‘period pimple’ return.”
“Instead of focusing on specific things to do during the menstrual cycle, aim for increased skin quality and skin health at every age,” says Dr. Crutchfield. “I suggest an overall approach involving gentle cleansing, hydration, protection with an SPF 30 or higher and correction using laser treatments, platelet-rich plasma injections or muscle relaxants such as Botox. A skilled aesthetic dermatologist can evaluate your skin properly and recommend a blend of these treatments for the absolute best results for your skin.”