By Bianca Mendez; Photography by Unsplash
Prepare to take plenty of selfies.
Periods are a whole lot of fun (not). Aside from the whole “bleeding for a few days every month” thing, periods can bring about a whole host of fun side effects like painful cramps, cravings, mood changes and, unfortunately, acne breakouts.
But your cycle’s effect on your skin doesn’t just last the week of your period. It turns out that our menstrual cycles determine how our skin varies week by week, thanks to hormone changes. “Your skin is sensitive to hormones,” says dermatologist Dr Marnie Nussbaum. “It’s why when we went through puberty, hormones changed our voice and hair.”
The main hormones in action are oestrogen and progesterone, which rise and fall throughout the month. “During the first half of your menstrual cycle, oestrogen is the predominant hormone because it’s helping the body prepare for pregnancy, and then you have progesterone during the second half to maintain the lining of the uterus if an embryo is developed,” says Nussbaum. Whichever hormone is in play affects how your skin looks and feels during that particular time. We broke it down week by week to find out exactly what’s going on with your skin throughout your menstrual cycle.
Oh hey, Aunt Flo! Your period marks the first day of your menstrual cycle, and while you’re dealing with bleeding and cramps, you may notice that your pimples are fading away. That’s because your skin is becoming less inflamed and oily due to the decrease in progesterone that comes with your period, says Nussbaum. As the progesterone subsides, oestrogen begins to kick in, which could cause your skin to get a little drier than normal. Nussbaum recommends using a little more moisturiser, but be careful – your skin is still recovering from the progesterone-related breakouts from earlier in the week.
Also, your skin – especially down there – is extra sensitive during your period. “The blood flow is more concentrated in the vaginal area,” says Nussbaum. Hold off on your bikini wax until the next week.
Now that your period is done, your body is preparing itself again to get pregnant by maturing an egg in your ovary and building up the lining of the uterus to support a potential embryo, says Nussbaum. Your oestrogen levels continue to rise, which counteracts progesterone and testosterone, the two hormones that can contribute to your acne, says Nussbaum. Your pimples will die down, but your pores might look a little larger this week. This is when your skin will look the clearest – your selfie game will be extra on-point this week.
If you’re so inclined, use this week for any bikini waxing needs. The oestrogen also helps with the suppleness of your skin, making it less sensitive to pain, Nussbaum adds.
READ MORE: Why Are Some Periods Worse Than Others?
Your body is giving off serious signs that it’s time for some baby-making action. You’re horny, your cheeks are rosy and you’ll notice your skin feels extra greasy. That’s because post-ovulation, your oestrogen is plummeting and your progesterone levels are starting to rise, says Nussbaum. “The rise in progesterone causes the skin to swell and compress the pores,” says Nussbaum. That creates a build-up of sebum, oil produced by the hair follicles in your face. That sebum gets trapped under pores, which are beginning to decrease in size, and gets mixed with dead skin cells and bacteria, says Nussbaum.
This is the perfect time to add an astringent to your skincare routine, suggests Nussbaum. “Astringents usually remove excess oil and dirt on the skin,” she says. “However, if they are alcohol-based, they may inflame the skin or dry it out too much. There are newer ones that are glycerin-based, which can actually help moisturise.”
Hello PMS. As mentioned, during ovulation, excess sebum gets produced and trapped under your pores, mixing with dead skin cells and bacteria. That bacteria feeds off of the sebum, producing inflammation and breakouts on the chin, jawline and even some body acne, says Nussbaum. Cortisol, testosterone and progesterone levels are all up as the body gets ready to shed its uterine lining, which causes stress. All of the hormone levels subsequently fall as bleeding begins. The skin then reacts to stress by getting inflamed. “When you have the sebum clogging and inflammation, it causes acne,” says Nussbaum.
Want more? We asked the experts so you can have all your adult acne questions answered!