Updated: May 5, 2021
Acne is the freaking worst. Clearly you wish you knew what was causing it, right? Well, look no further than your menstrual cycle — turns out the hormones that make you get your period are behind a bunch of other stuff, too.
Exhibit A: Your skin. Our complexion and hormone levels are undeniably intertwined. When our hormones are out of whack, things get unpleasant: We are more likely to develop dry skin, fine lines, wrinkles, acne, and rosacea.
Don’t believe us? We’ve got Eve data to prove it! Here’s what happens to our skin, day by day, as we move through those four-ish weeks:
Cycle Day 1–3
Your period starts, your body is sad. As if cramps, bloating, and fatigue aren’t special enough, acne has had a few days to build up, swoop in, and make your face a berserko circus. Users on the Glow and Eve apps told us so.
Hormones are mostly to blame for this. As your period approaches, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. Without estrogen and progesterone to “cover up” the effects of testosterone, testosterone makes your sebaceous glands go crazy. Sebaceous glands produce sebum — a natural oil that is essentially acne food. You break out, your skin gets inflamed, you want to hide your face…Huge. Bummer.
Cycle Day 4–6
The crimson wave starts to subside, but your period leaves behind a weird imbalance of prostaglandins in your system. Prostaglandins are little hormone-like buggers that help control inflammation in your skin; when your prostaglandins are off balance, your skin becomes dry, irritated, and more sensitive to pain.
A lot of women find their skin to be flaky and scratchy right after their period, which is probs related to the inevitable post-period prostaglandin freakout. Exfoliating and moisturizing will help protect and repair the skin’s barrier, so you should go for both.
Cycle Day 7–11
Get jazzed for the return to a more even skin tone! Estrogen is on the rise, and it is a miracle-worker on your skin: it refines the texture, makes pores less visible, and restrains sebum creation so acne, sagging, wrinkles, and other eww pretty much won’t happen.
With estrogen back in action, extra plump and healthy skin cells are forming and your skin’s surface will start feeling firmer. What’s more, your pain threshold is the highest at this point in your cycle. Time to get on that waxing table ASAP!
Cycle Day 7–11
It’s ovulation time, baby, and your skin is hitting its stride. That’s because estrogen peaks at ovulation, and it works its magic to make your skin glowy and b-e-a-utiful!
’Tis the time to take advantage of the fact that everyone will find you more attractive, thanks to your skin’s subtle glowing. So lay off the makeup, schedule a date, and take at least 1,000 selfies plz and thx :)
Cycle Day 17–28
All good things must come to an end, and post-ovulation, estrogen dips to make way for testosterone and progesterone. As testosterone and progesterone levels rise they instigate oil production, making your skin increasingly greasy and pimple-prone once again.
Veggies veggies veggies can help control those excess hormones, especially cleansing ones like cucumber, broccoli, beets, and kale. These earthy greens bind to and help excrete excess hormones that are causing spots. Shove ’em down and pray to the period gods for good fortune. You got this.
How to Deal
Establish a solid skin-care routine. Cleaning and caring for your skin regularly is essential. There are a bunch of over-the-counter acne treatment products that help care for sensitive skin. If the OTC stuff isn’t working, you can consider prescription acne treatment.
See a dermatologist. Dermatologists are skin experts and they are super duper great at figuring out what’s up with your skin and helping you put together a treatment plan. Always good to consult a dermatologist when choosing new skincare products, and clearly you need their blessing to pursue any prescription treatment.
Consider the Pill. We all have that friend who claimed she started birth control for “skin-related reasons.” Though it can seem far-fetched, girlfriend has a point! The hormones in birth control pills work wonders when it comes to preventing acne — they circulate androgens which decrease the production of sebum, leaving pimples hungry and unable to grow. If you’d rather pop a pill than pop pimples, you should totally talk to your doctor about getting on birth control.