Many women notice dramatic, often unpleasant, changes in their skin during and in the days leading up to their periods. Whether it be extremely oily skin, dry skin, or a patchwork of varying skin issues, it can be challenging to figure out what to do during this hormone-charged time.
Some women even have monthly re-enactments of the horrors of their pubescent years with distressing acne breakouts, but it may surprise you to know that your menstrual cycle affects your skin condition all month long, as your hormones are in constant flux. Read on to learn more about how your menstrual cycle affects your skin, and what you can do about it.
The star players in the menstrual cycle game are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It is the varying ratio of these three hormones present in the body that triggers the stages of the female reproductive process. During different stages of the menstrual cycle, you’ll experience different effects as each of these hormones takes the lead.
Menstrual Cycle Stages
Since different hormones are more effective during each of the menstrual stages, it’s important to understand what’s actually happening, so you can take proactive measures.
During this stage, the walls of the uterus will thicken and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) will be secreted to stimulate ovarian follicles to grow. During this stage, estrogen levels will gradually increase and reach a peak about one day before ovulation stage begins.
At the peak of estrogen secretion, another hormone, luteinizing hormone, will be triggered. This hormone stimulates a follicle to release an egg. When an ovary releases a mature egg, this is called ovulation.
Over the course of a few days, this egg will travel down a fallopian tube, to the uterus, while the lining of the uterus continues to thicken. The egg will remain in the uterus, ready for fertilization, for about 24 hours, after which it begins to break down. Testosterone also spikes during ovulation. Testosterone increases sex drive and is responsible for the improved mood women often feel when they are ovulating.
In this stage, the empty follicle turns into a corpus luteum and produces lots of estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone stimulates the uterus lining to prepare for egg fertilization. If the egg does not become fertilized, the uterus lining is shed through and your period begins.
Whew! That was a lot of information, but what does it mean for your skin?
Menstruation and Skincare
Skincare During the Follicular Stage
Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, tends to reduce the size of your pores, making your skin smoother, more elastic, and better at retaining moisture. During times of high estrogen levels (follicular stage), your skin will look and feel its best. Your skin care regimen during estrogen heavy phases could be very simple:
- Gentle cleansers
- Light moisturizers
- Minimal makeup to take advantage of your skin’s natural radiance
- Treat yourself to a facial or peel
Skincare During the Ovulation Stage
Once the luteinizing hormone secretion is triggered, your skin might start to look and feel different. This is because luteinizing hormone can set the sebaceous glands into overdrive, which increases oil production and provides a welcoming environment for inflammatory bacteria. Your skin might begin to look red and puffy, and feel particularly oily. During this phase, you might consider:
- Avoiding oil-based products and keep oil-removing products on-hand if a greasy feeling develops.
- You might want to stay away from aggressive skin care treatments during this stage, as they might aggravate your already sensitive skin. Even a facial might be too much for your skin to handle.
Skincare During the Luteal Stage
The luteal phase is the one in which the most extreme skin issues are most likely to occur. It is during this phase that skin puffiness is likely to be most severe, with increased breakouts, skin dullness, and hyper-pigmentation (scars seem particularly dark). During this phase, you should probably:
- Take extra care to cleanse your face thoroughly without over stripping it using natural skincare options
- Keep acne treatment products at the ready to be used as needed
- Avoid inflammatory foods, such as those with high sugar or caffeine content
- Take supplements known to alleviate menstrual symptoms
Keeping Makeup to a Minimum
During the ovulation and luteal stages, it might be tempting to increase makeup application to cover up blemishes and puffiness, but this might aggravate your sensitive skin. Makeup can clog your pores, making the problems worse. Instead, you might consider focusing on self-care and reducing external stresses, so as to not exacerbate any inflammation.
If at any point in this cycle your testosterone levels spike abnormally, you might experience additional skin dryness or coarseness. If this occurs, adjust product application regimen to a level that keeps you comfortable.
Syncing with Your Cycle
Overall, consistent proper nutrition and exercise have been proven to alleviate the negative symptoms of the menstrual cycle. Fight the urge to indulge in that slice of cheesecake and treat yourself to a light floral tea sweetened with honey instead. Also, a nice high-intensity workout can help get the endorphins flowing which reduce stress and its negative effects on your skin. Top off your efforts by following these top tips for skincare during any point in your cycle.