Over the years I’ve found the number one determining factor in how my skin looks that day has less to do with the products I’m using and pretty much everything to do with how close I am to that time of the month. We all know we should expect a pesky pimple or two a few days before the start of a period, but do you really think your menstrual cycle is letting your skin off the hook after that? After experiencing a few too many dry skin spells around ovulation time, I consulted with Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles and clinical instructor at the University of Southern California, to find out what changes we can expect during the various phases of our menstrual cycle and how to care for our skin during this time.
After Your Period And Though Ovulation
“As you might remember from those graphs in junior high health class, the average menstrual cycle last about 28 days, with ovulation at around day 14-15,” Shainhouse says. “For the first half of the cycle, the estrogen is high to help prepare for a new egg to mature and prepare the uterine lining for possible implantation. Your skin looks its best when estrogen is high.” Since you can count on this phase to give you the most glorious skin you’ll have all month, Shainhouse says most women do not break out at this time and can continue their regular, gentle face washing and moisturizing routine.
From Ovulation Up Until A Few Days Before Your Period
Blame the hormone progesterone for your skin woes during this time. “During the second half of the cycle the progesterone rises, with the intent of maintaining the corpus luteum and keeping the uterine lining ready and primed for a potential embryo,” Shainhouse says. “Progesterone increases sebum production, which gets released into the follicles and onto the skin. It can also make the skin and follicles a little swollen, which can make pores look great temporarily, but is actually holding in the sebum and oil, which makes for a great breeding ground for acne and inflammation-causing bacteria in the hair follicle.”
During this time, it’s especially important to keep the skin clean from outside bacteria, which means keeping your hands off of your face and wiping down your cell phone and work phone regularly, Shainhouse says. Additional skincare steps she advises taking include using a salicylic acid wash to help reduce oil on the skin, considering a benzoyl-peroxide based cream to kill bacteria, and incorporating a topical Retin-A cream at bedtime to help exfoliate and unclog your pores.
Right Before Your Period
Hold onto your hat–you’re almost out of the woods. A few days before your period begins, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop significantly, which means there’s less estrogen in your body to help combat the effects of testosterone.” Testosterone encourages even more sebum production and can trigger inflammation,” Shainhouse says. “These hormonal acne lesions are tough to manage and can be tougher to prevent.”
Take extremely good care of your skin during this time by using a gentle wash. You should also consider a light acid toner to reduce extra sebum and oil; look for products that contain glycolic acid and salicylic acid. A topical retinoid cream continues to be effective, as are on-the-spot acne treatments, Shainhouse says.
“Deeper, tender cysts might require steroid injections by a dermatologist,” Shainhouse says. “If you are one of the women who flares with significant acne just before you period, consider oral medications that will level your estrogen and reduce the effects of testosterone. Discuss starting an oral birth control pill or spironolactone, a pill that can block some of the testosterone in the body.”