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Period Acne: How Sex Hormones Impact Your Skin

September 14, 2021

Three hormones impact your skin during your monthly cycle: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones fluctuate through the menstrual cycle, being responsible for the changes in your skin. They also cause period acne by increasing skin inflammation, oil production as well as increased bacterial growth, particularly C. acnes. These hormonal fluctuations just before your period may also be responsible for other period symptoms such as moodiness, sore breasts and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In addition, PMS is associated with increased stress levels, which may also worsen acne.

1. Estrogen

Estrogen is the main hormone in the first half of your monthly cycle, which increases collagen production and skin thickness. This influences your skin’s structural integrity, moisture retention and barrier function. It also stimulates the hair follicles in the scalp and have antioxidant properties, protecting against stress and inflammation. At high levels of estrogen, it helps to hydrate your skin, making it look wrinkle-free as well as suppress levels of sebum production and gland activation.

2. Progesterone

Progesterone is another important sex hormone involved in your menstrual cycle. It helps keep the other hormone levels in check as well as reduces cortisol and other stress hormones. This promotes healthy sleep, which is vital for skin health.

3. Testosterone

Testosterone belongs to a class of male hormones, androgens. However, women also require a small amount of testosterone for growth, maintenance and repair of a woman’s reproductive tissues, bone mass and behaviour.  In women, it is produced in smaller quantities in the ovaries and released into the bloodstream. When there are more androgens binding to the receptors on the sebaceous glands, more sebum is produced. The sebum can combine with dead skin cells from within the pore, causing a blockage. This blockage traps all the excess sebum being produced and can trigger period acne. Additionally, these sebum-filled pores provide an ideal environment for C. acnes to proliferate and cause inflammatory period acne.

Sweat and menstrual cycle phases

The body’s ability to sweat changes throughout the cycle as well. Studies have shown that women in their second half of the cycle, also known as the luteal phase, have an increase in sweat production when exposed to warmer temperatures. This is as compared to when they were in the first half of their menstrual cycle, also known as the follicular phase. Increase in sweating is not just limited to the face, but across the whole body.

The menstrual cycle usually lasts for 28 days:

Days 1–7: Menstruation, the “Reset” of the Cycle

Cycle day 1 is the first day of the period. This is characterized with having low levels of the three major hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, affecting mood and metabolism. In particular, the low levels of estrogen leads to less stimulation of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid, hence the skin looks duller. Estrogen and testosterone levels gradually increase by cycle day 3. During the period itself, the condition of the skin generally improves. 

As skin barrier function and hydration are low during the menstrual phase, skincare should focus on increasing the skin’s water content. During this phase, one can use a moisturizer rich in phytoestrogens, which are plant-based estrogens. These natural moisturising factors safely and effectively imitate estrogen’s effect on skin, improving the skin’s elasticity, clarity and luminosity. It is also recommended to drink more water as the skin requires water to maintain its elasticity. Excess caffeine should be avoid, as it can dehydrate the body and cause skin dullness. One should also avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates during this period as it can cause the skin to become even more susceptible to blemishes and period acne.

period acne
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Days 8–15: “The Venus Week”

The week following your period, estrogen and testosterone both climb towards a peak just before ovulation. The increase in levels of estrogen and progesterone, accompanied with an increase in dopamine and endorphins, stimulates one’s mood and metabolism. The skin has a glowing effect.

During this week, less is more in terms of makeup, one should let their naturally enhanced skin shine through. It is recommended to keep sugar and carbohydrate intake to a minimum to keep your skin glowing. Maintaining a good skin care routine will also help to prolong your skin’s best condition. 

Days 16–28: Progesterone Dominance, the “Minerva Phase”

Just after ovulation, estrogen and testosterone decreases as progesterone levels increases. This encourages rest and eating, even though you may not be pregnant. As progesterone rises, it causes slower metabolism, resulting in more bloating and a tendency to gain weight.

Significantly for the skin, this rise in progesterone level stimulates sebum production. As the cycle progresses, even progesterone in addition to the other 2 hormones, begins to fall. This further affects one’s mood in response to the decrease in levels of the 3 main hormones. Shortly before menstruation begins, both oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels and at this point testosterone is actually at a higher level than the female hormones. Consequently, there is an increase in sebum production.

During this phase, the best way to tackle a sluggish mood and sluggish metabolism is exercise and meditation. It is vital to take extra care to prevent skin problems in the week leading up to your period, where you’re likely to experience breakouts and skin dullness.

How to deal with period acne

In conclusion, by understanding the hormonal shifts behind each phase, one can anticipate and adjust to optimize her mood, energy levels and skin condition to avoid period acne, despite the intense hormonal changes. Other ways you can deal with period acne breakouts include avoiding irritating products, such as greasy sunscreens, cosmetics, oils, and concealers as well as limiting your exposure to UV rays by staying out of the sun when possible.

It is also recommended to wash your face after activities that cause you to sweat and only use acne products as directed according to your dermatologist. Applying too much product will irritate and dry out your skin which may worsen your period acne. For additional tips, click here to read more about a natural acne treatment.

Use the Miel Honey™ Cleanser for thorough cleansing of skin. It contains botanical emulsifiers leaving a clean yet moisturised feel. This cleanser also includes Arnica Montana Extract which stabilizes skin and reduces flaking.
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