If you hide under layers of zit creams during your period, you’re definitely not alone. Many of us notice hormonal breakouts during menstruation and are prepped with foundation, concealer, and an entire treatment plan when it’s that time of the month. But did you know that your cycle has an effect on your skin even when you’re not on your period?
“Hormonal acne develops when there are fluctuations between estrogen and progesterone in your body, and it’s progesterone that’s responsible for those hormonal acne flare-ups,” explains Audrey Kunin, dermatologist and founder of DERMAdoctor. From oiliness to dullness, your skin goes through major changes during each phase of the month. Hormonal acne usually starts to develop during the luteal phase, or the week leading up to your period, when your progesterone levels are at their all-time high. “High levels of sebum in the skin allow acne-causing bacteria to grow, leading to inflammation in the pores and acne breakouts around the mouth and chin,” says Joshua Zeichner, a NYC-based dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. Zeichner recommends treating these breakouts with a benzoyl peroxide cleanser, like Clean & Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser ($5), to reduce the levels of bacteria and to calm pimples.
During the week of your period, or the menstruation phase, progesterone levels plunge, causing your uterine lining to shed. “The skin is usually recovering from pimples that developed the previous week,” says Zeichner. “Stick to gentle cleansers with moisturizers, like L’Occitane Shea Cleansing Milk ($24), to help the skin recover from the previous week’s inflammation.”
Photo of a woman popping a pimple in the mirror.
The follicular phase is next, where estrogen and progesterone levels begin to rise again. “You may notice skin looking a bit dull during this phase, due to blood circulation slowing down during the menstruation and follicular phases,” says Claire Zhao, founder of the 28-day cycle skincare line Amareta. Zhao suggests trying the Amareta Fresh Dew Serum Lotion ($48) to bring back brightness and hydration.
Finally, the ovulation phase occurs, where estrogen levels rise to their peak and your skin looks like a million bucks. Although skin looks prime during this phase, it’s the ovulation phase that’s “setting the scene for acne breakouts to show up during the luteal phase the next week,” explains Zeichner. “During ovulation, you may notice the skin starting to look shiny, and this oil starts to fill your pores and create an environment to grow acne-causing bacteria,” he says. To calm skin and keep pores clear, Zeichner suggests trying a face mask during this phase, like Neutrogena Deep Clean Purifying Wash-Off Clay Mask ($4).
Not sure where, exactly, you are in your cycle? Download a period tracking app, like Clue or Knours., to see which phase you’re in and fight against your next hormonal breakout.