HORMONE SERIES | The Deal with Premenstrual Acne
There are times when we finally think we've gotten our skin under control only to feel completely blindsided when we wake up to two or three new blemishes one seemingly random morning. Was it something we ate? A new skincare product? Before you let yourself be overcome by stress, take a look at the time of the month, or more specifically your "time of the month." Our skin changes throughout the month based on the predominant sex hormones at play. So that inexplicable glow or sudden onset puffiness might not be your imagination.
So what exactly is going on throughout your cycle?
During the first half of your cycle, estrogen is the predominant hormone and is responsible for keeping your skin looking lovely by counterbalancing testosterone and keeping sebum production normal. Around ovulation, there is a slight spike in testosterone and estrogen levels begin to naturally dip. Additionally, if ovulation has occurred, progesterone levels should begin to rise. Then right before bleeding, both estrogen and progesterone levels drop to their lowest points leaving testosterone at a relatively higher level.
Women typically experience breakouts during the luteal phase of their cycle (between ovulation and bleeding) and both testosterone and progesterone are to blame. Rising progesterone levels signal an increase in sebum production, but at the same time progesterone causes the skin to swell and pores to squeeze shut. This has the effect of trapping all of that sebum beneath the surface. At the same time, without the balancing presence of estrogen, testosterone further stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce even more sebum.
(Though not as commonly mentioned in reference to premenstrual acne, there is also an immune function dip in your luteal phase (to allow for implantation) that can exacerbate acne.)
For some these hormonal changes barely register and their skin stays fairly consistent throughout the month, while for others a visible increase in congestion is noticeable as their cycle progresses. This can mean an increase in whitehead, blackhead, or cystic activity (or all three!)
Keep in mind that there are times when the presence of acne can indicate a hormonal imbalance (typically coupled with an irregular cycle), but it's important to remember that the above fluctuations I described are normal and actually indicative of a healthy female cycle. So while it may not be ideal for you, a few pimples here and there before you menstruate isn't a sign that your hormones have gone haywire.
That being said, there are steps that you can take to minimize sebum production internally and keep your pores clear topically. This should help you avoid monthly flareups as much as possible. Most of my best tips for combatting this type of congestion are here and here, but to summarize:
- Eliminate/reduce sugar and dairy (particularly cow’s milk)
- Minimize your grain intake
- Try a spearmint tincture (a dropper 3x per day) or spearmint tea
- Consider DIM
- Supplement with probiotics, zinc, and fish oil
- Make friends with exfoliating acids, retinol, and a great mask! (My favorite products are listed on my Hair, Skin, & Body Resources page.)
The information presented on this web site is not intended to take the place of your personal physician’s advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here.