Aside from the whole “bleeding for a few days every month” thing, periods can bring about a whole host of fun side effects.`
Periods are a whole lot of fun (not). Aside from the whole “bleeding for a few days every month” thing, periods can bring about a whole host of fun side effects like painful cramps, cravings, mood changes, and unfortunately, acne breakouts.
But your cycle’s effect on your skin doesn’t just last the week of your period. It turns out that our menstrual cycles determine how our skin varies week by week, thanks to hormone changes.
“Your skin is sensitive to hormones,” says Marnie Nussbaum, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “It’s why when we went through puberty, hormones changed our voice and hair.”
The main hormones in action are estrogen and progesterone, which rise and fall throughout the month. “During the first half of your menstrual cycle, estrogen is the predominant hormone because it is helping the body prepare for pregnancy, and then you have progesterone during the second half to maintain the lining of the uterus if an embryo is developed,” says Nussbaum.
Whichever hormone is in play affects how your skin looks and feels during that particular time. We broke it down week by week to find out exactly what's going on with your skin throughout your menstrual cycle.
Oh hey, Aunt Flo! Your period marks the first day of your menstrual cycle, and while you’re dealing with bleeding and cramps, you may notice that your pimples are fading away. That's because your skin is becoming less inflamed and oily due to the decrease in progesterone that comes with your period, says Nussbaum.
As the progesterone subsides, estrogen begins to kick in, which could cause your skin to get a little drier than normal.
Nussbaum recommends using a little more moisturizer, but be careful—your skin is still recovering from the progesterone-related breakouts from earlier in the week.
Also, your skin—especially down there—is extra sensitive during your period. “The blood flow is more concentrated in the vaginal area,” says Nussbaum. Hold off on your bikini wax until the next week.
Now that your period is donezo, your body is preparing itself again to get pregnant by maturing an egg in your ovary and building up the lining of the uterus to support a potential embryo, says Nussbaum.
Your estrogen levels continue to rise, which counteracts progesterone and testosterone, the two hormones that can contribute to your acne, says Nussbaum.
Your pimples will die down, but your pores might look a little larger this week. This is when your skin will look the clearest—your selfie game will be extra on-point this week.
If you’re so inclined, use this week for any bikini waxing needs. The estrogen also helps with the suppleness of your skin, making it less sensitive to pain, Nussbaum adds.
Your body is giving off serious signs that it’s time for some babymaking action. You’re horny, your cheeks are rosy, and you’ll notice your skin feels extra greasy. That’s because post-ovulation, your estrogen is plummeting and your progesterone levels are starting to rise, says Nussbaum.
“The rise in progesterone causes the skin to swell and compress the pores,” says Nussbaum. That creates a build-up of sebum, oil produced by the hair follicles in your face.
That sebum gets trapped under pores, which are beginning to decrease in size, and gets mixed with dead skin cells and bacteria, says Nussbaum.
This is the perfect time to add an astringent to your skincare routine, suggests Nussbaum. “Astringents usually remove excess oil and dirt on the skin,” she says.
“However, if they are alcohol-based, they may inflame the skin or dry it out too much. There are newer ones that are glycerin-based, which can actually help moisturize.”
Hello PMS. As mentioned, during ovulation, excess sebum gets produced and trapped under your pores, mixing with dead skin cells and bacteria. That bacteria feeds off of the sebum, producing inflammation and breakouts on the chin, jawline, and even some body acne, says Nussbaum.
Cortisol, testosterone, and progesterone levels are all up as the body gets ready to shed its uterine lining, which causes stress. All of the hormone levels subsequently fall as bleeding begins.
The skin then reacts to stress by getting inflamed. “When you have the sebum clogging and inflammation, it causes acne,” says Nussbaum.
In other words, time to load up on acne busters until things calm down again next week!