While a woman’s ability to conceive and give birth is a miracle of nature, it comes with some side effects that aren’t quite as wonderful.
The menstrual cycle for women is often accompanied by cramps, bloating and moodiness, and if you’re one of the 63% of acne-prone women who also experience acne breakouts along with their period, it may seem like too much to handle.
No, Mother Nature is not conspiring against you. There are specific reasons why acne flares up during this time. Understanding the process can help you deal with it both emotionally and physically.
What causes menstrual acne?
As with many other side effects, acne flare-ups with menstruation originate with hormones. Progesterone levels rise during the second half of the cycle, boosting the levels of sebum production. Sebum is an oil that lubricates your skin but excessive levels can clog pores, leading to infection and inflammation that creates acne lesions.
Flare-ups are compounded by testosterone, which also generates production of sebum. Women produce testosterone in small quantities that remain level throughout the month, but as estrogen levels fall off during the cycle, testosterone winds up being the most plentiful hormone immediately before and during the menstruation cycle.
To complete the trifecta, estrogen levels decrease at the same time progesterone levels rise. The two hormones usually form a harmonious partnership to keep your skin smooth and well-hydrated, but a recession in estrogen disrupts the balance, allowing progesterone to dominate.
Don’t forget about stress
If you’re prone to stress before or during your period, it fires up your immune system which reacts by creating an inflammatory response, making your skin more susceptible to irritation and breakouts. While stress is not a direct cause of menstruation triggered acne, it certainly aggravates the condition and makes it more difficult to control.
Characteristics of menstrual acne
Menstrual acne will normally begin to occur from one week to 10 days before the start of your period, subsiding once bleeding begins and typically fading away when your period ends. Breakouts are often times cystic in nature, appearing as tender red bumps, and are found most frequently on your chin, jawline and neck.
Treatments for menstrual acne
- Use a gentle cleanser rather than a scrubbing product that can irritate your skin and spread bacteria. Keep hands and other objects away from your face, particularly the area around your mouth.
- Look for facial products and make-up labeled “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic“, which will avoid clogging pores.
- Some women find relief by reducing or eliminating dairy products, which can contain hormones that can create an inflammatory response.
- Birth control pills raise estrogen levels while also producing proteins that “absorb” excess testosterone. Talk to your gynecologist to determine if this may be a solution for you.
- Consult with a dermatologist to discuss oral or topical medications.
- Severe cases may respond to a low-dose antibiotic such as tetracycline.
While the menstrual cycle is an integral part of being a healthy female, acne breakouts don’t have to be. Try these suggestions and find the treatments for how to get clear skin that will work best for you.