Is Hormonal Acne Related to the Menstrual Cycle?
Most of us who get a period dread its approach – the mood swings, the cramps, and, of course, the predictable breakouts around the chin, mouth, or jaw. As frustrating as these symptoms are, they seem like a fact of life – normal bodily responses to changes in the menstrual cycle. The truth is none of these symptoms are “normal.” Periods aren’t supposed to be this dreadful. So why are we dealing with breakouts (and other annoying symptoms) in the first place?
The health of our skin relies on a delicate balance between three sex hormones – estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Throughout the menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone naturally fluctuate, while testosterone remains roughly the same. These fluctuations can cause some changes in the skin, but as long as these hormones fluctuate as expected throughout your cycle, and the proper ratios are maintained at any given time, these natural fluctuations shouldn’t be causing major skin concerns like acne.
Let’s take it back to elementary sex-ed and start with a brief summary of the four phases of the menstrual cycle because, let’s be honest, our 10-year-old selves probably didn’t absorb most of that information. So, here’s what’s meant to be happening with your body, hormones, and skin during each phase.
Menstrual Phase (lasts about 3-7 days)
The blood and tissue lining the uterus leave the body (resulting in your period) while follicles containing eggs develop in the ovaries. All sex hormones are at their lowest, meaning skin is usually clear, but can be slightly drier and duller.
Follicular Phase (lasts about 6-10 days)
One follicle continues growing while the others stop and are absorbed back into the ovaries. Estrogen levels rise to recreate the uterine lining and prepare it for egg implantation. These natural estrogens are actually good for your skin. They keep it hydrated, supple, and protected, and help balance the effects of testosterone, making it less oily.
Ovulatory Phase (lasts about 1 day)
The follicle ruptures and releases an egg from the ovary. During this short phase, estrogen reaches its peak before beginning to decline. With natural estrogen at its peak, your skin should be clear and glowing.
Luteal Phase (lasts about 2 weeks)
The egg travels through the fallopian tube towards the uterus. Progesterone starts to rise to prepare the uterus for a fertilized egg and, part way through this phase, estrogen rises again to support pregnancy in other ways (for example, by dilating milk ducts in breasts). If the egg is fertilized by sperm, it implants in the uterus, resulting in pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, estrogen and progesterone levels will drop as you approach the start of your period. In terms of skin, the increase in progesterone results in increased sebum production. Your skin may seem more oily, but it should still look healthy and balanced.
Now, let's talk acne. Hormonal breakouts are most common during the luteal phase. Many people assume that the natural increase in progesterone is what’s causing their period pimples. However, as we’ve discussed, if your hormones are fluctuating as expected, there shouldn’t be any breakouts or other hormonal symptoms. If acne is forming during this phase, it’s a sign that there’s disharmony amongst these hormonal fluctuations and you’re likely dealing with a hormonal imbalance known as estrogen dominance (too much estrogen compared to progesterone).
The luteal phase is the most problematic for those with estrogen dominance because it’s the only phase where progesterone is supposed to be higher than estrogen. If you’re dealing with relatively high levels of estrogen, estrogen may exceed progesterone levels, upsetting the hormone ratios that are expected at this time of the cycle. These relatively low levels of progesterone trigger an increase in levels of DHT, the acne-causing androgen, and result in excessive amounts of sebum production. In other phases of the cycle, estrogen is supposed to be higher than progesterone, so high levels of estrogen don’t cause the same degree of issues.
So, what can you do about it? There are several factors that could be causing a hormonal imbalance in your body. While genetics definitely plays a role, everything from the foods we eat to the products we use impacts our hormonal landscape, and therefore, the health of our skin. Eating organic, whole foods, using non-toxic products, and reducing stress levels as much as possible are all great places to start. That said, in today’s modern world, it’s impossible to completely avoid stress, chemicals, and, right now, inflation, so maintaining this type of lifestyle isn’t always easy. This is where supplements can be a huge help.
BALANCE is a natural supplement that’s proven to support healthy estrogen levels, for balanced hormones and acne-free skin. By helping your body process and eliminate excess estrogens, it helps ensure estrogen and progesterone stay balanced throughout your cycle, most noticeably in the second half – when high estrogen and its symptoms can become more problematic.
If you’ve been dealing with breakouts, painful periods, mood swings, or other hormonal symptoms, take our quiz to help determine if BALANCE could be the right fit for you.