Every woman knows how PMS affects us, but do you really know why this happens?
The symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) are felt by most women every month. They are diverse and vary from woman to woman, and can be on several levels - physical, mental and emotional. However, there are symptoms that occur more often at this stage of the menstrual cycle (a week to two before menstruation), and these are mood swings, abdominal cramps, irritability, changes in appetite, digestive problems, and most importantly for us - the appearance of acne.
You are bloated, and above all, your skin is dishonorable. Welcome to the secrets of your menstrual cycle and the effect of hormones on your skin. On certain days of the month, your complexion shines with health; other days you are struggling with the worst case of hormonal acne. Want to predict which days your skin will be beautiful or grotesque? Here’s how to monitor hormonal changes in the skin and treat the skin according to the menstrual cycle.
Three hormones affect your skin during your menstrual cycle: estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones fluctuate throughout your cycle, and their ratio of changes causes changes in the appearance and feel of your skin.
Estrogen is the predominant hormone in the first half of your menstrual cycle. This hormone stimulates the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid, thus affecting the structural integrity of your skin and moisture retention. When estrogen is at its peak, your skin looks thick, hydrated and wrinkle-free.
In the second half of the cycle, progesterone rises. Progesterone stimulates the production of sebum and, as it grows, causes your skin to swell and constrict pores. This compression can lead to oil accumulation and hormonal breakthroughs.
Testosterone remains constant throughout your cycle and takes the lead when estrogen and progesterone fall during menstruation. Like progesterone, testosterone activates the sebaceous glands, encouraging them to produce more oil. The result: Excess sebum and clogged pores, both of which contribute to acne during menstruation.
The most important things to know:
- Your skin changes in response to hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone
- If you have oily skin type, you may notice an increase in facial fat before and during menstruation
- Acne attacks are common during the premenstrual and menstrual periods
Your skin is one of the largest and most important organs in the body. It forms a protective physical barrier, regulates your temperature and provides a way to remove fluids such as sweat and oil.
There is no "standard normal" condition for your skin, as it will change as you age and go through different stages. Your skin can also change with the outside climate or with diseases.
You may have noticed changes in your skin - especially on the skin of your face - starting with puberty. Your skin responds to many signals, including your hormones, through many receptors.
How hormones can cause oily skin
Many of the changes in the skin that you might experience at puberty and later in life are the result of small glands called sebaceous glands. These sebaceous glands produce and secrete a fatty substance called sebum. Beginning at puberty, the sebaceous glands enlarge and begin to secrete sebum, with most sebum secreted between the ages of 15-35. The medical term for the condition of oily skin is called seborrhea and has various causes.
The sebaceous glands, like many other parts of the skin, have receptors that are affected by sex hormones. These glands are most dramatically affected by androgens, male sex hormones like testosterone but present in both sexes. These androgens increase sebum production during puberty in both sexes. When more androgens bind to sebaceous gland receptors, more sebum is produced. This can lead to more noticeable oily skin and can develop into acne.
Sebum production can change during the menstrual cycle. The effect that estrogen has on sebum production is still unclear. Estrogen has been shown to suppress sebum production levels and gland activation, especially at high doses. But how natural fluctuations in estrogen during the menstrual cycle affect the skin is harder to understand. In one study in women with oily skin, an increase in sebum production occurred during the week preceding menstruation, and also during the week of menstruation. The week with the least amount of sebum production occurred during the second week of the menstrual cycle. No significant changes in sebum production were measured in women without oily skin type. Because hormone levels were not measured in this study, the researchers could not say whether the changes in skin oil were undoubtedly due to changes in hormone levels.
Many other factors play a role in sebum levels: genetics, seasonal change, excessive sun exposure, and overuse or abuse of skin care products can affect the oiliness of your skin.
A deeper study of estrogen: how it affects skin health
Although it is still unclear how much estrogen affects the sebaceous glands, estrogen plays a prominent role in overall skin health. Estrogen has been linked to increased collagen production, skin thickness, skin hydration, wound healing, and improved protective function. One study found that 2 out of 5 women self-report more sensitive skin during menstruation, which researchers suspect could be due to low estrogen levels during this phase. Many of the ways researchers study the effects of estrogen on the skin compare menopausal women (who have higher estrogen levels) with menopausal women (who have lower estrogen levels). In the study cited above, a third of postmenopausal and perimenopausal women also noticed that increased skin sensitivity after menopause - a time when estrogen levels decrease.
Acne and the menstrual cycle
When high androgen levels encourage excessive sebum production, sebum can combine with dead skin cells within the pores, causing blockage. This blockage of the pores can trap any excess sebum that is created and manifest as acne. These sebum-filled pores are an ideal place for bacteria to live.
Acne (vulgar acne) is one of the most commonly reported skin diseases associated with your cycle. The period associated with hormonal breakthroughs is very often in the perimenstrual phase (10 days before menstruation, plus days of bleeding). T
he reasons for hormonal acne are still unclear, but there are some theories. Some researchers think that before the start of the period there is not enough estrogen to promote its “anti-sebum” effects. Without high estrogen, androgens increase sebum production, leading to increased pore clogging and the living environment for P. acnes. Other theories suggest that hormonal acne could be caused by a lack or imbalance in the ratio of progesterone to estrogen. More research is needed.
Women and people with a cycle who have higher androgen levels, such as people who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), are more likely to have acne, as well as excessive hair growth and female pattern hair loss. Trans men may also notice an increase in acne lesions during the first year of taking testosterone, but this should decrease after long-term use of testosterone.
Some people see a reduction in the number of acne on hormonal contraceptives, which is why oral contraceptives are sometimes used to treat acne. Synthetic estrogen is present within the combined contraceptive pill in doses that suppress ovulation. When ovulation does not occur, ovarian androgens are not produced.
Not all acne is related to the menstrual or hormonal cycle. Acne mainly affects people of all genders and ages. Genetics, diet, and stress attacks can also affect acne, but more research is needed here.
Acne treatment can improve self-esteem and quality of life. Acne outbreaks may not be a matter of hygiene, but how carefully you treat your skin around the day of increased skin sensitivity.
Phases of sweating and the menstrual cycle
The body’s ability to sweat also changes during your cycle. Your basal body temperature rises in the luteal phase (second half of your cycle). The researchers noted that women in the luteal phase show an increase in sweat that occurs when they are exposed to warmer temperatures, compared to when they were in the follicular phase (the first half of the menstrual cycle). This increase in sweating is noticed not only on the face but also on the whole body.
Dry skin and menstrual cycle
Dryer skin than you would like is very common, especially during cold seasons or dry climates. Dry skin is also affected by genetics and it can become more prevalent with age. Dermatitis, psoriasis and other skin conditions or diseases can worsen during the premenstrual phase.
Your skin may change in response to hormonal variations that occur during your cycle. You may notice differences in acne attacks, skin hydration, elasticity, and wound healing ability at different times of your cycle.
What to expect during the cycle
During your menstrual cycle, your skin may seem to have its own mind. However, its seemingly mysterious patterns are often linked to your hormone levels. Here’s what you can expect from your skin during a 28-day cycle.
On the first day of menstruation, all hormones are at the lowest level. Sebum production can be reduced, and without the help of estrogen, your skin may have difficulty retaining moisture. As a result, your skin is likely to look dull, dry and shiny.
During this first week, your body also produces more prostaglandins. These compounds with hormonal effects usually control inflammation, but when in balance, they increase sensitivity to pain. This can make your skin feel softer and more reactive.
Skin Care Tip: Your skin feels sensitive, so stay away from painful procedures like waxing. It is also incredibly dry and benefits from rehydration with a serum or moisturizer rich in hyaluronic acid.
During this time, your body restarts estrogen production. This procedure stimulates the production of collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid, stimulating the growth of stronger and more elastic skin cells. As skin cells change, your complexion feels more thick, fresh and youthful.
Skin Care Tip: Focus on exfoliation these days. New skin cells are being created and it is a fantastic time to intensify the traffic process. Try a gentle physical or chemical peel to remove dead cells from the surface of the skin and reveal healthy skin beneath.
Just before ovulation, estrogen is at its peak and your skin looks sensational. During this time, moisture levels are high, pores are smaller, and an increase in collagen and elastin works wonders.
Skin Care Tip: Now is not the time to sit nicely! Enhance your body’s natural walk in collagen production with solutions that reduce the visible signs of aging. Reach for products that contain natural alternatives to retinol and botanical peptides to keep your skin vibrant and youthful.
After ovulation, estrogen levels drop sharply and progesterone begins to rise. A sudden rise in progesterone activates sebum production and causes your skin to swell and pores to shrink. While this makes your pores look tiny (yay), they also retain oil and cause build-up that can lead to breakthrough (yuck).
Skin Care Tip: Add a clay mask to your skin care routine to soak up excess oil and remove impurities from deep pores.
You are entering the entire territory of PMS and may be suffering from hormonal acne symptoms. Progesterone and estrogen fall below testosterone levels, causing bloating, bloating and an excessive supply of oil. Your skin can look extremely shiny, and as your pores sag, they can start to look bigger. The oil found in your pores can mix with the bacteria that cause acne and lead to an eruption of hormonal breakouts across the chin and jaw.
Skin care tip: Two words: Salicylic acid. This beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) removes blockages, kills bacteria and prevents future outbreaks.
How to fight hormonal acne
Hormonal acne is a struggle for more than fifty percent of women. It usually occurs in adulthood and can be triggered by hormonal ups and downs of the menstrual cycle. Hormonal shoots are deep, and painful cysts that tend to appear on the lower third of the face where androgen spikes have the greatest impact. There are two ways to fight hormonal acne internally (diet) and externally (skin care).
You can help hormonal skin by limiting your intake of foods that cause inflammation like sugar, dairy products and refined carbohydrates. You can also add foods that fight excess androgens, such as healthy fats, omega-3 fatty acids, leafy vegetables, and high-zinc items, to your diet.
Birth control pills can help prevent acne by keeping acne-causing hormones under control. Tablets that contain estrogen and progestin (a synthetic artificial form of progesterone) can help prevent hormonal acne. For more information on how contraception affects your skin you can read here.