Fact: 60 percent of women experience hormonal acne around that time of the month. Typically you can just pop on a spot treatment and call it a day, but beauty’s latest trend — “skin care cycling” — could help curb these flare-ups and other skin concerns. That’s because your menstrual cycle ultimately has the final say in what your skin looks like, and switching up the products you use according to your menstrual cycle is an effective way to combat skin changes that’ll inevitably arise as there’s a surge or drop in hormone levels.
According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King, the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, and something is happening with your hormone levels on each of these days. What does this mean for your skin? It could err on the side of being dry, oily, more radiant, or acne-prone depending on which stage of your cycle you’re in at that moment. Skin care cycling involves altering your skin care routine to address these changes with the goal of getting the most out of your products and helping your skin to look and feel its best.
To understand how to do this effectively, it’s important to become familiar with the main hormones at play during a typical cycle: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. “Estrogen is the hormone that keeps your skin plump, dewy, and radiant,” says nutritionist, naturopath, and founder of Edible Beauty Australia, Anna Mitsios. “It helps to promote collagen production, increase the skin’s hyaluronic acid levels, and maintain the structural integrity of the skin barrier function, which means the skin is more resilient and less prone to sensitivity.”
Progesterone shares similar characteristics to estrogen in that it improves skin elasticity, but it can also stimulate sebum production. Finally, testosterone (aka the male hormone) is often the main culprit for hormonal acne, and it stays at a fairly constant level throughout the cycle.
How to Skin Care Cycle
Estrogen is the dominant hormone during the first half of the cycle after menstruation (welcome, glowing skin) and progesterone is the dominant hormone during the second half (hello, oily skin). Then, levels of both estrogen and progesterone fall to their lowest levels as bleeding approaches, leaving behind relatively high testosterone levels. The result? You’re likely left with oily skin, clogged pores, and inflammatory acne. Keep reading to learn how to manage your skin care routine during each stage of your cycle.
Days 1 To 7
On the first day of your period (and the following five to six days after), estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban says that it’s during this time that skin may feel instantly drier, duller, tighter, and generally lackluster. Your skin barrier function may also be compromised, which means irritants and external aggressors are more likely to enter the skin. Finally, you may notice your skin is more reactive or sensitive during menstruation.
The key during this phase of your cycle is to balance and re-hydrate the skin in a way that doesn’t increase sensitivity. This means opting for an anti-inflammatory moisturizer, or one with essential fatty acids such as linoleic and oleic, says Dr. Shamban. Antioxidant-rich oils that reduce transepidermal water loss (think: jojoba, baobab, and moringa) can also help with moisturizing and brightening the skin. Mitsios also recommends upping the ante on products with shea and cocoa butter to build skin moisture levels and improve skin resilience. Finally, avoid using active ingredients such as retinol, glycolics, and lactic acid, as your skin may be hypersensitive to such ingredients during this time.
Days 8 To 16
Your period is over with and your body is preparing for ovulation. Now’s the time when estrogen production begins (finally) ramping up again, and you’re about to sport your greatest glow ever. This surge in estrogen results in plump, hydrated, brighter, and clearer-looking skin.
With estrogen at its peak, newer, stronger skin cells are forming. Use this time to focus on giving your skin a proper exfoliation to assist with cell turnover, which can also pre-empt a move towards an oilier complexion post-ovulation, says Mitsios. Also, this is the perfect time to load up on products containing anti-aging ingredients, like retinol, to support your body’s natural increase in collagen production. Go for water-based serums and lightweight lotions to maximize the plump skin you’re sporting during this time.
Days 17 To 24
Progesterone becomes the dominant hormone post-ovulation and oil production is at an all-time high, creating the perfect storm for blemishes to make an appearance. As oil production is revved up, incorporate a clay-based mask into your routine to soak up excess sebum and eliminate pore-clogging bacteria. Dr. Shamban also recommends a gentle yet clarifying cleansing routine, as well as topical products like salicylic acid and mandelic acid to minimize acne.
Days 25 to 28
Your body is prepping for menstruation yet again, and you’re about to cross the PMS finish line. Estrogen and progesterone levels dip and testosterone remains the power player, leading to clogged pores and breakouts as well as general inflammation and puffy skin.
Bring out your formulas that contain anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory botanicals at this stage, especially ones containing the beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) salicylic acid. Says Dr. King: “Salicylic acid is an excellent pore-clearing ingredient because it exfoliates the surface of the skin and penetrates into pores to remove oil. This helps to prevent pores from becoming clogged, and is a great ingredient for for treating and preventing comedonal acne (aka blackheads and whiteheads).”
Ready to stock up on a few new products to sync your skin care routine to your cycle? Check out five vetted favorites below.
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Loading up on hydration-packed oils is key in the first few days of your cycle when your skin is anything but radiant (aka when menstruation begins). Cue this antioxidant-rich blend of superfood oils that gives all the suppleness without the grease. Dull skin won’t stand a chance.
A liquid exfoliating solution that promises to replenish and soften skin is just what your skin needs pre-ovulation. Try Philosophy’s Microdelivery Resurfacing Solution — it minimizes the look of pores, improves hydration, and supports your newfound glow thanks to a blend of hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and peptides.
Youthful, glowing skin is staring back at you during ovulation as estrogen levels rise, making this an opportune time to amp up your anti-aging routine. This skin-rejuvenating serum from Obagi Clinical uses plant growth factors and stem cells to tackle the common aging signs like fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.
Though you may be tempted to nix moisturizing post-ovulation as sebum production increases, hydration is still important during this stage of your cycle. The key is to go for a lightweight formula that supports oily skin, such as this one from Ole Henriksen that also contains salicylic acid to ward off acne flare-ups.
Hormonally imbalanced skin requires something powerful enough to unclog pores and clear acne, which these peel pads provide thanks to their makeup of 10% glycolic acid and 2% salicylic acid. Plus, aloe vera, witch hazel, and vitamin E help to calm irritation associated with flare-ups.