How to beat your breakout cycle
If we were making a “least favourite things” list, pimples and periods would be together at the top. This proximity would be fitting, as they’re inextricably (and frustratingly) linked. Yep, not only does your menstrual cycle provide the endless joys of bloating, cramps and general discomfort, it also can cause a face full of angry acne. And whilst your body’s natural succession is generally unavoidable, there are definitely some healing hacks that can help you combat what’s coming. Here are our tips for beating your breakout cycle.
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How does your breakout cycle work?
There are three major hormonal players when it comes to your breakout cycle: estrogen, testosterone and progesterone. Acne occurs as a result of the fluctuation in the levels of each of these hormones, as well as the interplay between them – it’s a complicated love triangle that can wreak havoc on your complexion if not treated correctly at the right times. It starts with estrogen; most commonly, breakouts will occur about seven to ten before your period actually begins (yep, it’s a never-ending cycle of fun; when the acne is gone, the cramps kick in). This pre-period phase is when estrogen is at its lowest. Your testosterone levels, however, stay fairly constant throughout the monthly cycle, so as your estrogen drops, your testosterone is relatively higher. Testosterone, when holding more of the power, stimulates the sebaceous glands, causing them to secrete more sebum than usual.The effects of excess sebum can show differently in everyone’s skin; some lucky souls (with skin on the drier side) may just see an uplift in dewiness, whilst for others this extra oil could be the very thing that triggers your premenstrual acne. However, the true cause is usually a combination of the higher testosterone levels paired with the workings of the final hormone involved: meet progesterone. Your progesterone levels rise throughout the second half of your cycle, and whilst it can make your skin oily like testosterone, progesterone also causes your pores to swell shut, trapping the oil inside and creating a breeding ground for bacteria (aka a pimple’s dream environment). Not ideal. Now that we’ve nailed down the science, let’s get to the solutions.
What are the phases of your breakout cycle?
The Acne Phase
If you’re ten to seven days from the start of your period, you’ve entered the acne-prone zone. This means it’s time to seriously up your cleansing game. Dial up the diligence with a double cleanse in the night and an effective AHA one in the A.M to ensure you’re removing all traces of dirt, sebum and makeup possible. A facial steam is also effective for clearing out swollen pores, plus, it’s a relaxing way to unwind after a long (and depending on the exact timing of your cycle, potentially cramp-filled) day. Follow with a clay mask to clear out any remaining impurities while your pores are prepped for extracting, as this step allows sebum to flow out more easily. Good riddance.
The Dry Phase
Whilst your body is struggling once your period hits, your skin is actually in recovery mode – set your harsh cleansers aside for a few days and focus on regeneration and hydration. A line-up of replenishing oils and moisturisers should do the trick. Add some extra hydrating heroes into your topical routine, whilst also nourishing from the inside with healthy fats and heaps of H20.
The Dull Phase
Once the worst is over, and the acne-inflammation is going down, skin can definitely appear duller than usual. A moisturising mask in the evening is a great way to replenish radiance – reach for brightening ingredients like Vitamin C and soothing saviours such as Aloe Vera to illuminate and calm your complexion.
The Clear Phase
You’ve made it. Firstly, congrats. Secondly, there’s still work to do. This stage of your cycle is when your skin should be at its clearest, but that’s no reason to ditch your routine. Prep for the next round by keeping up an exfoliation schedule – a good clear out once a week should be enough during this phase, but opt for powerhouse ingredients such as Salicylic Acid to keep your pores in their prime. The more balanced your skin is going into the hormonal acne stage, the better chance you have of keeping your complexion clear. Also, take advantage of the best of the four phases by rocking a bare face once in a while – do it for your future mid-cycle self, who will no doubt look back on your clear, carefree glow with envy.
Bh loves: Paula’s Choice Clear Pore Normalising Cleanser ($20, paulaschoice.com.au), Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser ($23, mecca.com.au)
Is there anything non-product related you can do?
Absolutely. Topicals aren’t the only options for keeping acne away – there are some super simple lifestyle rules you should follow to keep blemishes at bay, and they all start with keeping bacteria away from your face. The main one? Hands off. At all times. If you’re not cleansing or applying skincare, keep those paws off your face. As your chin and jawline are the areas most vulnerable to hormonal acne, try to keep other contaminated objects away from them as well – even culprits that seem innocent, like your phone, could be causing frustrating flare-ups. Think about all the places you carry and leave your phone, and consider whether you would want the germs transferred directly to your face. No? Great. Take that next phone call via your Airpods - you won’t regret it.
Main image credit: Getty Images
What stage of your breakout cycle is the toughest for you? Do you have any tips for dealing with hormonal acne?