Period Acne: Your Ultimate Guide
Everything you need to know about your period acne and how to deal with it
Fact checked by Grzegorz Stanislawski, MD
With all of the cramping and bloating that periods bring, you’d think that mother nature would give us a break. However, if you’re like 65% of women (1), then you also have the struggle of dealing with an increase in breakouts and irritation around that time. Just another thing to make periods more miserable!
But don’t worry! There are many steps you can take to understand the cause, manage your symptoms,
and feel more comfortable in your own skin.
In our previous article, we discussed how “female hormone” fluctuations can affect your skin. Now, we’re going to take a deeper dive into how those fluctuations affect you during your menstrual cycle, and what you can do about it.
Why does my skin get worse on my period?
Acne, of course, can have a plethora of causes that are difficult to pinpoint. Though, if you notice more breakouts starting right before your period specifically, then hormones might be the culprit. In particular, the estrogen, progesterone, and androgens in your body, and what their levels are.
Right before your period, your levels of both estrogen and progesterone make a steep drop, while your levels of androgens remain. This sends a signal to the sebaceous glands in your skin to secrete additional sebum (oil) that can become clogged in your pores and potentially cause breakouts if you have more acne-prone skin.
Want to learn more about how your period influences your acne? Check out our app to get personalized insights into your skin health through our cycle tracking system.
What are estrogen and progesterone?
So, estrogen is a hormone that essentially just tells a female body to develop with female characteristics, including breast growth, body hair, regulating the menstrual cycle, and more.
Progesterone often goes hand in hand with estrogen, but is more specifically involved in regulating ovulation and the menstrual cycle.
What are androgens?
Androgens are a group of hormones that both men and women produce, the most well-known probably being testosterone.
They’re a crucial part of growth and development, stimulating puberty, the growth of hair, muscles, bones, and sexual function.
In addition, they’re also the main culprit behind hormonally-induced acne.
Many teenagers end up dealing with worse breakouts during their puberty years for the simple reason that androgens have a stronger effect on the body during that period of growth.
So…why is this happening?
These fluctuations (2) are a normal and necessary part of the menstrual cycle we go through every month and drive the progression of your cycle.
According to our dermatologist Dr. med. Grzegorz Stanislawski, during the rest of the month, the normal levels of estrogen and progesterone present in the body have a somewhat mediating effect on your androgens.
So when they drop (3), androgen levels go unchecked for a time and can cause a variety of changes to your skin.
Before and during
While these hormone drops have an effect before your period, what about during?
Well, the drop in levels tends to really only happen during that initial stage. During your period, your levels of both hormones tend to return to their normal states, and most people find that their breakouts tend to reduce.
In fact, in one study (1), while 56% of women reported acne flare-ups in the week before their period, just 17% reported the flare-ups continuing.
Period Acne and the pill
Many women have noticed that going on the contraceptive pill has contributed to a decrease in their acne breakouts (4) around the time of their period.
It turns out that going on the pill can also have the effect of regulating your hormonal acne, as these pills work by introducing additional estrogen and progesterone into your body. The increased presence of these hormones prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg cell and makes changes to the lining of your uterus. But as we learned before, their presence also moderates the effects of androgens in your body, preventing an excess of sebum and clogged pores.
So essentially, a win-win! However, of course, there has to be a catch.
If you’ve ever had friends complain of negative experiences with the pill, then you know that the system works differently for everyone.
In particular, progestin-only pills can actually have the effect of making acne worse (5) for some people! So steer clear and stick to the options that combine both estrogen and progesterone.
Getting off the pill and Acne
If you’ve been on the pill for a while, then getting off of it can sometimes be a bit of an ordeal.
Whether you’re looking to get pregnant or to manage other hormonal symptoms, there are many reasons to stop.
One of the unfortunate side effects can be a worsening of your breakouts in the aftermath, especially around the 3-6 month mark.
If you’d like a more in-depth look at the science of post-pill acne and how to treat it, please check out our previous article where we give you all the details!
How to treat “Period Acne”
While this might all seem super frustrating, there are many ways to alleviate your period acne symptoms.
One key way is to look into certain medications (like the contraceptives that we mentioned) that can help regulate your hormones for you and prevent excess oil.
Another way to help lessen symptoms is to invest in a dedicated daily skincare routine of cleansing, exfoliating, spot treating, and moisturizing.
If you’re looking for a straight forward, science-backed approach to maintaining your skincare routine, our routine building app gives you all the tools you need to effectively manage your acne-prone skin.
Skin Health Program
There's more to life than skincare, but tell that to anyone dealing with difficult acne prone skin!
We believe that everything has an impact on your skin's health. So, our app offers:
A 6-week skin health program designed by experts
A face scan to monitor your progress
Skincare and lifestyle tracking
We believe in demystifying skincare
There is no one-size fits all solution for acne prone skin: even though pimples form the same way every time, the factors that lead to breakouts are different for everyone.
We’re all about finding what works for you and helping you to exclude one possible trigger factor at a time. Download our app and start your journey with us, today.
At the end of the day, the best approach is always to consult with your dermatologist about what method is best for you and your individual skin.
If you’d like even more of your questions answered, feel free to come check out our monthly Live on Instagram. Our dermatologist Dr. Greg will be available to answer all of your burning skin questions, so mark it in your calendar and hop on!
- Geller L, Rosen J, Frankel A, Goldenberg G. Perimenstrual flare of adult acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(8):30-34.
- Reed BG, Carr BR. The normal menstrual cycle and the control of ovulation. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054/?report=printable. Published August 5, 2018. Accessed February 10, 2022.
- Farage MA, Neill S, MacLean AB. Physiological changes associated with the menstrual cycle. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey. 2009;64(1):58-72. doi:10.1097/ogx.0b013e3181932a37
- Arowojolu AO, Gallo MF, Grimes DA, Garner SE. Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2003. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd004425
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Minipill (progestin-only birth control pill). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/minipill/about/pac-20388306. Published December 29, 2020. Accessed February 10, 2022.
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