Let’s talk about periods. Some of us get away quite lightly, our periods passing by barely noticed. But for so many others, that ‘time of the month’ signals mood swings, cramps, breast tenderness, bloating, backache, headaches, the worry of having enough sanitary protection and period acne.
Yes, it isn’t just the tears, emotions, pains and tiredness that get us, our skin plays up too. As if feeling rubbish on the inside wasn’t enough, our skin decides it wants to make us feel under par on the outside too and period acne appears. And then it all disappears, only for it all to return just a few weeks later.
So why does period acne happen? Why does being on our period mean that our acne prone skin becomes a pain in the proverbial? And is there anything we can do about it?
Let’s take a look at period acne in more detail…
What Causes Period Acne?
Like most of the problems we experience when it comes to our periods, we can blame our hormones for the acne spots we experience when we’re on our period.
Throughout our menstrual cycle, our hormones are constantly fluctuating. They determine when our periods start, when they end, when we ovulate (release an egg) and when we’re at our most fertile. And they also determine our likelihood of developing acne before period pain sets in.
In particular, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are fluctuating, depending on where we are in our menstrual cycle. Just before we begin our period, the levels of oestrogen drop significantly, triggering the sebaceous glands in the skin to release more sebum.
Sebum is a natural substance produced by the skin. It’s responsible for keeping our skin supple and hydrated, but if it’s produced in excess, this oily, wax-like substance can cause greasy skin. It can also block the pores, leading to dirt, makeup and dead skin cells becoming trapped in the pores. This then leads to spots and acne breakouts.
So just before our period, our hormones are telling our skin to produce more sebum than we probably need, hence blocked pores and spots.
In the second half of our cycle, so in the two-ish weeks before our period, levels of progesterone rise. This can also make the skin feel oilier and can also cause the pores to swell, trapping dirt and oil inside, and causing yep, you guessed it, spots.
Annoyingly, there is also another hormone at play - testosterone. Often thought of as just a male hormone, testosterone is also present in female bodies (just generally to a much lesser extent that in male bodies).
Testosterone is a type of androgen, which if you read our blogs regularly, you’ll know are responsible for many of the problems we experience with our skin.
Androgens also trigger the release of sebum, which can lead to blocked pores and spots. Unlike oestrogen and progesterone, the levels of testosterone in a woman’s body tend to remain constant throughout the month. It’s only when oestrogen levels drop, that the balance of testosterone is relatively higher and able to have its effect on the sebaceous glands.
The effects of all these hormones create the perfect environment for non conformist, stressed out skin making acne before our period a monthly reality.
What Does Period Acne Look Like?
If you’re wondering if you’re suffering from period breakouts, a good test is to keep a skin diary and make a note over three or four months of when your skin tends to break out, or your acne prone skin gets worse. Also, keep a note of the dates of your periods. You can use one of the many period tracking apps available to also record both.
Period breakouts usually appear in the few days before your period starts, so if you’ve noticed this pattern in your diary or app, then the chances are, your skin is suffering the effects of period acne.
Another good test is to take a good look at your skin to discover what your suspected period breakouts look like. Spots and acne breakouts caused by your period are more likely to look like red, inflamed papules (red bumps under the skin that don’t usually have a head, aren’t squeezable, and often hurt to the touch).
These kinds of period related spots usually affect the lower part of the face more, including the chin, jawline, neck and lower cheeks.
Is it Normal to Get Acne Before My Period?
Given all of the hormonal factors that control when our periods start and end, it’s completely normal for your skin to start breaking out before your period.
If this sounds like your skin, then you’re not alone. Far from it - it’s thought that around 65% of us say their acne prone skin appears worse in the days leading up to their period.
How Can I Prevent Getting Period Pimples?
If you have period related acne, then you can help to support and nourish your skin from the outside by using skincare products throughout the month that have been specially developed to support non conformist skin.
Our collection of cleansers, day and night moisturisers, serums and supplements are made using silica salts that alkalise the skin, helping to keep acne and other skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis under control. We developed them because we too have stressed out skin that doesn’t respond well to other skincare products.
You can also use exfoliating products that contain salicylic acid, a type of fruit acid that gently removes the top layers of skin. This helps to clear the pores and rid the skin of dead skin cells and cellular debris that can become trapped in the pores by excess sebum and lead to spots and period pimples.
How Do I Get Rid of Period Acne?
At Sönd we truly believe in the power of a holistic approach to skin management, especially if we suffer from the effects of skin that breaks out into acne spots regularly. This means using the right skincare products, eating well, exercising and avoiding stress.
But if your skin is still breaking out, then there are other ways you can help to manage your period acne by managing your hormones.
One way is to take the oral contraceptive pill that will help to regulate your hormonal fluctuations. Your GP will be able to provide more information and help you decide if the contraceptive pill is right for your needs.
When Does Period Acne Go Away?
Just like PMS, you should notice that your period acne gets better once your period has ended. This does mean that it will tend to return at the same point in your cycle each month, so your period acne may always cause you problems until your periods stop. (You may also notice that your skin becomes worse when you’re going through the menopause, and again this is caused by your hormones and should clear up once your menopause is over.)
Try supporting your skin with the right skincare such as ours here at Sönd for a few months to see what difference it can make for your skin each month.
Extra Tips to Help Manage Your Period Acne
A healthy diet is one that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, along with wholegrain carbs such as brown bread, pasta and rice. Protein-wise, aim for lean cuts of meat if you eat meat, such as chicken or turkey breast, along with white fish and eggs. Plant-based protein sources include tofu and other soya products, beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds. Healthy fats should be included too, such as oily fish, avocados and walnuts.
Eating such a healthy diet that’s rich in antioxidants will support the health of your skin, as well as all the other parts of your body.
Both are inflammatory foods that can raise insulin levels that in turn can cause an increase in androgens and sebum - a bad mix for acne prone skin.
Finally, don’t be tempted to overload your skin with a plethora of skincare products that all promise to do the same thing - reduce your acne breakouts. Keep things simple with a skincare regime such as ours here at Sönd and give your skin all it needs to stay happy and healthy.
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.