Some of the most frustrating (and hardest-to-hide) side effects of your monthly cycle are the ones that show up on your skin. Think: breakouts, redness, and unwanted shine. Ugh. With so many external factors—pollution, makeup, sun exposure—affecting your skin daily, it can be tricky to completely understand what’s happening during your menstrual cycle.
To get a better grasp on what the heck is going on, we spoke with top dermatologists to break down the effect hormones have on your skin and how you can deal during those trying times. With just a few products and a deeper understanding of your own body, you can totally cope with period skin.
How to deal:
Your skin is actually in recovery mode during your period, so avoid harsh cleansers and stay on top of moisturizing both morning and night. “The skin’s surface should be properly hydrated to allow for best healing,” Weiser says. If you’re someone who experiences blotchy redness thanks to the high levels of prostaglandin, add a drop of tea tree oil to turn your moisturizer into an anti-inflammatory hydrator. We like The Body Shop's tea tree oil ($18, thebodyshop.com).
How to deal: During the beginning of this week, maintain your regular skin care regimen with a gentle cleanser and moisturizer. Toward the end of the week, you may want to introduce a chemical exfoliant in the form of a salicylic acid-based cleanser to your routine. “This will help remove excess oil from the skin and exfoliate dead skin cells to keep the pores clear,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It will also even out your skin tone and improve texture. He recommends the drugstore favorite, Neutrogena oil-free acne wash ($5.99, amazon.com).
How to deal: Keep your oil production balanced by using a salicylic acid cleanser every other day. Although moisturizer may seem like the last thing your skin needs when it's at max grease, continue to use your moisturizer every night to maintain your skin’s barrier function and reduce sensitivity. After all, oil (sebum) and reparative moisture (hydration) are two completely different things.
How to manage it: Since this is when acne flare-ups are most common, you’ll want to treat them head on (pun intended). This is where spot treatments come in handy. Weiser suggests a prescription like Retin-A, which decreases oil gland productivity and clears clogged pores. For an affordable over-the-counter treatment, try Clean & Clear Advantage acne spot treatment ($5.08, amazon.com). However, since these spot treatments are strong, lay off the salicylic cleanser and rotate back to a gentle one. Then finish your routine (as always) with a moisturizer.
Do you need an oral treatment?
As helpful as these topical treatments are when it comes to combating breakouts, they don’t fix the underlying problem, which is the hormonal triggers, Weiser says. “Some of the most effective acne treatments target the hormones through the use of oral contraceptive pills or spironolactone, a medication that controls androgen levels in the female body,” she says.
Zeichner agrees, so if your skin really suffers due to changing hormone levels, an oral treatment may be your best bet. In order to get a prescription, talk to a dermatologist, who can answer any additional questions you may have and advise you on the side effects.