How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Your Skin

When we talk about hormones, people often think about how they influence things such as our mood, energy levels, PMS symptoms and menopause. However, hormones can have an overwhelming impact on your skin as well.

We all know the pain of being on our period and waking up to a breakout, but do you actually know why that happens? Our skin is often a reflection of what’s going on inside our bodies. Indeed, fluctuations in hormones have a direct influence on the way our skin reacts. You’ve probably run into concerns with your skin at some point in your life which were caused by a rise or fall of hormones in your body. These changes happen to everyone throughout their lives, and can impact our skin health in a number of different ways.

We sat down with Naturopath Georgia Hartmann to talk about why these changes might be happening and how you can attempt to manage it.


How do hormones affect our skin?

Hormones play a huge role when it comes to the health and complexion of skin. Specific hormones that often affect skin include androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone), oestrogen, and our stress hormones corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol. When there are elevated levels of these hormones, sebum production is stimulated and hormonal breakouts occur. [1-2]

Why do you often experience breakouts at certain times in your menstrual cycle?

Let’s hone in on the role of one of our key skin-promoting hormones, oestrogen. You see, oestrogen plays a crucial role in collagen synthesis, barrier function, wound healing, and hyaluronic acid production—all of which directly affects skin. In the first half of the menstrual cycle and towards ovulation, oestrogen is nice and high. This often allows our skin to be clear and plump. However, in the second half of the cycle, and specifically in the week or so before your period is due, oestrogen drops. If this happens too quickly, the skin-promoting benefits of oestrogen are missed and instead you experience breakouts. [3]

What’s the difference between hormonal breakouts and acne?

One of the telltale signs of hormonal breakouts is its location—when too much oil is produced from hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle, you can expect breakouts around the chin, mouth and jawline. Hormonal breakouts are also cyclic, meaning they appear in a similar location at a similar time of the month.

Acne, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. It can appear all over the face, chest, back and shoulders, and can be caused by many factors. Sure, there is a hormonal component (specifically with excess production of androgens as seen in polycystic ovary syndrome), but acne can also be caused by genetics, certain medications, diet, stress, and exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in skin care and cosmetics. [2-4]

What are some of the best ways to minimise hormonal breakouts during your cycle?

The best way to minimise hormonal breakouts is to balance our hormones. When we put measures in place to delicately balance androgens, oestrogens, and stress hormones, our skin is clear, plump and happy. To achieve this, we must support the communication between the brain, the adrenal glands, and the ovaries (referred to as the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axes). [5-6]

So how do we support these axes? By addressing the food we eat, the health of our gut, the stress we are exposed to, the quantity and quality of our sleep, the amount of sunlight we are exposed to, the exercise we do, and the supplements, herbal medicines, and medications we take. While it may seem straight-forward, the problem many of us face is that some (or all) of these factors are poorly managed. The result is increased inflammation and unwelcome breakouts. [7-10]

Bottom line — your hormones affect a whole lot more than your mood. Whether you are struggling with menstrual breakouts, premenopausal blemishes, or incessant skin concerns, know that you are not alone. Though our skin is our largest organ, it’s easy to forget it needs our love and attention too.

 

References:

[1] Bagatin, E., et al. Adult female acne: a guide to clinical practice. Anais Brasileiros de Derma- tologia, 2019. 91(1). PMID: 30726466.
[2] Rao, A., et al. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, hormone receptors, and acne vulgaris: a con- necting hypothesis. Cells, 2021. 10(6). PMID: 34207527.
[3] Raghunath, R.S., et al. The menstrual cycle and the skin. Clinical and Experimental Der- matology, 2015. 40(2). PMID: 25683236.
[4]
Kucharska, A., et al. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Advances in Dermatology and Allergology, 2016. 33(2). PMID: 27279815.
[5] Nives Pondeljak, N., et al. Stress-induced interaction of skin immune cells, hormones, and neu- rotransmitters.
Clinical Therapeutics, 2020. 42(5). PMID: 32276734.
[6] Wang, F., et al. Roles of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and hypothalamic-pituitary-ovary axis in the abnormal endocrine functions in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome.
Zhongguo Yi Xue Ke Xue Yuan Xue Bao, 2017. 39(5). PMID: 29125115.
[7] Baldwin, H., et al. Effects of diet on acne and is response to treatment.
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2021. 22(1). PMID: 32748305.

[8] Yan, H-M., et al. Gut microbiota alterations in moderate to severe acne vulgaris patients. Jour- nal of Dermatology, 2018. 45(10). PMID: 30101990.
[9] Schrom, K.P., et al. Acne severity and sleep quality in adults.
Clocks & Sleep, 2019. 1(4). PMID: 33089183.

[10] Dréno, B., et al. The influence of exposure on acne. Journal fo the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 2018. 32(5).

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