The answer to your hormonal skin problems

It’s one of the cardinal rules of skin care: everything that happens on the outside reflects what happens on the inside. Breakouts, dull skin, and dryness can often be signs of nutrient deficiencies, dehydration, and hormonal imbalances. And of course, we know that when hormones are involved, your monthly cycle often plays a role. Enter: the skin cycle timing practice. (Not to be confused with the other buzzy beauty term, the skin cycle.)

Thanks to holistic wellness work, the idea of ​​changing your habits to support hormonal changes has become widespread. (So ​​much so, that we created a cycle timing guide to help you connect with the foods and exercises that best support your body during each phase.) So it’s no surprise that many of us are wondering how to align our beauty products and practices with the changes in our hormones (and therefore our skin).

You’ve no doubt already noticed how your body feels right before your period. My cystic acne on my chin and intense emotions are my monthly warning signs. For years, I just dealt with it. Inevitably, I ended up with new bouts of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation every month. But then, I had an epiphany.

Featured image from our interview with Iskra Lawrence by Michelle Nash.

Image by Belathée Photography

A deep dive into cycle timing

I know how to treat breakouts. I know when they come. So why don’t I change my nightly routine accordingly? I started applying Paula’s Choice BHA lotion to my chin the moment I noticed my period symptoms coming on, and voila, my monthly cystic acne was almost gone.

This miraculous change in my approach to skin care took place a few years ago. It wasn’t until recently that I came across the idea of ​​loop synchronization. Is that how it works.

Anyone who menstruates experiences a 28-day cycle that keeps their hormones in constant flux. During that time, our bodies go through different phases where symptoms change and vary. Rather than stick to a rigid routine during that time, some experts suggest listening to your body and responding to its needs accordingly. As a beauty editor, I always preach the importance of adapting your routine to the needs of your skin. And while that usually means choosing the right products for oily or dry skin, cycle timing is a much deeper way to get in tune with yourself.

Image by Michelle Nash

The Skin Cycle Timing Expert

In a perfect world, we would be able to synchronize our entire life with our monthly cycles. We work when we have energy, rest when we feel lazy, and work in harmony with our natural rhythms. But unfortunately, the deadlines are overdue and the world is always knocking on our door. But cycle timing is an achievable way to fit your daily routine into your monthly cycle and improve your skin by improving your mind-body connection.

To understand the changes our skin undergoes during our cycles, I spoke with Dr. Trevor Cates, a licensed naturopathic physician and author of Natural Beauty Restore: The 7-Day Program to Harmonize Hormones and Restore Radiance. As a beauty and hormone expert, she walked me through the effects our monthly cycles have on our hormones. Keep looking for the secret to beating those monthly breakouts.

Image by Teal Thomsen

The Skinny on Cycle Syncing for Skin

Cycle timing is matching skin care to the menstrual cycle. Your skin goes through different but predictable phases every month. Tuning in to your period can give you clues about when to expect breakouts, when to expect duller skin, and how to respond to keep your skin even throughout the month.

While everyone has the potential to benefit from more intuitive skin care, you may especially benefit from cycle timing if:

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What happens to your skin throughout your cycle

Dr. Cates reminds us that changes in our hormones affect the skin differently throughout the month. Here’s a breakdown of what happens to your skin over the course of the four week period of your cycle:

  • Week 1: Menstruation. The skin is at its most sensitive point.
  • Week 2: Follicular Phase. The skin is more resistant.
  • Week 3: Ovulation. Hormone levels rise.
  • Week 4: The luteal phase. The skin is volatile.

During this period, your hormones fluctuate and your skin reacts. “Her high androgen levels stimulate sebum production in the skin, especially just before a woman’s period begins. This can trigger acne breakouts in some women,” says Dr. Cates. “After ovulation, around days 17 to 24, progesterone increases, which can also increase sebum production.”

Image by Teal Thomsen

Benefits of balanced hormones for the skin

By changing your skin care, food, and movement practices—not to mention your mindset—Dr. Cates shares that it is possible to address the hormonal imbalances that are causing you trouble. “First, it’s good to know what’s out of balance and then you can address the issues,” he says.

If your hormones feel especially unbalanced, Dr. Cates recommends this hormone quiz to understand what’s going on. But for most of us, simply following our skin’s cycle can lead to brighter, less irritated skin.

Image by Tom Medvedich

The best skin care products for cycle timing

Each product is handpicked by our editors and we’ll always give an honest opinion, whether we’re giving it away or buying it ourselves. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

Phase 1: Menstruation

During the first week of your cycle, your skin is most sensitive. Focus on hydrating and repairing. Take a break from harsh actives and use nourishing ingredients with hydrating, restorative and anti-inflammatory properties.

Phase 2: Follicular

Your skin is at its best the week after your period. It is shiny and resistant. Continue this by using brightening ingredients, reintroducing exfoliants, and even experimenting with new products.

Image by Michelle Nash

Phase 3: Ovulation

As estrogen and testosterone rise, so do oil levels. Watch out for clogged pores and irritation! Maintain a routine of actives, exfoliants, and detoxifying ingredients to cleanse your pores and prepare for increased sebum levels.

Phase 4: luteal

Prevention is the name of the game in this final phase. Anti-inflammatory products like AHAs, BHAs, and niacinamide will help you get through this volatile time with as few breakouts as possible.

This post was originally published on September 20, 2022 and has since been updated.

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