The Skincare Cycle: How to Tame Hormonal Breakouts

It’s no secret that your menstrual cycle impacts your daily routine countless times. One minute, you’re eating spoonfuls of Nutella straight over the sink. The next, you’re crying to a Westpac Ad on tv. Your energy levels, motivation, and moods fluctuate more than a woman’s contractions 20 hours into labour. Ironic, seeing as both scenarios depend mainly on your uterus’s will.

One of the most notable associations with your monthly cycle is your skin’s tendency to hit the ceiling. Hormonal breakouts have a few distinguishable features, dictating where and when your skin deviates from its factory setting. Congestion usually occurs in the lower half of the face, across the cheeks, jawline, and chin. Your skin might usually flare up around halfway through your cycle, an unwelcome prelude to what’s to come.

Above all, breakouts fuelled by your fluctuating hormones and the monthly reminder of your biological function are more painful and red in appearance, often sitting dormant below the skin’s surface.

I, for one, have unwillingly tolerated a period that never really behaves. Sometimes, my cycle will entirely ignore the concept of time, stretching out her pre-period-week symptoms. Bloating, snacking, and, you guessed it, hormonal breakouts. Other times, she barges in unannounced, towing an uninvited plus-one of hormonal acne for the ride. Hormonal acne is the kind of party guest people uncomfortably avert their gaze from; She doesn’t understand social cues, is always too loud, a little offensive, and is simply no fun to look at.

Now, believe it or not, product manufacturers, skin technicians and dermatologists have all been aware of the role your fluctuating hormones play in the happiness of your skin for decades. A myriad of creams, serums, oils, masks, and peels are available for every budget, each specifically designed to target every skin concern known to humankind.

With so much on offer, choosing a product range for your specific skin needs can be overwhelming. While your sister or best friend might swear by a clay mask they found on Instagram. There is no guarantee that it will do anything to stop your face from breaking out.

For the last decade, I have trialled countless product lines, formulas, and combinations to satisfy the demands of my skin. Regardless of price or reputation, everything I have ever used seemed unable to deliver consistent, lasting results. In retrospect, this isn’t necessarily a reflection of a product’s ability or worth but a classic example of consumer error.

The ingredients and application habits of your skincare should mirror your skin’s ever-changing demands and expectations throughout your cycle. So, after years of buying unrelated products after a burning facial, squeezing pimples that weren’t meant to be squeezed, and hopelessly trying nearly every mask, cream, and prescriptive medication under the sun, I’ve discovered some valuable nuggets of knowledge. And just like a 24-pack from Macca’s after a long night in Northbridge, nuggets are always best when shared.

I’ve done your hard work, and you’re very welcome.

Menstruation Days 1-5

During menstruation, your Estrogen and Progesterone levels are comparatively low. Skin can feel dryer and need extra protection, so heavier moisturisers will be your knight in shining armour. This phase is the equivalent of a Monday. Your skin is tired, recovering from too many Aperols on the weekend, and the rest of the week is staring her in the face. Any products with strong, active ingredients will only further exhaust your skin, so during this phase, avoid labels boasting high concentrations of components like AHA’s and BHA’s. That’s not to say all active ingredients should be avoided. Hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, glycerin, and panthenol act as gentle, calming ingredients. Ingredients like glycerin and allantoin work effectively to maintain your skin’s natural moisture levels in this initial phase of your cycle.

Products To Nourish Your Skin:

PRIORI: LCA fx140 Barrier Restore Complexe $90.00

Priori DNA Intense Recovery Cream $140.00

MEDIK8: Advanced Night Restore $129.00

The Follicular Phase Days 6-14

The follicular phase allows your skin to reset. This period is all about rebalancing the base level of hormones following menstruation, with estrogen peaking at the latter end of this phase. Luckily for you, estrogen’s hobbies include increasing collagen levels and decreasing excess sebum production (the oils produced by the skin). i.e., this is the week of glowy, obedient skin, where you can bet your bottom dollar your complexion will appear more balanced and radiant. To aid your skin’s reset period, stick to your routine. Keep using whatever cleansers, oils, moisturisers, and serums you’d usually incorporate into your morning and night routine.

Everyday Favourites:

Priori Gentle Cleanser $55.00

Medik8: Cream Cleanse $44

Ovulation Day 14

Typically, as my year-nine Health teacher always said, ovulation occurs in the middle of your cycle. Estrogen has finished her centre-stage performance, takes a bow, and is beginning to walk back into the wings. This intermission is a great time to get ahead of the impending Luteal Phase, where most hormonal breakouts surface.

At this point in your cycle, chemical exfoliants are your secret weapon against the development of bacteria-induced blemishes. Incorporating products with active ingredients like BHA’s and AHA’s over a week before your next period can help avoid impending congestion and over-production of oils. Beta Hydroxy Acids like salicylic acid work harder than other ingredients to penetrate your pores, breaking down bonds between oils and dead skin cells. Alpha Hydroxy Acids, on the other hand, stimulate collagen production, making an unstoppable duo together. Common AHAs to keep an eye out for when designing your skin routine are Lactic and Glycolic acids.

Products to target your pores:

PRIORI: 2xfoliant Peel + Scrub $79.00

Medik8: Blemish Control Pads $59.00

Medik8: Sleep Glycolic $69.95

The Luteal Phase Days 15-28

Progesterone levels begin to rise in the luteal phase, taking sebum production along for the ride. This phase is the battleground for those more prone to hormonal acne breakouts. Near the end of this period, testosterone usually decides to join the party, and no one likes to produce oils like testosterone.

In the days leading up to your next period, try not to apply products that are too heavy or dense! Avoid rich, oil-based formulas, opting instead for gentle, soothing products. Ideally, you want to draw out congestion and bacteria from the sebaceous glands, not cover them with a layer of locking moisture.

The luteal phase is an ideal time to lather on a clay mask or two, helping your pores draw out all that excess oil production (the kind of gunk that, if left to its own devices, would happily invite acne-causing bacteria to move in).

Products to Detox your skin:

Medik8 Natural Clay Mask $59.00

OMNILUX: Flexible LED Light Therapy Mask $620

This FDA-approved mask achieves salon-quality treatment in only 10 minutes, all from the comfort of your couch. If you’re twiddling your thumbs in the middle of an eight-week lockdown like me, consider investing in your skin. This LED treatment is most effective when done 2-3 times per week, producing healthier skin after 9-12 sessions. The Priori mask utilises technology that infiltrates your pores deeper than any creams and masks could ever dream of.

Long story short, the breakouts you’re experiencing throughout your cycle are highly likely to do with your unique, dancing levels of Estrogen, Testosterone, and Progesterone. Depending on instructions from these three hormone bosses, your Sebaceous Glands (the guys responsible for our skin’s natural oil production) sometimes overcompensate or fall short on their sebum production. The real trick to controlling your hormonal breakouts lies largely in the timing.
Based on the way specific ingredients and formulas work to either nourish, detox or encourage collagen production, this is when you should opt for:

Peels, Microdermabrasion, and Active Products – Active ingredients work best mid-cycle, especially immediately after Ovulation. Estrogen levels have peaked during this time, and Progesterone and Testosterone begin to climb.

Masks – Clay masks are more effective when applied during the Luteal Phase, while more hydrating, gentle masks are a great idea during Menstruation. (Hot tip- they work best when combined with a glass of wine and Gossip Girl re-runs).

Trying New Products – Obviously, you want your skin to be in a good mood before asking her to try a new clay mask or overnight serum. The Follicular phase is your golden window but be careful not to overwhelm your pores with too many new formulas.

Exercise – Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of activity per day. If you find it hard to get out and exercise on your own, try group fitness or yoga classes.

Author: Mia Erickson