I have never looked forward to getting my period. Does anyone really? I have never had what you may call “easy menses”. In addition to cramps, general fatigue, mood swings and being bloated, I also have to second-guess if hormonal acne will come knocking that month. And while there is nothing I can do about getting my period—aside from just trying to make it easier with a heating pad or a Panadol—I wanted to see if there was a way to avoid getting that dreaded hormonal acne every month.
After all, it’s the hormonal fluctuations around that time of the month that usually result in a hormonal acne on the chin or along your jawline. What if I could track the changes in my hormones and the resulting effect on my skin, and tweak my skincare routine to suit it? Maybe, I could minimise the chances of hormonal acne appearing along with Aunt Flo. I decided to try it for two months and here’s what happened.
The sciency bit: The first day of your cycle is the first day of your period. Levels of estrogen and progesterone are low causing your skin to look dull, dry and lifeless. During this time testosterone (we all have some of this androgen hormone) levels are relatively high causing your oil glands to go into overdrive. All this lines up perfectly with to set the scene for a breakout (or two). According to Shinji Yamasaki, CEO of Re:erth, “[All the excess sebum is] essentially the living quarters of bacteria. They actually eat off it. So the more [sebum] you produce, you are essentially making more living space for the bacteria.” Yikes!
How I hacked it: I’m very kiasu when it comes to skincare. So when I realised how hormones contributed to formation of acne while researching for this article, I actually started incorporating skincare products that would tackle the oiliness and dullness even before the first day of my period. When my skin gets excessively oily, the best thing to do is to keep it clean to reduce chances of a breakout. After double-cleansing with a gentle makeup remover and cleanser, I used the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel to gently exfoliate any dead skin that might clog pores. Then I applied the Sunday Riley A+ High Dose Retinoid Serum to ensure skin cell turnover was regulated and my skin looked bright and even-toned.
The sciency bit: You’re not imagining your skin being both oily and dry at the same time. And you may have an increased sensitivity. This is because while hormones estrogen (the anti-inflammatory hormone) and progesterone are low and testosterone is relatively high, another factor comes into play: prostaglandins. This is a chemical that is produced by the body to trigger contractions in the uterine wall aka the start of your period. The high-low levels of prostaglandins and estrogen respectively increase sensitivity and dryness.
How I hacked it: While I see more sebum production in the first few days of my period, towards the end my skin starts to feel a bit more dry. I have naturally dry skin, so I add in more nourishing and hydrating skincare like the Allies of Skin Triple Hyaluronic Antioxidant Hydration Serum and the Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum to keep it comfortable. I may also use sheet or overnight masks during this time. The exfoliating skincare from above is also in rotation during this time to combat any flakiness and to prevent dead, dry skin from settling into pores and clogging them which could lead to hormonal acne.
The sciency bit: Expect skin to look and feel better as levels of estrogen on the rise. Collagen production is boosted thanks to the rise in estrogen which makes your skin look plump and healthy. It’s also less sensitive and is better able to retain moisture at this time. You are least likely to develop a hormonal acne during this time.
How I hacked it: I consider this the small window of “good skin”. My skin always looks good a couple of days after my period: it’s radiant, smooth, my pores are non-existent. I wish there was a way to make this phase would last forever. During this period, I just stick to my usual skincare that mostly focuses on hydration and anti-ageing since I have dry skin and I believe prevention is better than cure. I will also add actives like vitamin C into the mix because I can shift the focus from breakout prevention to nourishing.
This is also the best time to get a facial—you can tackle any congested pores left behind from the first few days of your cycle, and with low skin sensitivity, extractions won’t hurt as much. Plus, your skin is better able to retain the benefits from hydrating masks.
The sciency bit: Ovulation generally occurs two weeks after your period. For those who don’t know: during this time, a mature egg is released from an ovary and this egg cell lives for 24 hours. Your hormones are all stable and everything should ideally be fine, so your skin looks really, really good.
How I hacked it: This is the one time in your entire cycle you can sit back and not worry. But don’t skimp on your skincare though. You skin still requires the basic steps of cleansing and moisturising. This is the best time to take all those #nofilter selfies!
The sciency bit: After ovulation, an unfertilised egg will stop producing hormones and dissolve. The lining of the uterus also begins to break down in preparation to exit the body—what you know as your period. As this happens, the hormones start to go out of whack again. Right after your ovulate up until your period starts, levels of estrogen and testosterone start to fall and progesterone rises. But just before menstruation and during menstruation phase, progesterone falls again. But testosterone remains relatively high.
How I hacked it: Welcome to The Danger Zone! It’s so easy to create the ideal conditions for a breakout during this time. With falling estrogen, your skin also starts to feel more dry and look less plump and at the same time, it also feels a bit oily and pores start to look enlarged. The focus here is to keep the skin clean. So I picked a gentle cleanser like Aesop In Two Minds that also has the added benefit of salicylic to help combat excess oil. As my period nears, I slowly swapped out products to incorporate the first skincare routine and around we go.
It’s essential to keep in mind, that menstrual cycles can range from 25 to 36 days and your period can last an average of five days, and a large number of women have irregular cycles. My experience and the hormonal fluctuations listed above are just a general rule of thumb.
It worked for me, but might not work for you. It’s important to pay attention to your body and your skin, and go with what works for you. And if you have particularly bad breakouts, it’s best to seek professional medical help. This is in no way a substitute for that.
The first cycle, I didn’t have any breakouts and my skin had relatively less congestion. But the second time around, I had a huge painful pimple on the top of my cheek. Since it was not embedded in my skin or around my jaw or chin, I am inclined to believe it was not hormone-related and that it had more to do with a clogged pore that got inflamed. So in a way, this swapping of skincare worked for me.
It takes a bit of paying attention to your skin, and really tuning in to how it feels on a daily basis but the fact that I might not have to deal with one more issue during my period makes it worth it.