There are some days you might notice you wake up with a natural glow, while other days you look in the mirror and get flashbacks of puberty from all the acne. We all know this too well and how frustrating it can be.
Your skin is constantly changing, and all sorts of factors affect how your skin appears from day to day. Diet, stress, and the hormonal changes throughout your cycle can all influence the quality of your skin.
Fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone throughout the course of your cycle have a wide-reaching impact on your skin. These hormones affect sebum production (aka the “oil” that causes acne), skin thickness, skin hydration, fat deposition, collagen (responsible for skin elasticity and wrinkle resistance), and even pigmentation and how susceptible your skin is to UV rays¹.
Generally, those less desirable skin conditions such as acne and eczema, start to occur when estrogen drops and progesterone peaks, about 7-10 days² before your period starts. Various studies have shown that up to 85 percent³ of women experience hormonal acne related to their cycle.
While some people still associate acne with “dirty” skin, the truth is, it’s far more likely to be hormones than poor hygiene causing your skin issues.
Luckily, there are simple ways to work with your hormones and help tackle your monthly breakouts:
I know, having to cut back on sugar when cravings hit seems like a pretty cruel twist of fate, but studies are finding that the impact of diet on acne⁴ can no longer be dismissed. Diets that have a high glycemic index are likely to make your acne worse. This includes not just sugar but foods that convert quickly to sugar in the body like white bread, rice, cereal, and honey. Aim to balance your blood sugar with low GI foods like starchy vegetables, whole grains, antioxidant-rich fruits and berries, beans/legumes, and nuts/seeds.
Stress elevates cortisol which in turn causes immune dysfunction, inflammation, and hormone imbalances. The best way to lower stress is to develop a daily meditation practice⁵. It’s scientifically proven to lower cortisol levels! Can’t sit still for very long? Exercise is another effective strategy to beat back stress.
A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids⁶ helps reduce inflammation and may help balance out androgen levels responsible for hormonal acne. Seed cycling can help you get your daily dose of healthy fats, as well as adding oily fish (think salmon, sardines, mackerel), walnuts, and seaweed to your diet.
While there’s no definitive answer on whether or not dairy exacerbates acne, it’s worth a shot to eliminate it from your diet to see if it helps. Some studies⁷ have posited that the growth hormones (both natural and artificial) present in dairy products might be to blame for increased hormonal acne.
Since skin is the body’s largest organ, its care requires a lot of attention. Make sure you are only putting high quality products on your skin, especially when it comes to sensitive areas like the face. You can use an app like Think Dirty or Environmental Working Group to check your skincare and cosmetics for potential toxins.
A backed-up gut is going to wreak havoc on your skin because your detoxification system isn’t working properly. Estrogen in particular tends to recirculate, as well as other toxins that may lead to inflammation and hormonal imbalances that can be responsible for acne. Drinking plenty of water, probiotics, and a diet rich in high fiber foods (think flax and chia seeds, beans/legumes, and leafy vegetables) all help ensure your digestion can work at its best.