Pre-Menstrual Pimples: Why Do You Break Out Before Your Period?
Cramps, bloating, PMS…without a doubt, periods are bad enough without adding blemishes to the mix. But, unfortunately for some of us, cyclical breakouts can occur during that time of the month…almost like clockwork. If you’re one of the many women who finds themselves asking, “Why do I break out before my period?” Read on to learn about the most likely culprit—cough, cough…hormones—and what you can do about the pre-period and hormonal pimples!
How Hormones Affect Skin
Just like breakouts that can appear during puberty and pregnancy, pre-menstrual breakouts are often due to hormonal changes and fluctuations. Prior to your period you experience an increase in androgens—male sex hormones which are in both males and females—and a decrease in female sex hormones. This fluctuation during your time of the month can lead to acne flare-ups by overstimulating the sebaceous (or oil) glands and—according to the American Academy of Dermatology—“altering the development of skin cells that line the hair follicles in the skin.”
When our hormones are out of whack—even just for a short period of time each month—our sebaceous glands may go into overdrive, which can lead to oily skin, oily hair, and—you guessed it—increased acne. Excess oil on the skin’s surface can congest and clog the pores with dead skin cells and other impurities, which, in turn, causes breakouts. With hormonal acne, these breakouts often appear near the mouth, chin, and jawline just before Aunt Flo arrives for her monthly visit.
Pre-period pimples can plague women at any age. While it has often been misconstrued that hormonal acne is exclusive to teenagers, this is a myth. The American Academy of Dermatology notes that women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even 50s can experience hormonal acne. It’s crucial to know how to address these pesky pimples no matter what age range you fall into.
LIFESTYLE FACTORS THAT CAN CAUSE BREAKOUTS
While perhaps the driving force behind pre-period pimples, hormonal fluctuations don't always work alone. Lifestyle factors can come into play when it comes to breakouts, too! For instance, while it’s important to always keep your hands away from your face, during the weeks leading up to your period—when your skin may be more prone to breakouts—it’s key to be hands off! Our hands can harbor all kinds of pore-clogging dirt, so do your best to keep them far away from your complexion and always wash them before starting your skin care routine.
Another hidden cause of breakouts can be your cell phone. Between touching them with our hands all day long, putting them on random surfaces, and allowing our friends to borrow them, our smartphones are breeding grounds for bacteria. Wipe yours down often—and always before making a phone call—to help to reduce your risk.
Do you workout? How soon after breaking a sweat do you hop in the shower? Fact is, if you wait more than 10 minutes after a workout to—at the very least—rinse off the sweat from your face and your body you may experience breakouts everywhere from your otherwise flawless complexion to your chest, shoulders, back, and even your butt! In the weeks before your period, make it even more of an effort to cleanse your skin from head to toe after you exercise since sweat can mix with excess oils, clog your pores, and turn into blemishes.
One final factor that could be contributing to your breakouts is stress. Do you feel stressed out before your period? Studies have indicated that stress can worsen any pre-existing skin concern. As such, if you’re already dealing with a breakout of sorts or are feeling overwhelmed, it likely won’t help your skin out in any way. Make sure you’re taking the time to decompress and relax. Treating yourself to an at-home spa day would be the perfect way to calm your nerves and help your skin settle down.
HOW SHOULD I CHANGE MY SKIN CARE ROUTINE FOR MY PERIOD?
Your skin care routine shouldn’t remain the same 365 days a year. Just as you adjust for different seasons, travel plans, and environmental factors, you’ll want to make a few changes to your skin care routine during that time of the month. Thankfully, these pre-period breakouts don’t have to be etched into your monthly calendar. By going on the offense and following the right skin care routine, complete with mild cleansers and non-comedogenic moisturizers, you can help stave off those blemishes each month. Also, try looking for topical products that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide—key acne-fighting ingredients.
Step 1: Cleanse Properly
Kick start your day by cleansing your skin to help remove impurities, dirt, and excess oil from the surface of skin that could potentially clog your pores and cause breakouts. If you typically experience breakouts before the arrival of your monthly cycle, consider a cleanser formulated with salicylic acid and use it twice daily. Gel-based cleansers with salicylic acid are a great option for acne-prone skin, as they can help to purify pores and reduce your chance of developing pimples. The key in keeping breakouts at bay is in removing excess oils and other impurities from the skin’s surface prior to starting your day—here’s to a clean canvas—and before you get ready to hit the hay.
Need a rec? A cleanser formulated with salicylic acid that we love is the Kiehl’s Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment. Designed to target acne blemishes, whiteheads, and blackheads, this powerful cleanser effectively eliminates oil and dirt from skin. This can help with addressing the excess oil your skin produces before your period while also working to prevent new pimples from forming.
If you prefer a foaming cleanser, give the La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Cream Cleanser for Oily Skin a try. This cleanser can treat your skin to a deep, foaming cleanse while removing traces of excess oil. This is an ideal soothing cleanser for when you feel blemishes starting to form.
Step 2: Tone Your Skin
Getting rid of every last bit of dirt and oil is essential for keeping breakouts at bay. In order to effectively and thoroughly cleanse your skin, you’re going to want to follow up with a toner. Toners can help balance your skin’s pH levels, as well as reduce excess shine on the skin’s surface. The best part? There are a multitude of toners specifically designed for oily, acne-prone skin. One of our favorites is Lancôme’s Tonique Pure Focus Toner. If you’re trying to achieve a matte, even complexion, this toner will be your new go-to. A toner for acne-prone skin we recommend as well is the AcneFree Witch Hazel Mattifying Toner. Formulated with witch hazel and exfoliating glycolic acid, this toner works to balance your skin’s pH levels while also managing your skin’s oil production. Check out all of our favorite toners for handling oil and acne, here
Step 3: Moisturize
Just because you are experiencing extra oil doesn’t give you a pass on hydration. Even oily skin needs moisture, or else you can run the risk of dehydrating your skin—which in turn can cause your oil glands to produce even more sebum than before. If breakouts are an issue, during the weeks leading up to your period reach for lotions that are formulated for blemished-prone skin—typically they will contain salicylic acid. Our pick for a moisturizer formulated with salicylic acid is the Vichy Normaderm Beautifying Anti-Acne Care Moisturizer. This hydrating lotion can help reduce the appearance of acne while providing 24-hour moisture. Other great options are water-based moisturizers with hyaluronic acid, as they tend to be lightweight and offer just enough hydration for oily skin.
Step 4: Spot Treat
Even the most diligent skin care routines are no match for some breakouts, and in these cases you’ll want to use a spot treatment. The best spot treatments help to target acne and unclog pores. Look for ones with acne-fighting ingredients including salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
Personally, we always try to keep our medicine cabinets stocked with the AcneFree Maximum Strength Terminator 10. Formulated with micro-benzoyl peroxide, this spot treatment helps to fight acne bacteria and fend off breakouts between applications. To use, apply a thin layer to the affected area one to three times daily.
Editor’s note: Products formulated with acne-fighting ingredients—think: salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide—can be drying, especially when more than one is used at once. If dryness or skin irritation occurs, reduce your use of acne-fighting products and consult your dermatologist. Also, if going outside, apply sunscreen after using this product.
Step 5: Blot
If you notice your skin gets extra oily as the day goes on and you can’t wash your face, reach for blotting papers—some are even formulated with salicylic acid to help you combat breakouts! Blotting papers help to remove excess oil from the skin’s surface and help to get rid of the appearance of shine without ruining your makeup application.
Step 6: Mask
If there’s any week out of the month that you’re deserving of a spa-like experience, it’s during your period. Instead of heading out for a massage or facial, set up a DIY spa night at home. Pop on your favorite feel-good film, then start slathering your skin in a face mask that suits your skin’s needs. Since clogged pores are a leading cause of acne, you’ll want to make sure your skin’s surface stays clean all month long, but especially leading up to your period. Incorporate a clay-based mask—with kaolin or bentonite clay—into your skin care routine 1-3 times per week to help remove excess oil, dirt, and other impurities from the skin’s surface. What’s more, many clay masks can help to purify pores so you will have less of a chance of developing a zit. If you’re on the hunt for a clay mask that can mattify and purify your skin, we recommend AcneFree’s Kaolin Clay Detox Mask. This pore-purifying mask also utilizes charcoal in order to detox your skin of impurities. What’s more is this mask also doubles as a cleanser. Perfect as a mask for your at-home spa day, or as a cleanser for daily use.
To take it up a notch, bring more masks into the mix. Multi-masking was created to address multiple skin concerns, allowing you to really maximize your face mask routine. Apply different masks to different spots on your face, depending on your complexion concerns. Try mattifying mask on your oily T-zone, and a hydrating option on dry cheeks.
As with all types of acne, avoid the urge to pick and pop, which can cause acne scars. If these tips don’t do the trick, consider making an appointment with your dermatologist to find options that can work best for you.
And that’s all there is to it. Period.