Pimples are fond of camping out on our skin at the WORST times. Take our periods: Many women experience an especially stubborn type of breakout, period acne, like clockwork every month. Blame the hormones, says David E. Bank, M.D., director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, New York.
About two weeks before menstruation, your body increases estrogen and progesterone to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. During this time, production of prostaglandins—the hormone-like substances produced by the uterine lining that cause the uterus to relax and contract—increases.
“Breakouts can happen when these hormones increase, which stimulates oil glands to produce more sebum,” explains Bank. “When mixed with dead skin cells and bacteria, pores can get clogged, leading to breakouts.” Skin also tends to be overall more sensitive during your period, too.
Get ALL the facts about adult acne, and learn the most effective ways to kick it to the curb, once and for all:
With so many mechanisms at work, unfortunately it’s hard to prevent period acne for good. However, Bank says there are several things you can do to minimize them—and to make any zits that do get through less severe.
1. Try Birth Control
The Pill helps slow down excess skin oil production by blocking the normal increase in estrogen and progesterone that occurs one to two weeks before menstruation. This can quash breakouts caused by this regular fluctuation. “It’s important to know that since every woman is different, birth control pills may help lessen acne for some but not for others,” says Bank.
2. Don’t Touch Your Face
With most of us in front of screens at some point in the day, it can be easy to lean your face into your hands without noticing it, dragging bacteria and dirt from your hands to skin to cause pimples. Keep your fingers off your face otherwise, and always wash your hands before applying or touching up makeup.
3. Clean Your Cell Phone
As it is, hormonal breakouts tend to cluster near the jawline by nature—and your digital BFF could be sealing the deal on period acne. “People don’t realize how many germs and bacteria live on the screens of cell phones, causing breakouts on the cheeks and jawline,” says Bank.
4. Shower After Working Out
Plan your workout so you can clean up immediately afterwards. Otherwise, sweat buildup, bacteria, and oil produced during that barre class can mix to flare menstrual acne really quickly. Prone areas include not just your face but your chest and back as well.
5. Apply Retinol Creams
Whether it’s retinol at the drugstore or a prescription like Retin-A, the vitamin A derivative helps keep pores clear of clogging skin cells. Remember to give retinol at least eight weeks of regular use before you assess results. Tough acne cases will likely require a prescription cream.
6. Consider Accutane
If your period acne is severely cystic and hasn’t responded to other treatments, Bank says you may be a candidate for prescription Accutane. You’ll want to talk with a board-certified dermatologist about this option, as side effects and your medical history should be considered.
7. Get Older
Yep, that’s right—aging helps in the case of period acne, says Bank. While breakouts may plague you as an adult, they will typically lessen after a certain point, when the amount of hormones the body produces begins to decrease with age.
To sum it up: Period acne is caused by an increase in hormones and can be difficult to completely prevent. But, there are some simple steps you can take to keep your skin relatively clear when Aunt Flo comes to town.