On top of the bloating, headaches, and moodiness that you have no choice to deal with during PMS, you also say goodbye to the clear, glowing complexion that peaked around the middle of your cycle. Blemishes—specifically cystic acne—rear their heads during the week leading up to your period due to a spike in progesterone levels and a decrease in estrogen. “This shift happens closer to the beginning of your period to help the body prepare for pregnancy,” explains specialist in aesthetic medicine Yelena Yeretsky, M.D. “When this change occurs, our skin produces more oil, which in addition to acne, can also make complexions look dull and causes extra-sensitivity in the form of inflammation or blotchiness.”
While it might be tempting to pick and poke at these painful blemishes, doing so starts a vicious cycle that by the time your breakout finally heals, your next cycle is starting. Not to mention touching pimples opens skin to bacteria exposure, additional redness and irritation, and can lead to scarring and pigmentation. Instead, paying attention to how your skin acts at each stage in your cycle can help ease breakouts. “If you get to know what your skin is doing cycle to cycle, you can control its behavior better! For example, when your skin is oiliest or before your period when the higher progesterone can cause pimples, it might be a good time to get a chemical peel,” says New York-based dermatologist Dr. Cybele Fishman.
Here’s the preventative measures you can make at-home or in-office to help your pre-period complexion remain clear.
When it comes to caring for your breakouts at home, it’s all about balance. Overloading with acne-fighting ingredients will only elevate your skin’s irritation and cause a whole new set of problems. Salcyclic and glycolic acids are two key ingredients you should look for when choosing an acne-fighting scrub or cleanser. Dr. Yeretsky recommends using these products three times a week if your skin is naturally on the oily side, and once a week if you’re more sensitive. A clay-based mask will also work wonders for shrinking blemishes. She also notes that choosing a serum or moisturizer with antioxidants in it such as vitamin-C will help with the extra sensitivity.
As for your regular product lineup, Dr. Fishman stresses the importance of understanding that your skin has different needs on different days of your cycle. “Maybe when your skin is in the oilier parts of your cycle, you will need just a light serum under your moisturizer with SPF, and during dryer parts, you may need a heavier serum or lotion/cream,” she suggests.
Both doctors recommend a light chemical peel before you’re scheduled to start your period as preventative way to dramatically reduce the blemishes that come out right before you start your cycle, and also treat hyperpigmentation and scarring at the same time. However, if you favor other treatments such as laser, make sure you time your appointment wisely. “I don't think there are certain ingredients you will be more sensitive to, but people tend to have more pain right before and during their period, so if at all possible, scheduling laser procedures not during that time helpful,” says Dr. Fishman.
Dr. Yeretsky also recommends Kenelog, an anti-inflammatory substance that’s injected into cystic acne and shrinks the zit within 24 hours, in addition to a topical treatment such as cortisone cream to apply to red and swollen spots on your skin.
As for those pimples that pop up right as your period is wrapping up and you thought you were in the clear? It’s not due to another surge in hormones, but is the aftermath of your initial pre-period breakout. “These pimples form deep down in skin’s pores due to enhanced oil production, bacteria, and hormone influence, and eventually has to come out,” Dr. Yelena Yeretsky says.