Along with chocolate and mood swings, breakouts are one of the tired tropes often associated with periods. However, spots that coincide with the crimson tide are an incredibly real inconvenience for women. And what you probably didn’t know is that our menstrual cycle actually impacts our skin even when we’re not on our period.
As our hormones ebb and flow throughout the 28-day cycle, our skin goes through a series of changes too. Therefore, our skincare routine should morph and adapt to our cycle. Ahead, we’ll be sharing more about the phases of our menstrual cycle, our wonderful yet problematic hormones, and the products you can use to support your skin through the changes.
The four phases of our menstrual cycle
Our menstruation is only one of four phases in our entire menstrual cycle, so you can think of the stages as the four seasons. During our menstrual phase, also known as our period, our uterine lining sheds. This results in a flow of blood and endometrial tissue through your cervix and vagina.
Then comes the proliferative phase, which is when the uterine lining starts to rebuild itself and thicken up again. After that, we ease into our ovulation phase, and our ovary releases an egg that is at its most fertile state.
When we’re winding down from our ovulation peak, we enter the luteal phase, which is also known as the pre-menstrual phase. This is when the body prepares for a possible pregnancy.
What our hormones do to our skin
We have two main female sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone. They both play a part in making sure that the female body is healthy and running smoothly.
Estrogen steps up during puberty and is a crucial part of developing our bodies, such as the growth of our breasts and the widening of our hips. Progesterone, on the other hand, is actually produced after ovulation and prepares the womb for a potential pregnancy by thickening our uterine lining.
As we go through the different phases of our menstrual cycle, these hormone levels will rise and fall, which leads to great and… not so great changes in our skin.
Keep reading to see how our hormones fluctuate during the four phases of our menstrual cycle and learn about what you can do to prep your skin for each phase.
How to sync our skincare routine with our menstrual cycle
Menstrual phase: Day 1 to 7
Your estrogen and progesterone levels will stay low during your period, so you’ll notice that your skin will start to clear up. It’s not off the hook yet, though. During this phase, your skin may look a little dry and dull too. That’s because your body temperature and blood circulation will be lower than usual. Your sebum production may decrease, leading to low moisture retention.
During the menstrual phase, you’d want to stick to gentle, hydrating products that soothe your skin. Look for ingredients such as aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, centella asiatica, calendula, or green tea in your products. These can help to plump up your skin, combat dullness, and revive your natural glow. Since your skin would be more sensitive during this time, you’ll probably want to lay off the harsh actives for a bit too.
Products to try
One of our favourite hyaluronic acid products to restore any water loss is the NIOD Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex (left). It has a very lightweight, water-like consistency that sinks into the skin quickly. The formula combines 12 forms of hyaluronic compounds to hydrate your skin, and works well on all skin types. For a more affordable option, you can also use The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 (centre).
There are plenty of products on the market that contain centella asiatica, but the Purito Centella Green Level Buffet Serum (right) is a standout. It strengthens the skin’s barrier and calm redness to keep your skin looking fresh and healthy. It’s also got collagen, ceramide, and niacinamide to plump up and brighten the complexion too, so you’ll have skin that’s radiant, supple and even.
Proliferative phase: Day 8 to 13
If you long for your bright and glowy skin, don’t worry, because things will look up real soon. During the proliferative phase, your estrogen levels will rise slowly and peak right before ovulation. Estrogen is the hormone that gives you clear, bouncy, radiant skin, and that’s because it helps to promote collagen production.
Yup, cell generation is at its peak, which is why you’ll notice your skin start to clear up. Your skin naturally starts to shed dead skin cells to reveal a fresher, more glowing complexion. At this phase, it’s a really good idea to pop out gentle chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs to aid your skin in sloughing off any extra dead skin.
Remember, you don’t want to go overboard with the chemical exfoliants, so stick to the soothing products you use during your menstrual phase.
Products to try
A gentle, exfoliating ingredient to try is lactic acid, which you can find in The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid 5% & HA 2% (left). It sloughs off dead skin and works to improve skin texture, reducing pigmentation caused by acne scars and age spots in the process. Hyaluronic acid helps to strengthen the lipid barrier to improve your skin’s ability to attract and retain moisture too.
Another sensitive skin-friendly exfoliant is the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (right). Formulated with 4% of betaine salicylate, a form of BHA, this liquid exfoliant gently removes dead skin cells and blackheads within the pores. It teams up with niacinamide to heal blemishes quicker.
Ovulation phase: Day 12 to 14
This is the cycle’s most stellar phase for our skin. In this phase, there are very high estrogen levels, which are responsible for our skin’s luminosity. During this period, you won’t have to do much to your skin at all.
However, we recommend sticking to gentle, soothing formulas that are kind to your skin. If you want to enhance your skin’s natural glow and keep the good vibes going, you can use a brightening vitamin C serum.
Products to try:
To amp up the hydration and nourish your skin, reach for the First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Wild Oat Hydrating Toner (left). It’s an alcohol-free toner that contains colloidal oatmeal to soothe and protect dry skin. There’s also propolis extract and honey in the formula, both of which help to draw moisture to the skin and lock it in.
You can also try the Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Cream (right), which is great for all skin types, no matter which phase it’s in. This concentrated cream protects your skin from irritation and sensitivity. It helps damaged skin heal faster and it lightens blemishes over time too.
Luteal phase: Day 15 to 28
Just when you think your skin is going to stay glowing and acne-free forever, the luteal phase begins. Here, our estrogen levels start to fall and progesterone levels rise. When this happens, your skin will ramp up on sebum production and create an oil-slicked surface, which can lead to clogged pores and zits. You may notice more painful pimples dotted across your jawline, something we like to call “the acne beard”.
In the luteal phase, you should opt for products that calm inflammation and prevent breakouts. You’ll want to give your skin a thorough double cleanse and use products with salicylic acid in then. This BHA helps to break the sticky bonds between dead skin cells and the surface of your skin. Plus, it cuts through sebum and exfoliates deep within your pores to keep them clear.
Products to try:
If you wear sunscreen and/or makeup, go in with your usual cleansing oil, balm, or micellar water first. Then, use a pore-clearing cleanser like the CeraVe SA Renewing Cleanser (left), which contains salicylic acid to gently exfoliate your skin. There’s also hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and three essential ceramides to help soothe and maintain your skin’s natural protective barrier as you cleanse.
For a leave-on product, try the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (right). It also effectively unclogs pores to refine your skin’s texture, so you’ll have smoother skin from the first use. If you have sensitive skin, you can use this chemical exfoliant like a spot treatment, over your moisturiser.