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The menstrual cycle + your skin: it's deeper than PMS breakouts.

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

It's common knowledge that our skin is affected by the menstrual cycle - we all know that breakouts are more likely around our period, and it seems to look and feel better at certain points in our cycle.

As always, the question that sparked the writing of this article, and the research involved is... why?

After exploring the relatively few resources on this topic, it became apparent pretty quickly that breakouts are not the only thing the cycle affects. As it turns out, your cycle can have a significant effect on:

  • dermal water content (the amount of water in your skin)

  • skin barrier function

  • wound healing

  • collagen production

  • pigmentation

  • and of course, acne/breakouts

So let's take a look at the cycle.

Oestrogen levels peak around day 12-13, just before ovulation - during which time:

  • dermal water content is higher

  • the skin barrier is healthy and strong

  • wound healing is at its best

  • collagen production is highest

  • sebum production is lower (this is the oil commonly associated with acne)

After ovulation, progesterone levels rise and it becomes the dominant hormone. During this time:

  • likelihood of acne + breakouts increase

  • inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can flare up

  • there is an increase in general skin inflammation and erythema (redness)

  • wound healing is slower

  • collagen synthesis is lower

  • skin barrier impairment is more likely

It's hard to say exactly why the skin goes through this obvious decline during this phase of the cycle. Is it because progesterone levels are higher? Or is it simply that oestrogen levels are lower? Is it a combination of the two?

Unfortunately, we do not have the answers to these questions - yet! But what we do know, is that the skin is typically in its best condition around the time of ovulation.

Before I continue, I want to add a caveat - just because skin health is shown to be better during the normal oestrogen peak of the cycle, does not mean "the more oestrogen the better".

Higher-than-normal oestrogen levels can cause problems in the skin, just as lower-than-normal levels of progesterone can cause problems. Too little or too much will cause problems either way.

Now, back to the point - how is this helpful information?

Well, based on what we know about the skin condition around ovulation - we can reasonably conclude that performing skin treatments around this time of the cycle (especially treatments like micro-needling + chemical peels) could yield better results, and will almost certainly result in a faster recovery process.

Conveniently, in 2017 a study was actually done to confirm this. Patients with mild-moderate acne were given chemical peels at different points in their menstrual cycle, and it was found that the group treated on 10-14 of their cycle had the best results. The study concluded that chemical peels administered during or around ovulation, yielded the most significant benefits for acne.

But it's not just acne - if we perform micro-needling when collagen production is already at its highest, and wound healing at its best, we may find we can achieve better results.

The differences between treating randomly, and treating in alignment with the cycle may vary from person to person. But even if that difference is small, anything that improves outcomes is worth taking into consideration when treating the skin.

In conclusion, if you are actively getting skin treatments, the data suggests it is worth tracking your cycle and timing your skin treatments around ovulation.

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