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Home » Should You Be Syncing Your Cycle With Your Skincare?

Should You Be Syncing Your Cycle With Your Skincare?

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About three months after my periods started, aged 12, came my first realisation that they were not just about bleeding and babies. In a fit of rage during a sibling-on-sibling feud, my sister took a long look at me and retaliated to whatever insult I’d just thrown with, ‘At least I’ve not got a pizza face!’ In fairness, I was giving as good as I got, but it still struck hard. A teenage hormonal surge had caused an angry outbreak of zits, streaking across each cheek like mottled scarlet blusher, that was upsetting and annoying in equal measure.

Since then, my menstrual cycle has given me lots of fun bonuses, from full-blown acne in my late teens to migraines that appeared like clockwork in my twenties. ‘Throughout your adult life, hormonal imbalances can spill out into physical issues,’ says Dr Martin Galy, one of London’s leading experts in hormones, and specifically BHRT (bio-identical hormone replacement therapy; prescribed in pill, patch or cream form, it’s most commonly used by menopausal women).

‘One symptom connected to your hormones that can be ever-present is problem skin’

‘Each stage in your life, or decade, has symptoms that are most common,’ he adds. In your twenties, you can see weight gain, or side effects that come hand-in-hand with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), from excess hair growth to irregular periods. Then in your thirties, there’s increased stress and, for many, pregnancies, or (at the very end of that decade) early signs of perimenopause that can manifest as a slowing metabolism, bloating, adrenal tiredness, loss of libido or ‘just losing your mojo’, as Dr Galy puts it. But one symptom connected to your hormones that can be ever-present from your first period to your last – and beyond – is problem skin.

Despite its universality, beauty brands have only recently begun to tackle the impact hormonal ups and downs have on the face, rolling out products formulated to fix ‘period skin’ that can be used in tandem with your cycle. But are the brands marketing their products as ‘targeted solutions’ truly helpful, or are they just monetising menstruation?

French skincare label Typology introduced its ‘Woman’ range in 2020, with four serums that ‘meet the complex needs of each week of your menstrual cycle’. These begin with ‘Week 1’, to start on the first day of your period, and go through to ‘Week 4’, an anti-blemish solution that battles congestion. The idea is that you simply switch your serum each week and the formula does the rest.

Filippo FortisImaxtree

Since I already struggle to stick to a skincare regimen, a new serum every week fell by the wayside pretty quickly – plus, I’ve always believed that you need to consistently use a formula for two to four weeks for it to work its magic. But if you’re a skincare novice (and more organised than me), it’s an easy way to find a routine that could help to keep spots at bay.

Faace, a skincare line launched two years ago with a goal to be ‘prescriptive without the faff’, takes a more ‘see it, sort it’ approach. Its hero products are the masks, which are clearly named after what they’re meant to combat: ‘Tired Faace’, ‘Sweaty Faace’ and ‘Period Faace’, with the latter aiming to rebalance the complexion with a cocktail of hyaluronic acid to hydrate, green tea to soothe inflammation and antiseptics, such as clary sage and zinc, to slow sebum production. Faace founder Jasmine Wicks-Stephens says the idea for Period Faace came from a place of consumer need but also of allyship. ‘As an all-female office, periods were often a topic of conversation, but we couldn’t find anything that directly spoke to that concern and was really easy to use.’

There’s a feminist element too, she says. ‘Women’s health issues seem to be de-prioritised. We’re often told just to get on with it. So, developing something that’s targeted to those concerns hopefully helps to both normalise and educate.’ Plus, for every mask sold, Faace, via Hey Girls, donates a pack of period products to those who have no access to them. The mask itself is a pleasure to use, with calming effects. And the name makes it simple to know when to apply it.

For many, it can be hard to believe that topical treatments can really offset what is ultimately an internal issue. But the doctors I spoke to confirmed that, with persistence and a forensic approach to tracking your cycle, it’s possible to tackle the impact of hormonal ups and downs on your skin. Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, an advanced cosmetic doctor, explains that the menstrual cycle can broadly be split into two stages. ‘The first half is when your oestrogen [the hormone responsible for fertility] levels are highest, and generally when the skin looks its best – dewy, glowy (oestrogen helps the skin retain water) and more balanced. During the second half, after ovulation, is when progesterone starts to dominate, causing your oil-producing sebaceous glands to ramp up their activity. That glow can quickly turn into unwanted shine.’

That shine, she explains, is a build up of thick sebum, which is a pro at creating blocked pores and stubborn acne outbreaks. Testosterone also gets more airtime as oestrogen dips, which can trigger further upsets. These ‘main players’, as Dr Ejikeme calls them, can cause further skin disruption during this part of your cycle. ‘Flare-ups of eczema, rosacea or general skin sensitivity often come alongside the breakouts,’ she says. But even though periods are a given, experts say the accompanying spots don’t have to be.

‘If you’re trying to stop spots, the most useful way is training your skin’

Keeping your face balanced and happy no matter what time of the month is key, according to consultant dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth. ‘I’m in favour of responding to your skin, because it’s dynamic. But if you’re trying to stop spots, the most useful way is training your skin so that when those hormonal changes do happen, you’re less likely to break out.’ It’s prevention rather than cure. ‘No matter what your skin type, look for non-comedogenic products that aren’t going to exacerbate blockages, and if you are especially prone to breakouts, I’d advise avoiding oils altogether,’ she says. And, while anti-inflammatories like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are helpful when the spots are active, ‘you should be looking to prevent them from appearing at all.’

Dr Ejikeme agrees that having a consistent routine (a good cleanser, an antioxidant, acid a few times a week, moisturiser) should be the first course of action, but adds that a plan of attack, pre-menstruation, can do wonders. ‘When the spots appear, on the first day of your period for example, the damage has been done. About eight days before – mark it in your calendar! – ramp up your salicylic acid use to once a day.’ This will help keep sebum under control and prevent blockages from brewing, she says, adding that syncing your skincare to your cycle can really help you break the pattern.

What should be made clear (though neither Typology or Faace claim this) is that using products targeted at ‘period’ or hormonal skin won’t actually change what is happening inside. There are, of course, medical interventions, such as BHRT and some prescription-only topical treatments.But some issues can’t be fixed by skincare alone. ‘The skin is a great gateway to know what’s going on in your body,’ says Dr Ejikeme. ‘If something is continually disrupted, we need to find the underlying cause, or else skincare can end up being just a plaster.’

syncing your skincare with your cycle

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Of course, the idea that what you put in your body can show up on the face is nothing new. For many, too much sugar, dairy or alcohol can result in a shower of spots, at any time. But, says clinical nutritionist and hormone health specialist Kay Ali, since hormones, ‘fundamentally rely on the presence of key nutrients, largely obtained from our food,’ thinking about how you eat throughout your cycle can contribute to calmer skin when breakouts would usually begin to start.

‘Generally, it’s best to establish a balanced and varied diet,’ Ali says, ‘but you can make a subtle shift after ovulation.’ She suggests opting for richer sources of protein – oily fish and eggs – during the first two weeks of your cycle to bolster the fatty acids that help to produce hormones. This will work to reduce the extreme drops in their levels that can cause the sebum outbursts. After ovulation, swapping in leaner proteins and complex carbohydrates, ‘can help keep the effects of declining oestrogen in check, while fibre supports the evacuation of redundant hormones.’

As advised by a dermatologist friend, I cut down on caffeine and up my water intake around my period, which aids with dehydration and skin sensitivity, and try my best to ignore the sugar cravings – as that bag of Percy Pigs will inevitably show up on my face the next day. Ali’s overarching advice is to keep the body balanced from the inside out. If your health is in harmony, your skin should be harmonious, too.

The fact that our periods are closely linked to our skin isn’t just something ‘modern’ science recognises. ‘In Traditional Chinese medicine, hormonal balance is closely tied to the concept of yin and yang,’ says cosmetic acupuncturist Sarah Bradden, whose skin-brightening, emotion-aligning facial treatments have made her a go-to for London’s It-crowd. ‘Yin and yang are opposite in nature, yet just like our hormones, they depend on one another to function properly.’ Basically, if either is out of whack, those imbalances can manifest on your face.

‘My skin feels so much more balanced. I feel so much more balanced’

In her treatments, Bradden creates plans for individuals to rebalance hormones through acupuncture, herbal medicines and lifestyle, and she notes that acupuncture in particular has, ‘a great effect on regulating the body and the menstrual cycle and promoting healthy organs.’ With skin being our largest organ, the benefits can be outstanding. ‘Fear of needles aside, acupuncture is the best thing I’ve ever done for my skin,’ a friend tells me. ‘My usual monthly breakouts have disappeared completely. I still get the occasional spot, but my skin feels so much more balanced. I feel so much more balanced.’

As for my own skin, a thorough regime and not-entirely-awful diet means that, in my mid-thirties, my complexion is behaving. It’s taken patience, consistency and probably some luck on the hormone front, but, bar a sometimes-shiny T-zone and the occasional zit, it’s a pizza-free place. Of course, the sceptic in me fears it’s just my body giving me some respite before the joys of peri-menopause as, like anyone who menstruates, I’ll have to deal with that rollercoaster of side effects before too long.

I am aware that clear skin is not the key to eternal contentment. But a balanced complexion can mean balanced emotions, and balanced emotions equal a happier you. So, if you do pay a little more attention to your hormones and give slightly more thought to your regime, you could find the results are much more than skin deep.

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