Have you ever broken out right before your period begins? The cycle that female hormones take each month has a significant impact on the skin, and many people who menstruate find themselves dealing with inconvenient breakouts and skin irritations about a week or so before their period.
But before a regular period isn’t the only time our hormones affect our skin. Going through puberty, menstruating, being pregnant, and going through menopause can all cause changes in how our skin looks and feels.
In this post, we’ll discuss some of the ways that hormones affect women’s skin — and how we can continue taking excellent care of our body’s largest organ even through these changes.
The menstrual cycle causes changes skin changes for many people. Typically, menstrual cycles range from 24 to 38 days in length. In the past, 28 days was considered “average,” but research has shown that only 10 to 15 percent of people who menstruate have cycles that are exactly 28 days, and 20 percent do not have a regular cycle.
Regardless of how long your cycle is or how frequently you have a period, the menstrual cycle is regulated by hormones. First, a hormone produced in the pituitary gland promotes ovulation and helps to stimulate the ovaries to produce progesterone and estrogen.
The levels of these hormones rise and fall during the three phases of menstruation:
• Follicular (before the release of the egg)
• Ovulatory (egg release)
• Luteal (after egg release)
Once one cycle is over, it begins again unless it’s interrupted by a change like pregnancy or menopause.
While hormonal fluctuation is an expected part of the regular menstrual cycle, other significant life events are accompanied by changes in hormone levels that may affect skin. Here are some of the most common.
Puberty occurs for most people between the ages of 10 and 14 and is accompanied by a surge of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These hormones prompt the beginning of the menstrual cycle and other physical changes like the growth of breasts and the widening of hips.
Many tweens and teens develop oily skin during puberty, as testosterone increases sebum production. Sebum may inflame sebaceous glands and cause acne.
During pregnancy, rising estrogen and progesterone levels can trigger various hormonal skin conditions, from acne to melasma, a condition that results in hyperpigmentation of the skin.
After a person gives birth, estrogen levels drop dramatically. For many people, this can result in the disruption of oil production, leading to acne, dehydration, and skin that feels dull and tired. However, estrogen typically levels out as the normal menstrual cycle returns.
Perimenopause refers to the period before menopause, when ovaries begin to produce less estrogen. This decrease in estrogen can lead to the increased appearance of cellulite and also tends to make skin appear less plump and healthy.
During menopause, the decrease in estrogen production and subsequent rise in levels of testosterone and progesterone can make many people’s skin feel dry and less firm and elastic, which increases the visibility of wrinkles. Many people going through menopause also experience pigmentation issues like age spots, especially if they have significant sun exposure.
(Read more about managing symptoms during perimenopause and menopause.)
After menopause, estrogen production throughout her body continues to decline, leading to collagen loss, wrinkled skin tissue, and other effects associated with aging.
There are many ways to treat skin affected by hormones, depending on your symptoms, age, health, and other factors.
If you have questions about skin changes related to hormones, or if you’d like to discuss treatments, a great start is making a virtual or in-person appointment with a Carbon Health healthcare provider, who can discuss treatment options and, if necessary, refer you to the appropriate specialist.
Here are some common treatments suggested by doctors and dermatologists.
Many topical medications are available either with a prescription or over the counter. Some of the most common treatments for hormonal acne include:
• Benzoyl peroxide
• Topical retinoids
Some of these medications can reduce fine lines and wrinkles and treat acne, while others are meant only to treat breakouts. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist to find the best one for your needs.
Hormonal acne, which tends to manifest in the week before a person’s period, is often characterized by red, inflamed papules that appear on the jaw, chin, and lower part of the face. Some healthcare providers suggest hormonal birth control to treat aggressive premenstrual acne.
Additionally, during perimenopause and menopause, many doctors suggest hormone replacement therapy as a way to improve skin that has been affected by the reduction of estrogen levels throughout the body.
In addition to being affected by hormone levels, our skin is also impacted by other lifestyle factors like stress, sleep, and diet. The way we take care of ourselves physically shows in our skin. Getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and eating a healthy diet can all help improve acne and other skin-related irritations.
If you have skin concerns, the best thing you can do is talk to a healthcare provider. They can help isolate the cause of your skin issues and work with you to develop an effective treatment plan. Download the Carbon Health app or visit carbonhealth.com today to learn more.