A guide to adjusting your skincare routine to the four phases of the menstrual cycle to support its needs throughout the month and help to prevent hormonal breakouts.
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We’ve learnt that during the Follicular Phase, we should amp up the high-intensity workouts and make the most of all the vivacity we’ve restored.
And we know that in the Luteal Phase, we should slow things down and align our workouts with our natural drop in energy levels.
But why stop the syncing here?
Pharmaceutical Scientist, Content Creator and Beauty Writer Hannah English says that tailoring our skincare rituals to the ebbs and flows of our menstrual cycle can be a great way to maximise the look and feel of our skin throughout the month and help to curb those hormonal breakouts that seem to routinely flare up just as we begin to bleed.
Below, Hannah takes us through everything you need to know about adjusting your skincare routine to the phases of your cycle.
Image: Hannah English
Hannah explained that during the different stages of the menstrual cycle, different hormones are fluctuating, which as a result impacts the function of the skin’s barrier.
“So [these fluctuations impact] how well [the skin’s barrier] keeps hydrated and keeps the bacteria out, and also impacts how much collagen and how much of its own hyaluronic acid, our skin’s making,” Hannah said.
“And then, of course, [these fluctuations impact] oil production, and inflammation itself.”
Therefore, during different points in the cycle, Hannah said we experience different levels of oil production, as well as shifts in hydration and sensitivity depending on what phase of the cycle we’re in.
Taking the above into consideration, this kind of syncing involves tailoring the products you’re using on your skin to the different fluctuations happening in your hormones during each week of your cycle.
Aligning your skincare with your cycle isn’t about ‘balancing,’ ‘fixing’ or influencing your hormones; because of course, they have their own necessary and natural functions. Instead, this synced-up routine is all about getting in flow with your flow.
We’ll get to breaking this down phase by phase in just a moment.
Hannah said that if you’re assigned female at birth, you menstruate and you don’t have an underlying hormonal condition that has acne as a symptom (like PCOS for instance), syncing your skincare to your cycle is going to make preventing unwanted skin flare-ups a lot more manageable.
“If you're doing it correctly, you should also be able to control and even prevent breakouts,” Hannah said.
If you’re on the oral contraceptive pill, Hannah said that this should already be taking care of most of the hormonal fluctuations and as a result, controlling the breakouts that pop up around your period. But that’s not to say you can’t give this method a try.
“Your body is still doing its thing and the pill’s getting involved a little bit,” Hannah said.
“If you're on the pill, the hormonal fluctuations won’t be as much, because the point is to prevent you from ovulating, but you’ll still see some fluctuation.”
So, if you’re someone who recurringly breaks out when you get your period, this method might be made for you.
Okay, time for the nitty gritty how-to!
Here’s what’s going on with your skin during each phase of your cycle, and how to adjust your routine accordingly.
Consider the Menstruation Phase as days 1-7 in your monthly cycle. During this period (pardon the pun) of your cycle, you might notice that your skin is slightly more sensitive and a little more dehydrated.
Hannah said that as your body is shedding the uterine lining, you’re actually producing less oil. For this phase, she recommended paring things back a little and focusing on hydration when it comes to skincare.
“If you’re using any actives that are a little bit harsh, this is the time to tone them down,” Hannah said.
“So for example, maybe you'd want to do your retinol after your moisturiser to kind of buffer it, or do it fewer days and just really focus on hydration so that you're kind of building it up and helping to make up for what's missing while calming down any angriness.”
The follicular phase, which spans from day 7 to 14, is your skin's time to shine.
Post menstruation and pre-ovulation, the follicular phase is when we’re producing more estrogen, which Hannah said is “our skin’s friend.”
‘Estrogen helps to plump the skin, hydrate it, and increase collagen production. So it should be looking plump, calm, radiant,” she said.
“Leading up to ovulation, that's when our body wants us to be at its most gorgeous so that it can get pregnant!”
During this phase, Hannah said we’re producing just the right amount of oil and that the skin doesn’t really need any special treatment. It’s sort of a maintenance period in which you can use whatever you need (like one of your favourite actives) to keep your skin looking as radiant as naturally does during this phase.
Marking the mid-point of your cycle is Ovulation, squeezed right in between the Follicular and Luteal Phases.
Even though your skin is still revelling in the glow of extra estrogen production, a dramatic spike in the luteinising hormone also occurs during this phase. This triggers the release of the ovum from the ovary’s dominant follicle into the fallopian tube.
What does this mean for your skin? It’s time to get prepared for an increase in oil production.
Try maintaining your skin’s moisture without clogging pores by opting for a lightweight moisturiser over heavier creams.
After you’ve ovulated, you’ll enter the luteal phase, which occurs during the last two weeks of your cycle (days 15 to 28) before we start all over again.
Not to be dramatic, but the Luteal Phase is when skin wise, all hell can break loose.
Hannah said this is because we kick this phase off with an increase in progesterone levels. “At the start of this phase, your estrogen is still high, so your skin's like living its best life, but the progesterone starts to rise,” she said.
“That means extra oil. When a breakout start’s forming, it's about extra oil forming a plug and clogging a pore.”
Hannah said breakouts take weeks to cook up, so the best way to manage the breakouts that tend to occur during your period, is by regulating and controlling the production of oil during the Luteal phase.
“Maybe that’s by using the BHA that you use twice a week, and upping it to every second night because the BHA helps to control that oil,” she suggested.
“Some products that have your niacinamide can regulate the oil, especially the ones with the zinc… if [the product] says something like pore control, and they have niacinamide, those are the kind of products you want to look for.”
Hannah also suggested cracking open a relaxing (and effective) clay mask during this time, as a simple way to help curb clogged pores
In the final week of the Luteal Phase, estrogen starts to drop, leaving your skin barrier a little less robust.
“So that's when your eczema and sensitivity is maybe going to start to come back if you do find that [flare-ups are] in line with your cycle,” Hannah explained.
Hannah said that “progesterone will also start to decrease in the final week leading up to when you menstruate again.”
“So this is the time when if you didn't kind of catch the clogged pores… [which have] turned into acne or breakouts, you want to then soothe and calm your skin.”
To further prep for blocked pores during this phase, Hannah also suggested being extra vigilant about removing your makeup properly, as well as regularly changing your pillowcases.
Nutrition and movement to complement each phase of the menstrual cycle, from Holistic Functional Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher Raj Barker.