Did you know that between one- and two-thirds of female acne sufferers will have a flare-up around the time of their period? According to London-based dermatologist, Dr Justine Kluk, one study found that adult women may be more likely to experience this breakout around the time of menstruation than teenagers!
"We know that spots are caused by a mixture of sebum and dead skin cells getting trapped in our pores, along with inflammation from a bacterium called p.acnes, but what we don’t precisely understand is how hormones affect this process," she continues. "Progesterone levels rise to a peak mid-cycle before dropping off again, and may escalate congestion through increased sebum production," but androgens (a.k.a. male hormones like testosterone) also contribute to spots. "These levels are pretty stable throughout the cycle, but are relatively high compared to falling oestrogen and progesterone levels just before our period starts," says Dr Kluk. "This may be why oil production and pore blocking by dead skin cells peak at this stage and is the most likely explanation for breakouts at this time."
So if hormonal breakouts are the bane of your cycle, is there anything you can do to minimise them? Contrary to popular belief, yes. "It is important to stick to your usual skincare routine as much as possible," Dr Kluk says. Remember to cleanse twice daily and only use non-comedogenic (non pore-clogging) beauty products and makeup – this is usually stated on the label. Dr Kluk continues: "Adding topical benzoyl peroxide (which you can only get on prescription), retinol or salicylic acid to your routine can help unblock pores by removing dead skin cells, decrease shine and reduce redness and inflammation."
Oral medication such as spironolactone and the pill may also help keep breakouts under control around your period. "If the aforementioned self-help measures are not enough," Dr Kluk says, "the combined contraceptive pill can work very well for women who suffer with worsening breakouts around the time of their period. Pills with anti-androgen activity can also be especially helpful. Yasmin is an example, but beyond this, more specialised oral treatment options, such as antibiotics, Roaccutane and spironolactone may be necessary but should always be discussed with a consultant dermatologist."
To show just how troublesome hormonal acne can be, we got four readers to document their skin over the course of a month to see how it changed depending on where they were in their cycle. Click through to see what happened.