We all know that hormonal changes associated with periods make acne more or less likely.
However, while most women think that the menstrual cycle is when they tend to break out most, this may not necessarily be the case.
In fact, if you pay closer attention to the timing of your pimples, you might find that you tend to start getting acne during ovulation instead.
So, what exactly is going on? And what does our fertile period of the month have to do with our skin?
In this article, we will explain the connection between acne during ovulation and the hormones that may be responsible for its appearance.
Do Hormone Fluctuations Trigger Acne Breakouts?
Hormones can be one of the main causes of acne, and hormonal fluctuations during certain times of the month can make breakouts even worse.
Here are the three hormones that are most involved in determining the condition of our skin:
Estrogen, or the female hormone, is produced in the ovaries and serves the purpose of regulating a woman’s reproductive system. Estrogen levels peak right before ovulation and then start to drop as ovulation steps in.
Estrogen is responsible for keeping the skin thick and supple; therefore, during the menstrual phases, when estrogen levels are higher, the skin will reflect this by looking hydrated, supple, and glowy.
Progesterone is another female hormone produced in the ovaries that thickens the uterine wall to prepare for a possible pregnancy.
Progesterone, although not as direct as estrogen, also affects the skin. When progesterone levels are high, it can cause the skin to produce more oil, which can then lead to clogged pores and breakouts.
Finally, testosterone, or the male hormone that’s also responsible for certain functions in the female body, is the one that’s constantly getting blamed for causing acne.
Testosterone levels are at their highest during ovulation, which is also when most women experience some breakouts.
How to Tell if Acne is Hormonal?
A couple of indications that can help you figure out if your acne is hormonal are the appearance and the location where the breakouts tend to occur during certain times of the month.
For example, hormonal acne can be characterized as angry, red, or even cystic pimples that typically tend to pop up on the lower region of your face, such as around the mouth, chin, or under the cheekbone, instead of, for example, the forehead and temples.
Now, if you generally have clear and normal skin, and you tend to get an occasional or repeated pimple that shows up in the same spot at least once a month, this is a good indication that your acne is hormonal.
However, if you are already dealing with cystic acne all over your face, it can be more challenging to differentiate a regular breakout from a hormonal one, which is why remembering the exact time when you start to see new breakouts can help you notice a pattern and give you a better idea of whether or not they are, in fact, hormonal.
How Does Menstruation Affect The Skin?
While the menstrual phase is the main event of the month due to the inconveniences it brings with it; it’s actually not the only time of the month when hormonal fluctuations can affect your skin.
Changes in hormonal levels are constant, and every drop and rise in certain hormones serves a specific purpose in your body, with a common goal: to make sure you ovulate and, if the conditions are met, get pregnant.
So, let’s take a look at those stages, the hormonal changes they bring with them, and how they can impact your skin.
The follicular phase is technically the first stage of your menstrual cycle, and it starts on the first day of your period.
During this phase, the ovaries start to produce estradiol (a type of estrogen), which makes the uterine lining thick and spongy in case a fertilized egg needs to implant itself.
At the same time, the pituitary gland is releasing follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which signals the ovaries to start maturing an egg. These maturing follicles then produce estrogen, which causes the luteinizing hormone to increase.
In terms of skin, the increased levels of estrogen during this phase actually have quite a few benefits.
For one, it can help the skin retain moisture, make pores appear smaller, and reduce the appearance of active breakouts. It can also temporarily reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and make your skin look healthy, happy, and glowy.
So, the follicular phase is your good skin days of the month, and it lasts around 14 days.
The ovulatory phase is where things get a little tangled up or imbalanced.
It’s the middle stage of your menstrual cycle, and it’s when the final product of your hormones’ work, the egg, is released from the ovary.
This happens around days 14 to 15 of your cycle (give or take a few days), and it’s when your body experiences a slight drop in estrogen and a slow increase in progesterone, which continues to rise days after ovulation is complete.
However, testosterone, which is a male hormone, also starts to rise during this time, as this hormone helps increase our sex drive, which is at its peak during ovulation.
So, the skin will definitely react to these changes.
On one hand, you have a sudden drop in estrogen, which can cause the skin to feel drier and look dull, with a more prominent texture. On the other hand, you have an increase in testosterone, which can cause increased sebum production and a slight increase in breakouts.
However, although the ovulatory phase only lasts two to three days, what’s coming next isn’t great news for the skin.
If the follicular phase were your good skin days, consider the luteal phase the worst time of the month to plan events where you want your skin to look nothing less than perfect.
During this phase, progesterone is peaking, while the testosterone-to-estrogen ratio is completely off, and there’s less estrogen to balance things out.
The result? Well, for some women, this can be the phase where they see their skin at its worst.
Acne during this phase is usually characterized by deep, cystic breakouts for those whose skin is already prone to acne or an occasional pimple for those who tend to have normal and clear skin.
The good news is that, although this phase can last anywhere from 10 to 14 days, there are things that you can do to prevent breakouts, including taking great care of your skin and keeping your hands away from your face, as picking pimples can actually push the debris that needs to get out of the pores and to the skin’s surface–deeper inside the pores, leading to a more severe infection that will take longer to heal and will likely leave a scar.
The menstrual phase is when your body catches a break in terms of hormone levels.
This phase usually lasts 3 to 7 days, during which time progesterone and estrogen levels are at their lowest, and the testosterone-to-estrogen ratio is back to normal.
So, in terms of skin, this means you’re likely to see a reduction in breakouts or a rogue pimple that will look flatter as it’s on its way to healing, as well as less sebum production, less oiliness, and skin that should look somewhat normal, depending on your skin type.
Your skin will also look and feel plumper and more hydrated, and any dryness, dullness, or texture issues that you may have experienced during the ovulatory and luteal phases should start to become less prominent.
Can Stress Cause Hormonal Acne?
Stress can be a common acne trigger as it can affect the hormones and cause a chain reaction that can culminate in a breakout.
When you’re stressed, your body goes into survival mode and releases a hormone called cortisol, also known as the fight or flight hormone.
This hormone signals the body to release sugar into the bloodstream for a quick burst of energy, as well as to store fat and release inflammatory compounds that would help you deal with a threat.
However, cortisol can also stimulate the sebaceous glands into overproducing oil due to the increased levels of inflammation, which can lead to clogged pores and acne.
Therefore, someone who lives in a perpetual state of stress is likely to experience more breakouts as a result.
Differences Between Hormonal and Bacterial Acne
Both hormonal and bacterial acne is the result of inflammation that has occurred due to a clogged pore, overgrowth of bacteria, and the immune system’s action against it.
Therefore, while hormonal acne typically appears in certain areas and at certain times of the month, bacterial acne can appear anywhere on the face or body and is often a long-term issue that requires a combination of treatments, depending on its severity.
Hormonal acne is also more likely to be characterized by deep, cystic breakouts, while bacterial acne can also be non-inflammatory and can appear as blackheads, whiteheads, and papules, or blind spots.
To sum it up, hormonal acne is caused by sharp hormonal changes and usually goes away after a few days, while bacterial acne, which can also have a hormonal element in its formation, is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria inside the pores and tends to stick around for a long time.
Best Ways To Treat Acne During Ovulation
Acne is definitely one of the most stubborn inflammatory conditions, especially since it’s so closely related to hormonal changes, and while this might make you feel powerless against it, there are a few things that you can do in order to keep it at bay during ovulation.
Inflammatory diet can do a lot when it comes to stimulating certain hormones that could then go on to cause acne.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that many women experience improvements in their condition once they start making changes to their daily menu.
For example, some inflammatory foods like dairy and sugar are known to cause spikes in insulin levels, which in turn can stimulate the sebaceous glands and lead to breakouts.
Therefore, cutting down on or eliminating these foods can help reduce the incidence of hormonal acne.
In addition, increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3, fiber, and antioxidants can also help improve your skin’s condition by lowering inflammation and balancing out the hormones responsible for it.
However, changing up your diet is easier said than done, and you will likely need to experiment a little bit to see what works for you. Additionally, it’s important to do proper research into how the food you eat affects your body, which will probably take some time to figure out.
But, if you are ready to embark on your healing journey, changes in diet are a good place to start. And for this, you can check out GoodGlow’s ebook, which is packed with information on how to balance your hormones, lower inflammation, and reduce breakouts through diet.
Our lifestyle choices define more than our day-to-day life, and they often reflect our health and appearance.
So, if you want to get rid of hormonal acne, it’s important to start by looking at your lifestyle and making changes where necessary.
For example, minimizing stress, getting enough sleep, and lowering alcohol consumption can all be great ways to start improving your skin’s condition by reducing inflammation and balancing out the hormones responsible for it.
Additionally, if you smoke cigarettes, now is a good time to quit, as this habit has been shown to exacerbate acne by activating acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that stimulates the sebaceous glands into producing excess oil and is directly affected by nicotine.
Similarly to making diet and lifestyle changes to balance out your hormones and reduce inflammation from the inside, you can also use skincare products to improve your skin’s appearance from the outside.
Having a great skincare routine that consists of regular cleansing, exfoliating, as well as balancing out your skin’s moisture levels with non-comedogenic moisturizers is a great way to start dealing with hormonal acne.
In addition, using products that contain active ingredients like vitamin A, or retinoids, can also help improve your skin’s condition by unclogging the pores, reducing inflammation, and preventing the formation of new breakouts.
It’s important to understand that issues like acne are the result of many possible things that went wrong, and targeting both the internal aspect, like hormones, and the external, like lifestyle and skincare, is the best way to achieve long-term results, no matter what time of the month it is.
Birth control is a medication usually given to teenage girls during puberty as a way to stabilize the sharp hormonal changes and reduce breakouts.
However, while birth control can be useful for some, it’s not a cure-all and can actually cause more long-term damage than good.
Birth control depletes the body of essential vitamins, including zinc, magnesium, selenium, and B vitamins. Additionally, acne often comes back once you stop taking the pill, as your body will experience a sharp hormonal change yet again.
Therefore, while birth control can be helpful for some in the short term, it’s not a sustainable solution, and it’s best to opt for other, more useful ways of managing hormonal acne.
Androgen-blockers like Spironolactone are another commonly prescribed acne medication due to the fact that they can help regulate androgen levels in the body.
Androgens are a group of male hormones that can stimulate the sebaceous glands and cause them to produce excess oil, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.
While androgen blockers can be helpful for some, they can also have side effects, such as fatigue, weight gain, and low libido.
Additionally, and similarly to taking birth control, stopping Spironolactone can lead to a sharp hormonal change, which can make acne come back after a short time.