How Hormones Affect Your Skin

From mood swings to cravings, your body goes through multiple changes every month, and your skin is no exception. From the ingredients to avoid during a breakout to the role stress plays, here’s what the experts had to say about the skin/hormone connection…

Know Your Cycle

“On the first day of your period, you are more vulnerable to breakouts,” says skincare expert Michaella Bolder. “The increase in hormone levels encourages an influx in sebum within the skin, causing bumps under the skin and inflammation, resulting in clogged pores and immediate breakouts. When you have your period, excess levels of oestrogen dominate, triggering inflammation, while extra testosterone leads to the production of more oil,” she explains. Midway through your cycle, skin tends to become drier due to dropping oestrogen levels, Michaella says, and in the final stage of your cycle, skin restores its glow. “Rising oestrogen levels towards the end of your cycle will give your skin its glow back, and allows your skincare ingredients to be better absorbed. Blood circulation is also increased at this point, further boosting your glow.” And as for where hormonal spots are likely to appear, Michaella says they’ll likely pop up on the sides of the chin and along the jaw line. 

PCOS Can Take Its Toll

As well as breakouts on the chin and jaw, if you also notice spots by the side of the mouth as well as on your chest and upper back, it could be worth getting tested for PCOS, which is closely linked with elevated levels of androgens. If you’re unsure if you have PCOS, but regularly suffer from breakouts and irregular periods, speak to your GP, who can arrange a blood test and ultrasound.

Male Hormones Also Play A Role

Just before you get your period, levels of androgens – i.e. male hormones – rise, and it’s testosterone, a type of androgen, that makes your skin oiler, leading to clogged pores. Clinical facialist Kate Kerr warns excessive exercise can also take its toll on your hormones. “Lifting a lot of weights increases muscle mass, and muscle mass increases testosterone, which can create oilier skin. Hence you often see bodybuilders have the occasional breakout – that’s not to say we should all down tools and stop working out immediately, but it’s worth considering how much oil you’re producing when you work out,” she says. 

Use The Right Ingredients

Hormonal acne needs a targeted approach, says cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. “The first line of attack is to start using a retinoid at night. Retinoids normalise exfoliation of skin cells inside the pore so they don’t clog. They may also have some anti-inflammatory benefits and they also help eliminate the dark marks blemishes leave behind. As an added bonus, they also have great anti-ageing benefits, which is of huge reassurance to the many women facing the conundrum of premature ageing at the same time as dealing with breakouts.” 

Have An SOS Product

We’ve all been there – you wake up with an angry, red spot on your chin that even the hardiest of concealers won’t cover. Sam’s top tip? “Keep a spot buster – ideally a product that contains benzoyl peroxide – on standby to tackle any rogue blemishes.” A drying lotion is ideal – Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion is a cult product packed with salicylic acid, sulphur, camphor and calamine to draw out impurities and shrink surface spots while you sleep. After you’ve cleansed and moisturised, dip a cotton bud into the solution and dab it onto any visible whiteheads or red bumps. 

Tread Gently

“So many people still think acne is a hygiene problem, when in fact over-cleansing can deplete the skin’s barrier and promote clogging,” Sam says, stressing that gentle cleansing is the best approach if you are prone to time-of-the-month skin issues. And when it comes to managing hormone-induced redness and sensitivity, look out for products containing azelaic acid and niacinamide, says Sam. “These are ideal actives for treating hormonal acne as they possess both anti-blemish and anti-inflammatory properties, so they’re soothing, even to sensitive skin.” If your skin is feeling red and angry, cold therapy can help, says Michaella. “Pop two teaspoons or a facial roller in the fridge or freezer and apply to inflamed areas when you need to soothe and calm the skin in an instant,” she advises. 

If you’re on a mission to sort hormonal breakouts, don’t expect results overnight.
Dr Sam Bunting

Don’t Forget To Hydrate

Potent products that promise to banish spots in minutes may sound like the holy grail, but SkinCeuticals consultant dermatologist Dr Emma Craythorne warns of using products that are excessively drying, particularly as you age. “Many topical acne products can be particularly irritating in adult skin, and a daily moisturiser is key to limit water loss and decrease inflammation. At the same time, if you are suffering from redness and sensitivity caused by your hormones, be careful when using glycolic acid, which can increase sensitivity.”

Know The Risk Factors

With stats showing around 60% of acne sufferers will have an outbreak around a week before their period, it’s worth knowing certain lifestyle factors can play a role. “Genetics are the strongest risk factor when it comes to acne,” says Sam. “If first-degree relatives experience acne, there’s a good chance you will too,” she says. So if either of your parents suffered with breakouts when they were younger, chances are you will too, regardless of age. “Your skincare practices, if poorly chosen, can also promote your chances of a breakout,” Sam says. “The use of balms, facial oils and long-wear cosmetics are some of the trends behind the epidemic of adult acne. And there’s also the effect of hormonal contraception – in fact, stopping the combined pill is a very common trigger. Switching to a progesterone-only contraception can also be provocative, with the injection, mini Pill and Mirena coil all known to trigger breakouts,” Sam says. 

Think About Your Diet

What you put on your plate also weighs into the skin equation. “High glycaemic index foods seem to play a role in driving acne, whereas foods that are rich in zinc, such as shellfish and nuts, may have an anti-inflammatory effect,” Sam says. A balanced diet should always be a priority, but if you are suffering from hormonal skin issues, try to cut back on fried food, refined sugars and processed foods, too. It could also be worth taking a supplement, Sam says. “If you feel you’re unable to get enough from your diet, it could be worth supplementing with zinc and omega-3.”

Chill Out

“Stress hormones trigger increased oil production and are pro-inflammatory, both factors that can fuel an acne flare,” Sam says. “Acne flares were very common during lockdown, for example.” Emma agrees: “The stress hormone cortisol and androgens act on the sebaceous gland in the same way. So being stressed if you are already susceptible to breakouts can definitely trigger or worsen acne.” Gentle exercise, relaxation and quality sleep all help temper the body’s cortisol levels. 

Take Preventative Action

Managing hormonal skin issues requires a month-round approach, says Michaella. “Think about adapting your skincare routine two to three days before your period is due – remember prevention is always better than cure. Also think about helping the skin to detox by using a charcoal or clay mask two to three times a week. Begin this process in the week leading up to your period to help draw out toxins and impurities. Try to go make-up free when you can and always exfoliate with an AHA or BHA serum or toner to lift away dead cells before using a mask.” Michaella also advises keeping your make-up brushes clean, cleaning them ideally every two to three days and always making sure they are completely dry before reusing; using a clean facial cloth every day; changing your pillowcase twice a week, or switching to a silk pillowcase to keep bacteria at bay and prevent friction irritation; and double cleansing every evening, and always before exercise. 

Be Patient

If you’re on a mission to sort hormonal breakouts, don’t expect results overnight, says Sam. “The secret to treating hormone-induced skin problems lies in a consistent skincare regime. It can’t be underestimated how important and impactful this is. Remember to give it time, too, ideally at least three months, before making a judgment call on your routine. It takes time to coax skin back to good behaviour.” 
 
For more information visit DrSamBunting.com, MichaellaBolder.com and DrEmmaCraythorne.com.
   

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