Monthly hormone surges stimulate sebaceous glands to secrete oil and can wreak havoc on your skin. To keep skin breakout-free, follow this advice from dermatologist Janet Hill Prystowsky, M.D., and female-hormone specialist Geoffrey Redmond, M.D., both based in New York City.
THE BASIC FACTS
Your cycle starts on the first day of your period--and lasts anywhere from 21-40 days. Ovulation (when an egg is released, awaiting fertilization) occurs on or around day 14 of your cycle. In the first week after your period, estrogen increases, keeping skin clear (this hormone helps keep oil glands in check). But once ovulation occurs, your blemish potential increases, peaking in the days before your period. The result: oily skin and breakouts.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Clues that your complexion problems may be hormonal:
* You usually get breakouts the week before your period concentrated on the jaw line, chin and neck.
* Your skin is more sensitive during the fourth week of your cycle. Skip waxing and facials now.
* You have irregular periods and/or excess hair on the face or body in addition to acne. You may have a hormonal disorder and should consult your doctor. Polycystic ovary syndrome, a treatable condition affecting 4-6 percent of American women, could be to blame.
Get smoother, more glowing skin all month long. Beauty Rx:
1. Choose your cleansers wisely. When your skin is at its most difficult, use cleansers with a powerful pore declogger like salicylic acid (try L'Oreal Pure Zone Skin Balancing Cream Cleanser, $8; at drugstores).
2. Add a gentle exfoliator to your regimen once or twice weekly. It can help loosen the cells within the hair follicles that trap excess oil. Try Clean & Clear Blackhead Clearing Scrub ($5; at drugstores).
3. Don't skimp on your moisturizer. Opt for an oil-free or noncomedogenic (non-pore-clogging) moisturizer like Chanel Precision Hydramax Oil-Free Gel ($40; gloss.com).
3. Use anti-blemish products faithfully. We like Stri-Dex Fruit Therapy ($4.79; at drugstores) and Origins Spot Remover (S 10; origins.com).
WHAT WORKS * Stick with your skincare routine. "I tell my acne patients not to abandon their routine when their skin is clear," says Janet Hill Prystowsky, M.D. "There's a tendency to stop treating something when it looks good. But you still need to follow your regimen so you won't have a problem when your hormones kick in later in the month."
* Seek the help of a hormone expert (an endocrinologist or a gynecologist) if your monthly acne is resistant to skin treatments. A specialist can test your hormone levels to determine if there's an underlying problem that can be solved with medication, says Geoffrey Redmond, M.D., an endocrinologist who runs the Hormone Center of New York in New York City. "When the hormonal causes are worked out," Redmond says, "most acne can be considerably improved."
RELATED ARTICLE: A week-by-week guide to your skin.
you get your period week 1
What's going on inside--and out Hormone levels have dropped sharply to their monthly lows. Your skin may be recovering from premenstrual flare-ups and can be dull.
what works: consistent, gentle care
Stick to a mild cleansing routine
* Use cleansers that won't strip skin. The pads of your fingertips are ideal for gently massaging the face with washes containing skin-soothing ingredients like aloe and green tea.
* Give yourself a moisturizing or exfoliating mask to help skin recover from flakiness and to wake up a dull complexion. Leave the mask on for up to 10 minutes.
* Spot-treat lingering blemishes with products that contain pore-declogging salicylic acid and/or the antibacterial benzoyl peroxide.
* Cover up with oil-free concealers that contain ingredients like salicylic acid or sulfur.
tip As pimples subside, dab on an antibiotic cream such as Neosporin (at drugstores) to help heal the dry skin that's left behind, or ask your doctor about a topical prescription antibiotic treatment.
the week after your period week 2
What's going on inside--and out Estrogen peaks and progesterone, another hormone, surges. These hormonal fluctuations start to cause oily skin and breakouts.
what works: maintenance and prevention
Who can blame you for wanting to simply enjoy your clear complexion? But now's not the time to take your good skin for granted.
* Wash skin twice and always remove makeup before bed. Use the same cleaners you used in Week 1--just be diligent about cleansing.
* Exfoliate. Opt for a chemical exfoliator with natural skin: sloughers like glycolic, lactic or salicylic acid.
* Book a facial. Skin isn't overly sensitive now, making this the perfect time for professional pampering.
tip Some habits encourage breakouts. Avoid finger (or phone) contact with your chin--and don't let your hair hang against your face.
ovulation week 3
What's going on inside--and out Your skin is at its clearest all month, thanks to rising estrogen levels. (Estrogen helps keep oil glands in check.)
what works: blemish-fighting potions and exfoliation
Start using blemish fighters every day until your period starts.
* Take your cleansing up a notch. Cleanse a.m. and p.m., but if you have very oily skin, add an alcohol-free astringent after cleansing to deep-clean pores. (If your skin gets excessively dry, however skip the toner.) And try an acne-clearing mask this week.
* Treat skin before bed with a blemish-prevention product Ingredients to look for salicylic acid, glycolic acid, peroxide and tea tree oil.
* Use oil-blotting pads. This week and next, carry these sheets with you to absorb oil and leave your complexion matte.
tip Don't squeeze a pimple! Instead, apply a warm washcloth to the blemish for several minutes, Then use an antibacterial benzoyl-peroxide drying product.
the week before your period week 4
What's going on inside--and out Progesterone continues to surge, while estrogen plummets. Painful pimples, bumps or cysts flare up. Oiliness is now at an all-month high.
what works: being kind to your complexion
Avoid any type of skin trauma this week, such as waxing, laser treatments, microdermabrasion and facials. Most women experience more discomfort during skin treatments at this time.
* Treat blemish zones morning and night with spot treatments in addition to cleansing twice daily.
* Use an acne mask at least twice this week to help declog pores. A top pimple-drying ingredient to look for: sulfur.
* Hide and heal with makeup that contains salicylic acid. Make sure it's labeled noncomedogenic, meaning it won't clog pores.
tip If your skin seems to be getting worse, not better, see your dermatologist, who can prescribe a topical acne medication or even oral antibiotics.
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