If the body had a bumper sticker it might read: It’s all connected, baby. It may seem frivolous to boil down the complexities of our miraculous bodies so simply, but it’s a lesson we’re reminded of again and again. Our bodies work as intuitively connected orchestras. As women, we see this in the many ways that our menstrual cycle and hormones affect wellbeing throughout the entire body—including our largest organ: the skin.
Curious to learn *exactly* how our cycle can affect our complexions, we caught up with Dr. Caitlin O’Connor, a naturopathic doctor who specializes in holistic treatment for women. Read on for the rundown.
How can your cycle affect your skin?
First, some skin basics. Many of the skin changes you may experience around puberty and later in life are due to small glands called sebaceous glands. These sebaceous glands produce and secrete an oily substance called sebum.1
Sebaceous glands, like many other parts of the skin, have receptors which are influenced by sex hormones. These glands are affected most dramatically by androgens, which are male sex hormones like testosterone, but are present in both sexes. These androgens increase the production of sebum during puberty. When there are more androgens binding to the receptors on the sebaceous glands, more sebum is produced. This can lead to noticeably oilier skin, and may progress to acne.2
A group of sex hormones that help start puberty and play a role in reproductive health and body development, including increased sebum production.
Let’s not forget about estrogen. Even though it is still unclear how much estrogen affects sebaceous glands, estrogen plays a prominent role in overall skin health. Estrogen is associated with increased collagen production, skin thickness, skin hydration, wound healing, and improved barrier function.2
A hormone that plays various roles in the body. In females, it helps develop and maintain both the reproductive system and female characteristics.
“As hormones shift throughout the ovulatory cycle, they can impact your skin based on the way hormones interact with the types of oils made by your skin as well as overall hydration,” Dr. O’Connor explains.
When are breakouts most likely?
“Breakouts can vary, but most people notice an increase in breakouts in the week or so before your menstrual cycle starts,” Dr. O’Connor suggests. This is because “hormone production overall increases after ovulation, so this is often when skin issues get worse.”
“Alternatively, some conditions—like PCOS where androgens levels are higher—both suppress ovulation and worsen acne,” Dr. O’Connor suggests. We also can’t forget additional factors. “Stress levels can influence cortisol, which also seems to have a negative impact on skin health. Dysregulated blood sugar and insulin resistance also play a role.”
SOS—What can we do to save our skin (and hormones!) at home?
“Hydration and a good skin care routine are key. Supporting your body’s ability to metabolize hormones through good digestion, managing stress, and getting adequate sleep are really important as well. On the nutrient side of things; being mindful of simple sugars and industrial oils; getting healthy fats like fish and olive oil; eating a good spectrum of plant foods for prebiotic fibers; and for some folks decreasing or eliminating dairy will all support hormone metabolism,” Dr. O’Connor says.
Tips to Balance Your Hormones at Home
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
- Zero in on your skin care routine.
- Clean up your digestion.
- Manage stress.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Cut added sugars and hydrogenated oils.
- Add healthy fats and prebiotic fibers, instead.
- Consider decreasing or eliminating dairy.
Are you dealing with hormonal breakouts? Any other questions for our experts? Connect with us on social so we can cover the topics that matter most to you. Plus, support your skin with Women's Daily Vitamin Trio, complete with a Beauty Blend capsule with added collagen and biotin.
1 Jacobsen E, Billings JK, Frantz RA, Kinney CK, Stewart ME, Downing DT. Age-related changes in sebaceous wax ester secretion rates in men and women. J Invest Dermatol. 1985;85(5):483-5.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.
Written by Jessica Lopez. Jessica Lopez is a freelance writer, digital content creator, and new mother. She has covered all lifestyle topics ranging from bridal to beauty for publications including Brides Magazine, Byrdie, THE/THIRTY, and more. Walking wide-eyed into motherhood has inspired her to connect with other parents through her writing and shared experience. You can follow more of her journey @Jessica.H.Lopez.