It’s a vicious cycle, but also a predictable one.

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Have you ever noticed you break out right before your period? And have the best skin week right after? Those skincare fluctuations aren't a coincidence—alongside erratic mood swings, uncontrollable chocolate cravings, and crippling cramps, skincare changes are just another sign of your hormones' natural cycle. But don't take that as bad news! This recurring cycle makes your skin, perhaps for the first time, predictable. That predictability is a good thing because it means you can optimize your skincare regime to work with—not against—your body's natural changes.

Enter: period skincare, also known as cycle syncing. The first step to stopping hormonal acne is to track your menstrual cycle, which you can do via apps like FLO. The idea is that your skin undergoes a series of changes as your hormones ebb and flow throughout your approximately 28-day cycle, and therefore your skincare routine should change to accommodate this connection between your skin and hormones. This might mean using alpha hydroxy acids in the week before your period when estrogen drops (cue excess oil production) or using hydrating face oils the week of your period, when low hormone levels result in a duller complexion.  

That being said, you should take menstruation-savvy skincare with a grain of salt. Dermatologists say this technique is best for people whose skin changes throughout the month (i.e., hormonal acne) and for those who've experienced recurring patterns amongst those changes. If you face an overarching problem (such as acne or dry skin) on a regular basis, it's best to have a consistent skincare routine to deliver more effective results.

The menstrual cycle starts with the first of day of the period and ends when the next period begins. Here, we've highlighted every hormonal pattern so you can anticipate the skincare changes happening in your body—and tailor your routine to match your unique cycle.

Menstruation

This stage is when you experience your period, i.e., the shedding of the uterine lining. "During this stage, estrogen and progesterone levels are low, so your skin may appear dry, dull, and tired," says Anna Mitsios, naturopath and founder of Edible Beauty. "I recommend upping the ante on your moisturizing routine—increasing hydration internally and externally is key." Meanwhile, elevated prostaglandins hormone levels might mean that your skin is more sensitive.

Try incorporating thicker face oils and creams to your routine, in addition to indulging your skin in hydrating overnight masks and sheet masks. "Using products that aren't too sensitizing or drying is also important," says Anthony Rossi, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "It is vital at this time to not use harsh exfoliating products."

Follicular Phase (Post-Menstruation)

Directly after your period, your skin is in a great place. Estrogen levels start to rise, which results in a natural glow. "You'll likely notice improvements in your skin," notes Dr. Rossi. "Estrogen helps to promote the skin's moisture retention and thus when estrogen levels are higher, one may feel their skin is more hydrated and luminous." Mindy Pelz, author of The Menopause Reset, adds that when estrogen is high, collagen production will also be high, giving the skin a plump, springy appearance. 

Translation: Now is the time to try out any new products (if you want) since your skin is at its best. It's also about maintenance, so try using a vitamin C serum in addition to water-based serums like hyaluronic acid to prolong your skin's glow. 

Ovulation

Marked as the mid-cycle point (about 13-15 days before the start of the next period), this is when your egg is released from the ovary into the fallopian tube. In addition to estrogen, testosterone levels are at their peak (this spike is what causes ovulation), and when these levels are high enough, they signal a dramatic increase in the luteinizing hormone. "This surge occurs directly prior to the onset of hormonal acne," says Dr. Rossi. "Prevention and getting control over breakouts is key." 

Use a lightweight lotion to keep skin hydrated. To prepare for oil production ahead, deep-clean pores with a detoxifying mask and exfoliate with lactic acid to keep pores free from buildup. Pelz also notes that testosterone levels can contribute to facial hair production, so this might be when dermaplaning can come in handy. 

Luteal Phase (Pre-Menstruation)

After making a glorious, albeit brief, appearance, it's time to say goodbye to your estrogen. "As estrogen drops, the premenstrual phase usually leads to acne due to the rise in progesterone. When progesterone is high, it causes skin to swell, so one may experience inflammatory acne papules and pustules," says Dr. Rossi. An imbalance of testosterone will also increase oil production, which may result in clogged pores and more breakouts. 

Your battle plan should be eliminating excess oil without triggering your inflamed skin. All your products should be non-comedogenic and ideally contain anti-inflammatory properties. First, cleanse frequently with a gentle foaming cleanser. Instead of turning to harsh chemicals, try niacinamide to balance oil production and reduce inflammation, along with a spot treatment on breakout-prone areas. Mitsios also recommends increasing exfoliation to two to three times a week and incorporating a purifying mask to counter congested skin.

If you find that your hormonal acne is cystic and especially painful, consult a board-certified dermatologist who can offer alternative options. "Dermatologists sometimes employ birth control pills when women have irregular menstrual cycles and experience severe acne," says Dr. Rossi. "By regulating the hormone levels through oral contraceptive pills, it may help improve hormonal acne by adding a synthetic form of the hormones progesterone and estrogen."