Acne Before Period
If being bloated, having crippling cramps and struggling to sleep on your period isn’t enough—lots of us also experience acne just before our period starts. And yep, you guessed it—it's all down to our hormones.
In fact, acne before is often referred to as hormonal acne and it actually requires a slightly different approach to breakouts you might experience for other reasons.
We chatted with Dr Adam Friedmann, a consultant dermatologist at Stratum Clinics, who told us:
“When looking at the changes to a women’s skin over the course of a typical month it’s important to realise that changes in hormone levels won’t affect everyone. However, if you do have a tendency to suffer from acne or dry skin then you will be more prone to changes in hormone levels throughout the course of the month.
About a week before your period when your testosterone levels are at their highest, the grease glands in your skin (called sebaceous glands) will become more active causing an excess of oil (sebum) to be released, which in turn, can clog your pores and feed acne-causing bacteria.”
Additionally, if you suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms just before your period, any increase in stress levels can further exacerbate period acne too.
But, it’s not all bad news! For many, acne breakouts will clear up once our period starts, as Dr. Friedmann points out:
"The week after your period is when your oestrogen and progesterone levels (two of the main hormones that fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle) are more balanced and this equilibrium, in theory, should help your skin.”
This is why acne breakouts usually clear up by the week after your period.
How To Not Get Acne On Your Period
Sadly, there is no magic silver bullet to stop you from getting acne on your period, and for some, it’s a very clear sign your period is coming.
However, there are ways that you can make any bad skin more manageable and reduce period breakouts overall.
Over The Counter Acne Products
There are some great products you can buy over the counter that are designed specially to treat hormonal acne. As a general rule, any product that helps an active breakout can also help to prevent them too.
Speak to a pharmacist about the best treatments for your skin—topical gels or creams that contain benzoyl peroxide are safe for most to use and can be used up to twice a day. The NHS has more information on this treatment that’s worth checking out, but always make sure you read the product instructions thoroughly.
Yeah we know, you've heard it before but eating a healthy, balanced diet is always recommended for optimum health—and it's no different for your skin. But we all know only too well that when you’re on your period it’s not unusual to crave something sweet! There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you do suffer from period acne, there are some foods you might want to avoid.
Some studies have found that eating foods with a low glycemic index (GI) can help to lower insulin levels, which in turn leads to the regulation of blood sugar levels in the body. This stabilisation of blood sugar levels can lead to overall weight loss and a reduction in inflammation, along with a reduction in acne breakouts too.
Some great low GI foods to eat include:
- Non-starchy vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, carrots, broccoli and mushrooms
- Whole grains and cereals
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Some fruits, such as cherries, grapefruit, apples, oranges and plums
Try to avoid foods with a high GI, as these can lead to increased inflammation which can make acne worse. Sugary foods and drinks, white bread and highly processed foods are all a no-go and should be limited if you can.
And if you’re wondering if your skin changes while you’re on your period, read this post to find out more.
We asked Dr. Friedmann about the different acne treatments available by prescription, and he told us that an individualised approach is needed. He says,
“The treatment will really depend on how severe the acne is. So depending on the severity, it can be treated with topical agents such as washes and lotions or tablets. The tablets can either suppress your acne in the form of antibiotics or hormone suppression in women.
For mild acne, we can prescribe a low-dose antibiotic such as Tetracycline which suppresses pimples, clears bacteria and reduces inflammation. This is particularly effective when used alongside salicylic acid and is perfectly safe to take. Most people will see an improvement in their skin quite quickly and while it’s not a complete cure, many feel much happier and more confident as a result.”
Retinoid treatments are also available for period acne:
“Vitamin A or retinoid treatment is usually given as a gel or cream that needs to be applied to your skin every day before you go to bed. You will usually need to wait about 20 minutes after washing before you use the cream and you will probably need to use it for about six weeks for the treatment to work. Retinoid creams are usually effective for treating whiteheads, blackheads and smaller spots.”
If you’re prescribed a retinoid treatment for acne, it’s important to read the accompanying information leaflet carefully and speak to your doctor about potential side-effects. Dr Friedman told us,
“When I prescribe my patients with retinoid treatment for spots, I make them aware of the potential risks involved. One potential risk is that it does make your skin more sensitive to UV light. You will need to be particularly careful about protecting your skin from the sun while you are using the cream. Another risk to consider if you are a woman is that you should not use vitamin A cream if you are pregnant as it could cause serious birth defects. You must make sure that you are using contraception to avoid this risk.”
Because of making your skin more sensitive to UV, retinoid treatments are often not recommended for people with sensitive skin or skin issues like rosacea or psoriasis. Your doctor might also suggest hormonal contraceptive pills or anti-androgens to treat period acne.
When to See a Doctor about Period Acne
If your period acne is accompanied by other symptoms such as irregular periods or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), then it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor about potential treatments for breakouts. Some treatments might not be suitable for you to take if you’re already taking other medications, so always get medical advice before you start a new treatment.
Dr. Friedmann also points out that it’s always a good idea to seek medical help, even if you’re not experiencing symptoms due to other issues, or if your acne is only mild.
“Acne doesn't have to be severe to cause a lot of psychological disturbance and stress. Dermatologists are expertly qualified to assess the impact of acne on a patient's quality of life, so where necessary, treatment might be offered that is both medical and psychological.
If a patient's acne is interfering significantly with their day-to-day life – whether at work, at home or in a relationship – seeking help promptly from a GP and dermatologist is vital. It’s important to relay all your concerns so that your acne is taken seriously. The damaging effects of living with acne for many years can be devastating for your confidence and happiness but it’s important to understand most cases of acne can be controlled and often cured with treatment.
From a dermatologist’s perspective, the most important thing is to treat the acne as swiftly as necessary, not only to alleviate the anxiety, but also to prevent the risk of permanent scars forming. Acne can be cured completely with treatment.”