Skin Changes Through the Menstrual Cycle
Why we wrote this guide
Our clients are always asking us for tips and advice to help them manage their skin. One essential guide we were asked to produce deals with those pre-menstrual ‘problem skin days’. This lens is an abridged version of the full guide and will help you be prepared with the right skin care strategies at the right time.
Skin Changes through the Menstrual Cycle
Those clever Ancient Greeks realised that women's hormonal cycle took roughly the same time as the phases of the moon. 'Menstrual' cycle is indeed derived from the Greek word for the moon. While the average cycle is 29.5 days, it reduces from over 30 days for teenagers, to about 28 days when you're in your 30's.
There are 4 phases to the menstrual cycle, each phase with its distinct combination of hormones and body temperature. So it's not surprising that the body's biggest organ, the skin, will be affected by these changes.
The Four Phases of the Cycle
'Menstruation' is the first phase of the cycle and lasts about 5 days. During this period hormonal levels are low and body temperature is normal.
Then we get the 'follicular' phase which is the phase between menstruation and ovulation and lasts about 9 days. It is significant for ever increasing levels of the 'female hormone' oestrogen which peak one or two days before the next phase, 'ovulation'.
This brings us to the halfway point on the cycle and to 'ovulation day'. Typically hormone levels will drop very quickly to their lowest levels at this point.
Finally we have the 'luteal' or 'secratory' phase. This phase lasts about 14 days to complete the cycle and is recognissed by slightly higher body temperatures.
How The Phases Affect Your Skin
Menstruation is when your skin can be at its driest. While the dryness is not due to a poor skin balance, it is always worthwhile using a good moisturiser which will boost the barrier function of the skin and help it retain its natural moisture. If the dryness is excessive, we recommend you use a hyaluronic moisturising serum which acts to attract and retain moisture.
In the second phase, the physiological changes may result in lower levels of circulation through the myriad of blood vessels in the skin. But your skin will be calm and at its beautiful best during this phase.
On 'ovulation day' your skin becomes very sensitive and will be prone to allergic reactions, e.g. from pollen.
It can't be helped that the longest phase, the fourth phase, is when the skin is at its most vulnerable. The low levels of the 'female hormone' oestrogen result in higher levels of 'male hormone' androgens which will increase oil production, running the risk of blocked pores and the unwelcome spot and breakout. To cap it all, the barrier function of the skin will be at its weakest allowing higher moisture loss and the risk of dryness. This is the stage at which excellent skin care is essential.
What to do to Avoid Skin Problems
A well balanced healthy skin is naturally acidic. Maintaining this balance is vital for keeping your skin hydrated and for controlling the levels of naturally occurring bacteria on the surface of the skin. If you don't look after this balance by using the wrong skin care products, or you just use soap and water, then your skin will suffer - especially during phases 4 and 1 of the cycle.
We recommend a low pH* anti inflammatory cleanser to help make the skin more acid, thereby controlling bacteria levels and strengthening the barrier function of the skin cells to retain natural moisture. Top this off with a good low pH solar moisturiser during the day and your skin will stay in balance and protected from UV radiation damage.
*pH is the measure of whether a product is acid or alkali.