You may have heard it called period acne or hormonal acne — or maybe you refer to it using one or more choice words. Whatever name you've given it, the bottom line is that acne that develops around your period is stubborn, infuriating, and, more often than not, painful.
Before you throw in the towel and accept acne as just another part of your monthly cycle, you should know there's a way out.
Our acne specialists at Sanford Dermatology are more than just pro pimple poppers. We know what you're up against and can help you manage current breakouts and help you fight future battles.
Here's our guide to all things period acne.
Know thy enemy
Before you start doing battle with your acne, it's best to know exactly what you're dealing with first. In this case, it means knowing the difference between a hormonal breakout and a regular one.
One of the telltale signs is timing. Do you have a flare-up or breakout during the week leading up to your period or during your period? Does your skin calm down once your period is over? Does existing acne get worse around your period?
You can thank your hormones for all of that.
Your hormones undergo violent swings before, during, and after your period. Right before estrogen and progesterone levels drop — enter PMS symptoms. PMS looks different for every woman, but some of the most common are sore breasts, moodiness, and even weird poop.
PMS is also a time when acne runs rampant.
That's because the hormone shifts trigger your sebaceous glands to release more sebum (oil). Too much oil can lead to clogged pores. PMS hormones also increase skin inflammation and the production of acne-causing bacteria. On top of all that, PMS can make you more stressed out, which wreaks havoc on your skin.
But it doesn't always stop with PMS. Many women struggle with period acne long after their PMS has subsided. Again, you can point the finger at your hormones.
You may not realize it, but you have a small amount of testosterone (the male sex hormone) in your system. Towards the end of your period, the fluctuations in your hormone levels can cause testosterone to trigger more sebaceous gland activity (aka, more oil production).
What else to look for
In addition to the timing of your acne, you can tell your breakouts are period-related if they crop up around your chin, often as deep, painful cysts. Our advice? Leave chin cysts alone. You won't win by squeezing, picking, and popping — in fact, all you're doing is causing more pain and increasing your risk of scarring.
What can I do about it?
Period acne is one of the most painful and frustrating types of acne, but don't give up on your skin. If you're in the middle of a breakout, try the following:
- Applying a warm compress to your skin to soothe pain and help draw out pus
- Applying a cold compress to relieve pain and swelling
- Using benzoyl peroxide to kill bacteria
Over-the-counter topicals and gentle skin care strategies are usually enough to get you through an active breakout and offer relief until you can come see us for professional help. During a period acne flare-up, you might also consider:
- Avoiding irritating products, such as greasy sunscreens, cosmetics, oils, and concealers
- Protecting your skin from friction like tight collars, straps, and/or helmets
- Limiting your sun exposure
- Washing your face often, especially after you've been sweating
If you use an acne product, follow the instructions to a T. Applying too much will only irritate and dry out your skin.
What about my next cycle?
No sooner than you wipe the sweat from your brow after going five rounds with period acne, you realize that another cycle and another battle are only a few weeks away.
Don't panic — you don't have to go it alone next time.
We have a comprehensive suite of acne treatments that address every pimple and cyst that might pop up around your period. Depending on your specific needs, we may recommend one or more of the following:
- Prescription-strength salicylic or azelaic acid ointments
- Topical or oral retinoid medications
- Oral contraceptives (for women)
- Chemical peels
- Oral antibiotics
- Laser therapy
Some of the over-the-counter products you use to manage active breakouts can help prevent future breakouts if used correctly.
We also help you identify any factors in your lifestyle that might be contributing to more severe breakouts, such as your diet and cosmetics.
Ready to team up with us in your fight against period acne? Call or click to schedule an appointment at our Sanford, Lillington, or Pittsboro, North Carolina office today.