Periods, Hormones + Acne: My Body Talks & Sometimes it Argues
By Lee Phillips
There’s a whole lot of different ways you can tell that the red wave is coming each month. Personally, I get the whole smorgasbord of warning signs: My uterus aches; I crave chocolate and red wine. Suddenly, the sound of my roommates chewing makes me want to cry and storm out of the room. One of the worst signals? Feeling like I just ate several cheeseburgers and their low-quality greases are pouring out of my face. It’s like my skin has created a new layer of oil just to spite me.
*Lucky* for me, I get two different kinds of hormonal acne. The first happens from excess oil production, as I so generously described above, as my hormones fluctuate. They develop in the T-zone of skin. Those pimples are ordinary ones; nothing too crazy. A little exfoliation and salicylic acid does the trick. The second kind are what I call the monsters. Ones that come up from the depths of my dermis. They lurk just below the surface. And. They. Are. Angry. The kind that literally makes your skin hurt.
Hormonal period acne is messed up. It’s as if feeling like your uterus is trying to kill you isn’t enough. The effects of the battle have to also show up on your face
But alas, despite my urge to stow myself away like a sad, spotty Rapunzel until the onslaught has subsided, I am not alone. Hormonal acne is tied to the fluctuations of hormones during menstruation and is super common for period havers. (Side note: Non-period having folks going through puberty experience hormonal acne as well and so can people going through menopause. Even adult men experience hormonal acne. Did you know they have a hormone cycle? Throw that at your man friend next time he’s acting up! Hah!)
Because of the variations of hormonal acne, the treatments are also super varied. Most hormonal acne occurring during puberty occurs in the T-zone, and can be treated with OTC products. People have also been known to try a retinoid and more natural remedies. My personal fave is a mix of tea tree oil and aloe vera. The aloe vera nourishes and soothes oily skin without over moisturizing, and the tea tree oil disinfects!
Adult hormonal acne, and hormonal acne caused by hormone imbalances tends to appear on the lower jawline and chin—usually in the form of those blind throbbing monsters I mentioned. These are too far below the surface to be reached by topical treatments and for me, can be addressed with birth control. For quickly melting them when they do show up, especially when you first clock them brewing beneath the surface, KILLA will nix them before they reach their potential.
Despite popular belief and the insistence of diet culture to never give us a break: diet does not have as large a role in hormonal acne as we may think. While sugar, diary and processed gluten can lead to increased inflammation there is no direct correlation between them and hormone levels.
So, next time you're PMSing and too scared to soothe your psyche with a chocolate bar for fear of aggravating the monster on your chin, UM? Just do it! You’re already grumpy and you deserve it, dude.
What hormonal acne reminds us of—besides the fact that your uterus is about to throw you down a steep flight of stairs—is that everything is connected. My skin is not just something that I live in. It’s not just an accessory that I primp and care for like a detachable wig. I am my skin; not just living inside of it. It is an organ that is connected to every other organ in my body, including the endocrine system and the reproductive system. Unfortunately, this means that for those with mild hormonal acne, not severe enough to take birth control or other medications, (like me), it’s not exactly something we can completely eradicate. Our bodies are just doing their thing.
Knowing this, I start to forgive all the horrible date ruining pimples of the past. I realize every function of my body is working for me, millions of them so automatic and small that I can’t even perceive them. My body is talking and while sometimes they argue, there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. Especially for such a complicated task as keeping this sack of meat up and running.Communication can be a tricky thing, but as long as everything is working how it should, I’ve learned to accept my monthly breakouts. I kind of start to question too, Why do I need perfect skin anyway?! There is a beauty to all the little 'flaws', that are side-effects of the thousands of interconnected working systems in my body. It means that the force of life is not concerned with our ideas of perfection. I think I’m ready to see the power in that. I think I’m ready for another chocolate bar.
More period stuff? *click click* for The Definitive Guide to Dealing With Your Period
Header image: @rebeccastorm