As if the cramps and headaches aren’t enough fun, most women experience an angry red zit or two during their period that is more stubborn to treat and difficult to coax into submission than your regular everyday pimple.
Yet experts say you don’t have to wave the white flag and cake on the concealer, as there are both medicinal and holistic options that can greatly alleviate — and in some cases even completely prevent — hormonal breakouts.
First, it’s important to understand what’s causing all the ruckus. “Right before and during a woman’s period, fluctuations in hormone levels can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce excess oil,” says Ellen Holder, creator of The Answer skin-care line.
“To complicate the matter, increased progesterone levels often lead to increased water retention, swelling the skin and making pores slightly smaller. This sets up the perfect scenario for our favorite fiend, the period pimple,” adds Holder.
Since the chemistry of your skin changes during your period, switching up your skin care to include more powerful zit-zapping ingredients can help head off a breakout. Start about three days before your period hits, as that’s when hormones begin to change, and continue through the week.
“Wash with a cleanser containing salicylic acid and treat any pimples with a cream containing benzoyl peroxide,” advises New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, who adds that a low concentration between 2.5 to 5 percent can reward results without the irritation that a higher 10 percent may produce.
Be careful about touching clothing or towels after application, as benzoyl peroxide can bleach fabric.
Another key aspect of preventing hormonal breakouts lies in the food you put in your mouth. Those sugary carbs so many women crave during their period can be the very thing causing the breakout angst to occur.
“When an abundance of carbs are consumed — whether candy bars or bagels — it triggers the body to increase insulin levels,” says D.C. dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, co-director of theWashington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. “It’s the prolonged increase of insulin that can be inflammatory and increase acne. High levels of insulin also cause carb cravings. Cut back on carbs to help your skin, and it will also keep those cravings in check.”
For the deeper, painfully inflamed bumps known as cystic acne, which can take days or even weeks to fade, a stronger prescription is most effective. Both dermatologists recommend FDA-approved birth control pills including Ortho Tri Cyclen, Yaz, and Estrostep.
“Separate from any contraceptive function, they regulate hormone levels and prevent stimulation of oil glands in the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner.
Other prescription options include stronger topical creams like retinoids that can be applied every day as well as low-dose oral antibiotics that kill infections that linger below the skin and erupt into acne. Spironolactone, a blood pressure medication, is also often used to keep hormonal levels balanced, says Dr. Zeichner.
Holder’s The Answer PMS System is a holistic skin-care line designed specifically for complexions troubled by hormonal breakouts.
“We take a gentle, non-drying approach to the skin while seeking the most powerful natural and organic ingredients,” says Holder, whose products are based on the routine of cleansing, clarifying, and moisturizing twice daily.
“Botanicals, such as rose geranium and neroli, have traditionally been used to treat symptoms of PMS, such as increased stress levels that also lead to an increase of oil production,” says Holder. Moroccan argan oil and palmarose also help regulate oil production, while sea buckthorn provides antioxidant protection.
Willow bark extract is included in zit-zapping doses as a natural source of salicin to fight blemishes without the traditional drying side effects of the synthetic version.
“Grapefruit encourages decongestion in the skin and rosemary verbenone stimulates cell renewal to speed healing,” adds Holder.
The products range in price from $18.95 for a clarifying mist and green tea face mask to $28.95 for a complete starter kit and $34.95 for the balancing moisturizer.
With medicinal and holistic options to choose from, there has been no better time to kiss those hormonal breakouts goodbye.