We ran a poll awhile back, and 94% of you answered 'yes' to breaking out before your period! Huge. Also: Unfair. To answer some of the whys, we chatted to Jessica Wu, Founder of Period Space, an open Instagram forum for discussing and understanding the intricacies of your period. Herein, Jessica (who's also a model and e-commerce director) talks pre-menstrual breakouts, how to manage a heavy, irregular period and where all the *really fun* symptoms come from in the first place.
ZitSticka: Let's start with science. What's the science behind breakouts coinciding with periods?!
Jessica: Throughout your menstrual cycle, your body is in a delicate balance of hormones. The release of the Luteneizing hormone from the pituitary gland in your brain triggers ovulation, in which your ovaries release an egg. At this time, the estrogen hormones in your body cause the uterine lining to thicken while the progesterone hormone prepares an environment to nourish a fertilized egg. If the egg doesn't get fertilized by a sperm, estrogen and progesterone hormone levels decrease and the uterine lining begins to shed. The tissue leaves the body through the vagina, resulting in your what you see as your period.
Hormones released during your cycle can also trigger overproduction of a natural oil called sebum in your skin, which can clog the pores and together with bacteria and dirt, which can cause inflammation and breakouts. Can we actively do anything ahead of our periods to reduce these breakouts?
When I know my period is approaching, I try my best to be on my best behavior in areas like diet, fitness, and stress management. I'm not particularly reactive to any types of food, but there's a higher chance of my skin breaking out when I eat exorbitant amounts of dairy or fried foods. Being in New York City, your skin and pores are exposed to so many pollutants, so I make sure to get a good workout and sweat it out at the gym or on an outside run to get everything out of my system! Lastly, stress is something that can creep up on you so it's not entirely in your control, but there are ways to decompress (such as exercising!) that will prevent those stress hormones from affecting your skin. The key to everything is really balance and knowing what's best for your body, which is something you learn as you pay more attention to your cycle over the years.
Is it possible to 'balance your hormones'? How would one do this, and could it help monthly breakouts?
I personally have had very irregular and heavy periods for a decade now, so for me, hormonal birth control has been a way to balance my cycle. When it comes to hormonal breakouts, I think that everything I mentioned previously about balancing your diet, working out, and managing stress can work wonders for skin.Why do hormonal pimples insist on turning up in the SAME SPOT all the time?!!?!?!?!?!
I don't have the real medical answer to this question, but there have been many discussions about the face map and why people tend to break out in certain areas. I usually get hormonal and stress pimples on my forehead, strangely always on the left side. When I have a diet that is unusual (not enough vegetables/fiber, more dairy and fried food than usual), I'll break out around my chin.
How come some months our PMS symptoms are worse than other months? And is it just my imagination that the betterment of one symptom (i.e. acne) seems to happen in tandem with other improvements (e.g. mood swings)?
Hormones work in very complex ways and I can't even begin to understand how our bodies function through all of it! Personally, I tend to fluctuate between one terrible side effect and being otherwise okay--sometimes I get heavy, heavy periods that are leaky but I have no cramps, and then sometimes I'll have the lightest, most manageable period but my abdomen feels like it's being stabbed. I think there are things you can do to naturally or medicinally alleviate certain side affects, but it really depends on your body. Topical CBD ointments, over the counter painkillers, and heat pads are so helpful for my cramps.
Do you have a specific routine when it comes to pre-menstrual acne?
When I'm about to get my period, I try not to wear makeup (in the summer) because it's always sweating off and I basically have no need for it (other than concealer for my hyperpigmentation here and there). Wearing heavy, potentially pore-clogging makeup can definitely adversely affect your skin if you are breaking out, so I try to let my skin breathe every now and then.