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It’s no secret—I’m a superfan of cycle syncing to support your health and proper hormone function. I’ve written extensively about cycling syncing your food and cycle syncing your fitness because both can have a profound impact on how you look, feel, and perform long-term. Cycle syncing can help you reduce stress, balance hormones, optimize fertility, and yes—it can even help improve skin issues like acne and breakouts.
Your monthly cycle ushers in major shifts in your hormone levels, particularly the big players in skin health: testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. This can have a big impact on your skin care needs.
This goes way beyond your monthly pre-period breakout: your hormone levels are changing throughout your entire cycle, and your skin care needs change with it.
Today I want to break down how the three major sex hormones can impact your skin and its needs, and how you can respond to that by cycle syncing your skin care.
What is Cycle Syncing Your Skin Care?
Cycle syncing your skin care is adapting the skin care products you use, such as your cleanser, toner, and moisturizer, to your menstrual cycle.
Because of the specific hormonal shifts that happen during your menstrual cycle, you are more prone to acne and breakouts at certain times. Recognizing these shifts and adjusting your skincare routine accordingly can help improve your skin’s function and appearance, and reduce (or prevent) breakouts.
You may have already noticed changes in your skin’s needs throughout the month. Sometimes, your skin may be slightly more oily or sensitive. This is 100% normal, and doesn’t mean anything is wrong or that you have a hormonal imbalance.
But, your skin can also be one of the first and best indicators of a hormone imbalance. Chronic or severe acne at different points in your cycle can be a sign that something needs to be addressed. So, while cycle syncing your skin care can help with reducing acne and breakouts, it’s also important to focus on internal shifts that can help balance hormones naturally. This is where cycle syncing your food (alongside cycle syncing your skincare) becomes important.
The Three Major Sex Hormones and Your Skin
Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers. They are secreted into bloodstream and travel to specific tissues and organs to help them do their work. Every single day, hormones are responsible for coordinating and carrying out specific functions within our bodies.
While there are many different hormones involved with your menstrual cycle, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone play the biggest roles when it comes to cycle syncing your skin care routine.
Testosterone stimulates the production of sebum, which is a waxy and oily substance created by your skin. In fact, studies suggest that people with acne may produce more testosterone than people who don’t.
Increased levels of testosterone may lead to excessive sebum production, which, in turn, can block hair follicles and cause inflamed sebaceous glands. This can trigger an acne outbreak, and lead to greasy-feeling skin and hair.
While testosterone levels vary throughout your life (puberty is a high-testosterone time), it only varies slightly throughout your menstrual cycle.
Estrogen can help keep skin clear by suppressing sebum production. Studies show it also has many anti-aging effects on your skin. It increases collagen production, and helps to improve skin thickness and elasticity. It also plays a key role in healthy lipid barrier function, which keeps skin from drying out. This is why you typically experience clearer skin mid cycle, specifically around ovulation when estrogen is at its peak.
Healthy progesterone levels also can have positive impacts on your skin. Progesterone inhibits 5α-reductase, which is required to convert testosterone to the more potent DHT. This increases sebum production. In other words, sufficient levels of progesterone may help stop testosterone-related acne and keep skin clear.
In your menstrual cycle, progesterone rises after ovulation. This causes your body temperature to rise, which also leads to higher sweat rates for women during this time. As you might expect, this means progesterone can indirectly cause you to be more prone to acne and breakouts.
It’s important to note that progesterone levels drop in the presence of chronic stress. So, if progesterone levels plummet, you may find yourself experiencing symptoms of high testosterone, estrogen dominance, and PMS/PMDD.
The Hormonal Fluctuations of Your Cycle
Your menstrual cycle has four phases. While the following days are set to a 28-day cycle, the exact days may vary slightly for you as there’s definitely a range for what is considered to be normal when it comes to overall cycle length.
Phase 1: Menstrual, this phase starts on day 1 of your period and can last anywhere from 3-6 days. Hormones are low.
Phase 2: Follicular, begins after menstruation, typically ends around day 12. Estrogen starts to build.
Phase 3: Ovulatory, occurs around days 13-16 of your cycle. This phase lasts 3-4 days. Estrogen peaks.
Phase 4: Luteal, roughly days 17-28. This phase occurs after you ovulate, and ends right when you start menstruating. Progesterone increases significantly, estrogen rises, then both drop before your period.
How it Works: Cycle Syncing Your Skin Care
Using the information provided about how hormones impact your skin, you can start to make slight tweaks to your skin care routine depending on where you’re at in your cycle. By cycle syncing your skin care, you can stay ahead of the curve to meet your skin’s changing needs, and prevent and treat breakouts more effectively.
The first step to cycling syncing your skin care routine is of course, to track your cycles. For an in-depth look at how to track your cycles and what to do if your cycle is irregular, check out my Beginner’s Guide to Cycle Syncing: How to Adapt Your Food and Exercise to Your Menstrual Cycle.
Once you know where you’re at in your cycle, you can begin the process of cycle syncing your skin care!
Phase 1: The Menstrual Phase (Day 1-6)
Your period is when estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest point, which means testosterone is relatively higher. Research shows sebum production is highest the week before your period, so you might have some post-PMS acne to deal with, too.
Focus: This is the ideal time to focus on clearing out pores, absorbing toxins, and facilitating cell turnover.
Key Skin Nutrients For This Phase:
- Charcoal: Charcoal is a great natural ingredient that absorbs oil and impurities. Apply a safe and effective Charcoal Mask to your skin 1-2x in this phase, and use it as a spot treatment.
- Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is water-soluble and is extremely effective in diminishing blackheads, white heads, and blemishes. It dissolves skin debris that clogs pores and causes blemishes. It’s anti-inflammatory and helps to reduce redness. Use a Clear Pore Cleanser during this phase.
- Astringents like witch hazel and apple cider vinegar: Astringents help to tone skin, clear out pores, dry up oil, and reduce inflammation. Note: Do not apply straight apple cider vinegar or which hazel to your skin. Instead, use a product that is well formulated with other anti-inflammatory ingredients like this Everything Spray (I love this stuff!).
Phase 2 and 3: The Follicular Phase and The Ovulatory Phase (Day 7-15)
After your period ends, you enter the follicular phase, which ends when you ovulate. Then, ovulation occurs somewhere between days 14-16. During this time, estrogen is rising and peaks right at ovulation. This is usually when your skin is looking and feeling best because oil-reducing and collagen-promoting estrogen is high.
Focus: Nourishment and treatments are the name of the game—so have fun with it! This is a great time to do more intense treatments like a peel and incorporate high-end serums like a vitamin C serum since collagen production is increased by estrogen. Sometimes a simple swap to a different cleanser or nighttime moisturizer/treatment is all that’s needed.
And while it’s always important, sunscreen is especially key during this phase since higher estrogen and sun damage can lead to hyperpigmentation.
Key Skin Nutrients For These Phases:
- Fatty acids + nourishing oils and butters: With oil production lower during this phase, your skin can handle more nourishment without breaking out. Switch to an oil-based cleanser with plenty of active ingredients, and a cream-based moisturizer that is right for your skin type. I love anti-aging nutrients during this time! Try this Countertime Cleansing Oil, which is rich in fatty acids and anti-nutrients, or this Cleansing Balm, which contains shea butter and brightening nutrients. If you have more oily skin, daytime nourishing moisturizers can be used as your night cream, like this Countertime Antioxidant Soft Cream. And if you are already using moisturizers and creams, try incorporating a balm during this time, especially if you feel more dry. I use this Blue Tansy Beauty Cream.
- Essences: A moisturizing essence is like a toner, but more nourishing. This is the BEST time to swap out your astringent toner for an essence that is packed with active ingredients. Apply with a cotton pad after cleansing, just like you would your toner. I love this anti-aging mineral essence during this phase!
- Resurfacing Acids (AHA/BHA): The increased collagen production makes this an ideal time for a peel. Peels are packed with resurfacing acids, and help to brighten skin and increase cell turnover. I love this Overnight Resurfacing Peel during this phase.
- Vitamin C: When it comes to skin health, age defense, and a bright, dewy glow, vitamin C is the holy grail. It’s one of my favorite skin nutrients! It brightens skin and improve discoloration, and support the skin’s natural collagen production—perfect for this phase! I highly recommend this All Bright C Serum. Layer it on in the morning every day during this phase!
- Zinc Oxide (Mineral Based Sunscreen): This is an important time to protect your skin from damage that leads to hyperpigmentation. Use a safe, mineral-based face sunscreen that is lightweight and won’t clog pores, like the Countersun Sheer Defense SPF for face.
Phase 4: The Luteal Phase (Day 16-28)
This is where cycle syncing your skin care makes all the difference! After ovulation, your core body temperature rises thanks to rising progesterone levels. Research shows you have a higher sweat rate during this time. How fun! If you aren’t pregnant, hormone levels drop right before your period starts.
Focus: This is the time to focus on preventing acne by absorbing oil and clearing out pores. Products also need to be gentle and anti-inflammatory since skin is sensitive. Plus, you’ll need some sweat control!
Key Skin Nutrients For This Phase:
- Salicylic acid: Bring back your salicylic acid Clear Pore Cleanser during this time to fight acne and inflammation. Clearing out pores will prevent breakouts. Because salicylic acid is anti-inflammatory and helps to reduce redness, you can use 2% salicylic acid to treat acne that appears. Use this SOS Spot Treatment right when you see bumps occur.
- Charcoal: Charcoal is a great natural ingredient that absorbs oil and impurities. Apply a safe and effective Charcoal Mask to your skin 1-2x in this phase.
- Astringents like witch hazel and apple cider vinegar: Switch back to your astringent toner in this phase. I love the Everything Spray because it is very gentle.
- Corn starch, sodium bicarbonate, and shea butter: An aluminum-free natural deodorant that neutralizes odor, absorbs sweat, and goes on smoothly is important during this phase. Make sure to use one that doesn’t have endocrine disruptors. I personally love the Clean Deo as it stops the stank and manages sweat even during workouts! My husband loves the Primally Pure Charcoal Deodorant.
- Squalene and phytic acid: Oil production is at its highest in this phase, so you’ll only need a light moisturizer to keep skin supple. Squalene oil is great for all skin types. It isn’t heavy or greasy, and doesn’t clog pores. I also love moisturizers with phytic acid, as it helps to shed off dead skin buildup, but in a gentle way. My two favorite lightweight moisturizers for this phase are the Countermatch Adaptive Moisture Lotion (normal and dry skin) and the Countercontrol Matte Gel Cream.
Choosing Products Without Endocrine Disruptors
This may come as a shock, but cosmetic products are one of the top ways women are exposed to endocrine disruptors, that is, ingredients that can negatively impact your hormones and create irregular or unhealthy cycles. Yes, there are ingredients that can cause hormone imbalances in most conventional makeup and skin care products, and they could be impacting your thyroid function, estrogen metabolism, and menstrual cycle (to name a few).
That’s why choosing products free of known harmful ingredients like endocrine disruptors, fragrance, and carcinogens is so important.
Need help finding safe products that REALLY work? Here are some of my other resources for clean beauty:
- 10 Harmful Ingredients to Avoid in Makeup & Skincare
- Does Your Makeup Contain Heavy Metals? Here’s How To Know
- Best Clean Beauty Brands: Where to Start and What to Avoid
Also, I now write a monthly newsletter centered around understanding harmful ingredients in skin care and cosmetic products. Join my Clean Beauty Community to get it!
What If My Hormonal Acne Doesn’t Improve?
If you start cycle syncing your skincare routine but don’t notice any improvements in your hormonal acne, it’s time to get serious about balancing your hormones internally and figuring out the root cause. To help you figure out your root cause, check out Hormonal Acne: The Root Cause and How to Treat It Naturally. I highly recommend working with a qualified practitioner who can run the DUTCH test to see what your hormones are doing, and the exact imbalances that you’re dealing with.
Remember: chronic or severe acne is never normal, whether it lasts all month or pops up around your period. Skin rashes, hypersensitivity, and hyperpigmentation can all also be signs something is amiss with your hormones.
Cycle Syncing Your Skin Care: Guidelines, Not Rules
Remember: these are guidelines and suggestions, not hard and fast rules! Go with your flow, and do what feels right for you as you use this template for syncing your skin care to your menstrual cycle. Be aware of how your skin changes, and adapt your routine accordingly.
I’m confident that once you go with this flow, you’ll notice improvement in your skin’s appearance.
Have you tried cycle syncing your skin care? How has cycle syncing helped you improve your skin? Let me know below!