Wait, Should We Be Syncing Our Skincare to Our Periods?
Keeping up with the surge of "cure-all" wellness fads is a job in and of itself. In our column Wellness Inspector, we do the work for you, closely examining these trends to see if they're worth your hard-earned pennies—or whether they're just hype.
There are multiple symptoms of menstruation that I'd rather do without: cramps, aches, bloating, and fatigue. However, there's one I wish I could avoid above all others, and that's the general category of period-related skin concerns, whether that manifests in monthly breakouts, puffiness, dullness, or a combination of all three.
According to board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology, Corey L. Hartman, M.D., I, along with so many other women, can blame my skin woes on my hormones. "The menstrual cycle is a time of intense hormonal changes that cycle through each month," he explains. "As women experience their period, hormonal influences can impact skin in negative ways."
This link between menstruation and subsequent skin issues is being explored—and interrupted—by way of period skincare. Brands are releasing products that are meant to be used during specific stages of the menstrual cycle to target and prevent certain skin issues. To better understand this new trend, I spoke to two dermatologists to get their thoughts and learn if there's science to back up this category.
How does your period affect your skin?
According to Dr. Hartman, oil glands are partially controlled by hormones, so when oil production ramps up during your monthly cycle it can cause breakouts. "Sebaceous glands, or oil glands, have receptors which are influenced by sex hormones, most notably by androgens. When high androgen levels promote excess sebum production, it combines with dead skin cells within the pore, causing congestion," he says.
Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with over 40 years of experience and the founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare, says that puffiness is also a common skin concern when it comes to the menstrual cycle. This is, yet again, related to hormones, as she explains that "lower progesterone is associated with more fluid retention."
Some women may also note that their skin looks dull and lackluster, or feels more sensitive and reactive, during certain points of their monthly cycle. All of these are common skin concerns, and exactly the type of issues that period-specific skincare looks to address.
Do period skincare products actually work?
Here's the tricky part. Period-related skin issues are caused by hormones, and topical skincare products don't do anything to address that piece of the puzzle. However, that's not to say they can't help with the subsequent skin effects of said hormones. "While these brands offer a unique approach and feature mostly natural ingredients like zinc, green tea, and white willow, the hormones are the problem, and in my experience, medical treatment is often necessary," says Dr. Hartman. "I do think that natural ingredients provide a nice complementary addition."
Dr. Loretta echos a similar opinion, noting that there are lots of products on the market that can address period-related skin issues; they're simply not marketed as such. "So many good products effectively work for premenstrual acne and puffiness without calling themselves period-specific," she says, "but if you try these products and they are good for your skin, there is no reason not to use them."
In other words, if these types of products seem to work for your skin and you're doing your best to care for it consistently, there's no harm in bringing a period-specific skincare product into your routine—just don't overhaul your skincare routine for one week each month. "It is best to keep a steady skincare routine," Dr. Loretta says. "If you can keep your skin in good balance using the same skincare all month, you can help to minimize and prevent breakouts and facial puffiness."
What about menopause-specific skincare?
Menopause-specific skincare is another growing trend in the beauty industry, as products formulated to target a very specific set of skin concerns have begun to launch. "Melasma, acne, dry and itchy skin, increased sweating, and increased hair growth are all skin changes that occur during menopause," Dr. Hartman explains. "Hormonal changes play a huge role in the development of these symptoms. Estrogen, in particular, is the main culprit as hormone production slows down during menopause. We also see an acceleration of wrinkle development as skin becomes dry and more likely to form lines and lose volume."
Dr. Hartman says he generally sees more merit in menopause-centered skincare, as opposed to period-specific skincare, as "we can identify the changes that the decrease in hormones cause and target specific ingredients like free fatty acids, heparan sulfate analog, growth factors, and ceramides to address the dryness, irritation, and decreased elasticity that result."
However, the same rules about period-specific skincare apply to menopausal skincare—you don't have to completely overhaul your skincare routine to address these newfound skin concerns. Dr. Loretta's advice? Consider the ingredients, not the category. "As with all products, it is best to read the ingredient listing and to try to decipher what the active ingredients are and how they may help your skin."