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Why Am I Breaking Out During My Time of the Month?

As if we don't have enough to contend with during that special time of the month, along come pimples to join the party.

If you find you're regularly breaking out during your period and you've just put up with it up until now, you might be interested to know the causes and what you can do about this recurrence. 

The good news is that you don't have to suffer from period pimples or accept them as part of your life every month. In this article, we'll explore the reasons for your hormonal breakouts, how to manage them when they do pop up, medications for period acne, and things you can do to avoid them completely. 


  • Acne can be triggered by hormonal fluctuations that are a natural part of menstruation for women. 
  • Treating hormonal or period acne can be accomplished with birth control, which can help to smooth hormone levels or changes, and sometimes with anti-androgen medications like spironolactone. Diet and lifestyle changes may also help with period acne.

What Are Hormonal Breakouts?

Before you go to battle against hormonal or menstrual breakouts, it's good to know who your enemy is. 

This means knowing the difference between period acne and a regular breakout. The easiest indicator? The timing of these flare-ups. Period pimples typically occur during the week before your period starts or during your period. For many women, they generally improve or clear up completely before your period is over. 

How severe can period acne get? If you already suffer from acne, you may find that acne breakouts get worse before and during your period. If you have relatively clear skin, you might have one or two large pimples pop up. And those pimples certainly know how to ruin your day, often appearing overnight on the chin, forehead, or nose. 

Know Your Pimples: A Quick Guide

Did you know that not all pimples are created equal? All acne blemishes form when pores become clogged by dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria, then infected. There are many types of blemishes that can crop up during your period––or at any time for that matter. Knowing the difference can help you to tackle them head-on. 

  • Comedone. A comedone is the term for any plug in a pore, generally a mass of dead skin cells, sebum (oil from your sebaceous glands), and dirt.
  • Papules. These are inflamed pimples that look like small pink bumps. They’re often painful. 
  • Pustules. These pimples are red at the bottom while the tops are yellow or white and filled with pus and inflammatory liquids. 
  • Blackheads. When pores become clogged with sebum (facial oil), dirt, and dead skin cells, and this mass is then exposed to oxygen at the top of your pore, this is a blackhead. 
  • Whiteheads. When a pore is blocked by the same materials above but also closes up, the blockage remains white and is known as a whitehead. The white look is due to this clump not being exposed to oxygen.
  • Nodules. Forming deeper under the skin, nodules are a deep rupture of a comedone or filled pore. They occur when infected pores burst deep under the skin, and they're hard because your body forms a protective barrier at the dermal wound. They frequently leave scars. Nodules are more common than cysts, and pseudocysts are pus-filled nodules.
  • Cysts. Both nodules and cysts frequently form on the back, shoulders, and chests because pores are often larger in this area. True cysts are larger nodules that sit deeply in the skin and are over 5 mm in diameter. They form when a pore ruptures and the body forms a large protective barrier around the rupture. They can be painful and frequently leave scars. Nodules and cysts can remain for months.

Why Does Your Face Break Out During Your Period?

Your hormones fluctuate quite significantly during your menstrual cycle. During the days before your period, your levels of progesterone and estrogen take a dive. This drop can trigger the creation and release of more sebum on your skin. Created by the sebaceous glands, sebum is an oily substance that is produced to stop your skin from drying out. Too much sebum can clog pores and cause breakouts. 

Hormones can also be responsible for moodiness, sore breasts, and increased inflammation overall. Stress and anxiety can also be increased by hormone fluctuations during your period, and this can contribute to worse acne and breakouts. 

How to Avoid Breaking Out During Your Period

Possibly the most frustrating thing about hormonal breakouts is that they come back month after month. For some of us, we can almost set a watch by their punctuality. Rather than waiting for the next one to turn up, there are some things you can do throughout your cycle to avoid pimples altogether. If you know you're likely to break out in spots before or during your period, it's time to get prepared and show those monthly breakouts who's boss. Arming yourself with the right routines and products can help you treat those pimples effectively when they appear or even avoid them altogether. 

OTC Acne Products

Did you know that acne products designed to treat an active breakout can also be used to prevent future breakouts? 

Products that contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as lactic acid and glycolic acid, can help to prevent clogged pores and remove dead skin cells. They can also make your skin appear clearer and smoother. 

Salicylic acid products can be effective, too. You can get these without prescription in low doses of 0.5 to 5 percent. These products can prevent clogged pores and breakouts. If you haven't used these products before it's a good idea to start with a low concentration to avoid irritation and redness. 

Here's an example of how your period pimple-busting routine could look:

  • Wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser. A non-soap cleanser will help keep your face from drying out and could prevent pores from becoming blocked. 
  • Use a glycolic acid toner to slough away dead skin cells, promote the generation of new skin cells, and reduce inflammation. 
  • Use a spot treatment that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These will help to keep your pores clear. 

You should also avoid using potentially irritating or pore-clogging products around your time of the month, such as oily foundations or greasy sunscreens, and choose a tinted moisturizer and a non-oily sunscreen. Also, look for non-comedogenic make-up that doesn't block the pores. 

Try to remember to cleanse your face after activities that make you sweat, such as after a workout. A pack of cleansing wipes in your purse can help you to keep your skin clean, refreshed, and less of a target for plugged pores and resulting breakouts. 

Improve Your Diet

Besides cutting down on processed and fatty foods to improve your skin, there are other changes you can make to your diet to prevent those pesky pimples. Studies show that regulating blood sugar levels can have a beneficial impact on the fight against hormonal acne. You can do this by eating foods that have a low glycemic index (GI). The GI is a measure that signifies how a food spikes your blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar spikes, it can cause you to feel hungry and grab the wrong foods. Low-GI foods will help to keep your blood sugar balanced and your hunger in check. 

High-GI foods can worsen acne and should be avoided for better skin (and better health generally). They include:

  • white bread
  • sugary food and drink
  • highly processed foods

These foods can also play havoc with your skin if you already have acne, increasing redness and inflammation. By limiting intake of these foods, you can prevent acne from appearing before and during your period and also throughout your cycle. 

What's more, adding healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, and more protein to your diet can be beneficial to your skin, boosting radiance and keeping skin clear. 

How to Treat a Hormonal Breakout

Period-related acne can be hard to treat. These pimples appear out of the blue, are often large and angry from the start, and may require a little more specific help.

But because period acne is largely a result of hormonal changes, dermatologists have some specific tools to combat acne during your time of the month. 

  • Retinoids. Retinoids are commonly prescribed to treat mild to moderate acne. These solutions, including topical tretinoin and the oral medication isotretinoin, can be used over the long term and are highly effective at fighting acne, including hormonal acne. They work by speeding up how your skin creates new cells, pushing fresh, young cells to the surface faster than normal while improving collagen production and elasticity. 
  • Birth control. Birth control medications are effective at regulating or smoothing hormones and dramatic fluctuations to prevent acne during your time of the month. They work well for many women. 
  • Anti-androgen medications. Your dermatologist may recommend anti-androgens like spironolactone. This medication specifically suppresses the production of male hormones like testosterone (yes, women have testosterone too), which contribute to more sebum production at the skin. It’s not appropriate for acne in men as it can cause feminizing effects, and it’s not appropriate for women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. It can cause side effects for some women.

If you continue to suffer from period acne after three cycles of trying OTC products and lifestyle changes, it’s time to turn to a professional for help. A registered dermatologist like those at Nava MD may be able to help with prescription acne treatments. 

The Bottom Line

If you suffer from acne at 'that' time of the month, you don't just have to accept it. 

Start with some prevention efforts, but if you feel like hormonal acne has gone on long enough, talk to a professional about prescription options. 

Nava MD is here for exactly that. We’re working to make clinical dermatology accessible for anyone, from anywhere, with custom prescription formulas sent to your door, if prescribed.

Click here to get started today.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency