How the Menstrual Cycle Affects Acne

Is Premenstrual Acne Real?

How the Menstrual Cycle Affects Acne

It seems like every month is like clockwork. Your skin seems to be clearing up well when all of a sudden, around the time of your period, breakouts start happening again. Can you imagine it, or is acne before menstruation a real phenomenon?

Premenstrual Acne Symptoms

Premenstrual acne is a real phenomenon. Premenstrual acne, often referred to as “PMS acne,” is a persistent flare-up or worsening of acne each month that coincides with the menstrual cycle.

Some people find that their existing acne gets worse just before their period. Other people’s skin is relatively clear during the rest of the month, only breaking out a week or two before their period.

Those PMS breakouts are different from your “normal” breakouts. They are red and swollen papules that rarely develop a white head. These breakouts mostly appear on the lower part of the face – cheeks, jawline, chin, and neck.

According to various studies, premenstrual acne affects 50% to 80% of people.

Causes of Acne Before Your Period


Your period can directly affect your skin and hormones are responsible for this. Just as hormones trigger the development of acne during puberty, hormones also play a big role in the breakouts you get right before your monthly cycle.

Hormones are also responsible for acne which also gets worse during pregnancy and menopause. Specifically, we’re looking at testosterone.

Although we tend to think of testosterone as a “male” hormone, women also make it at lower levels than men. Testosterone has been implicated as a factor in the development of acne because it triggers your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum (or oil).

For most, breakouts occur about a week to 10 days before menstruation begins. This is the time when estrogen is at its lowest. Testosterone levels remain fairly stable throughout the month, so testosterone drops relatively high as estrogen drops.

The hormone progesterone also plays a role in premenstrual acne. Progesterone levels increase during the second half of your cycle. This can make your skin more oily and clog pores, trapping dirt and oil.

It creates a perfect storm for breakouts: Your skin is more oily, and that oil can more easily get trapped in swollen pores. There may be other factors at work, and more studies are still being done on how the menstrual cycle affects acne and the skin in general.


You don’t have to endure these monthly breakouts. There are treatments that can help get them under control.

Birth control pills

Oral contraceptives have long been used to reduce acne breakouts, possibly because they help control hormonal fluctuations.

Benzoyl Peroxide

This common acne medication also works well on hormonal breakouts. If your acne is mild, you may need OTC benzoyl peroxide. Prescription benzoyl peroxide is an option if you need something stronger.

Topical retinoids

This is another prescription drug that works great for adult breakouts. They help keep those pores clear and can also reduce fine lines and wrinkles.


If you’re having trouble controlling your acne, this hormonal regulator may be an option for you. Spironolactone is a prescription medicine that you take orally.

Don’t curse your skin this month. Instead, visit your dermatologist and look forward to clear, healthy skin throughout the month.