Period pimples: What I discovered about menstrual acne after crying out for help on Instagram.
When Gina Martin, journalist, activist, and influencer, got sick and tired of hormonal acne popping up before her period every cycle, she reached out to her online community of more than twelve thousand Instagram followers for advice. She’s pulled together all the best advice and product recommendations she received to share them with OHNE.
Since the clock hit midnight and I turned sweet sixteen I’ve grown, what I like to call, a spot beard for a week of every month. A few days before I bleed, along with ginormous, throbbingly painful tits and an inability to watch animal videos on Facebook without crying I will, without fail, have ‘bad’ skin. And I’m not alone; up to 50% of women in their 20s suffer from acne or menstrual acne. It sucks. Nothing knocks your confidence down a peg quicker than waking up with a sore-looking blotchy face. It can feel debilitating and, in the warmer months, is a real struggle to hide. My face has been misbehaving every month for a decade, yet I’ve done nothing to try and stop it. I’ve just moaned in the mirror. Having menstrual spots and pimples really gets me down, yet I’d resigned myself to the idea that it was just part of life. That is, until last week when I took to Instagram and asked my followers for help. Within my lovely community I found a whole host of ideas to help you cope with and reduce the effects of period pimples, and sharing is caring, Y’know?
The obvious stuff
Until they create a seismometer for hyper hormones, quelling cystic spots and those pesky chin-lurkers is basically a preventative operation. When I asked for help the most common answer I got was exactly what I expected, but not what I hoped for. I yearned for a buy-now link to a magic serum, and instead got what my parents had been telling me for years: drink two or three litres of water a day, get eight hours of sleep a night and get moving. Yes, yes I know. I rolled my eyes at first too, but then I took a real good look at my spotty self and realised; I very rarely do either of these things.
During your cycle, your skin becomes collateral damage in a battle between your hormones and your body; fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone can mean your sebaceous glands become over-eager, then the next minute you know, you’re avidly moisturising dry patches. That body of yours is working bloody hard, so of course you need to give a little more TLC. The least you can do is get some good shut-eye, hydrate and get your blood pumping y’know?
Ooh-hoo, this was a biggie. A good chunk of my messages came from women praising the benefits of cutting out dairy and highly-sugary foods the week before they bled. Dr Firas Al-Niaimi, consultant cosmetic dermatologist at Sk:n told Huff Post ‘it’s generally largely known that in a subset of patients, a dairy-free diet certainly improves their skin and in particular acne’, and experts in the field have noted that growth drivers and hormones in cow’s milk can trigger flare ups. Foods high in fructose (man-made sugars) are a no-no generally, as they result in energy crashes, dehydration and mean your body is working harder to process food which, let’s be honest, just isn’t what it needs right now.
However, if cutting out dairy just isn’t an option for you, try basing most of your meals on veggies. Upping your intake of collagen-boosting Vitamin C and antioxidant-rich Vitamins A and E is going to give you a headstart before your skin even thinks of breaking out. But of course, wash it all down with 650 pints of water.
Most recommended products
Any one of my followers who managed to control their menstrual acne said that creating a tailored skin routine and sticking to it all month helped. Personally, I’ve always assumed I’d need to switch up my routine only a day or two before the start of my period, but during research I found out that two whole weeks before it all kicks off, the sex hormone estradiol falls rapidly and testosterone becomes king (that’s the bloody patriarchy for you), which means more sebum and more oily skin, so actually, a month-long preventative effort makes perfect sense.
You don’t have to change up your whole routine, though. Incorporating a product into your existing one that works extra hard to stop breakouts will help – but it’s all about consistency. You can’t just make the effort when you feel a bump lurking – it’s got to be every night. And yes, that means even when you’re ten jaeger-bombs deep, lying in bed at 3am eating hummus out of the pot with your fingers. The first product that kept cropping up was the Tea Tree Anti-Imperfection Mask by The Body Shop. Pictures of this green tub took over my inbox, and when I counted them, it actually came joint first with The Ordinary products for most recommended. The best way to use it seems to be once a week throughout the month to shorten the life of breakouts.
During the week of your period, keep in mind that increased release of prostaglandin hormones means your skin’s probably going to be far more sensitive that usual. Take it easy and use more gentle products if you can. Exfoliating once a week is key, but go for an enzyme exfoliator instead of a grain one so you’re not disturbing your skin too much. Cult brand The Ordinary’s ‘Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution’ was sent to me a lot – gentle on sensitive skin but apparently still works hard and does the job.
For spot scarring, congestion and enlarged pores the ‘Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%’ by The Ordinary cropped up so much that I ended up screenshotting and buying it. A few people even said they’d switched from the Glossier Super Serum to this because it’s just as good and waaay cheaper.
I’m not sponsored by them, I swear. People just bloody love this stuff.
General encouraging information I gathered from the 87 instagram messages I received was that when choosing products to reduce blocked pores and blemishes occuring, you want something with BHAs/AHAs, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide in. Topical acne creams like ‘Acnecide’ are great for bad acne and ‘Lixir’ Night Switch with BHAs and AHAs also got sent through to me a lot – the blend of three skin-loving acids means it eats up pigmented or dead skin, hydrates, reduces signs of ageing and toxins in the skin. Sounds dreamy, and excellent for skin that’s been struggling with spots for a while and needs a revamp. For those who get dryer patches, Weleda Skin Food is apparently a life changer – Instagram makeup artist and Glossier goddess Kate Jane Hughes swears by it, but more importantly, ya gal Gina Martin uses it and it really works.
So, there you have it: out of 87 Instagram messages from women who’ve been trying to banish their period blemishes for years, those were the products they loved and the lifestyle changes that worked for them.
Now, slap on a face mark, snuggle down into bed early with a pint of water, let your body do its thing and don’t worry about your spot beard growing back – you’ve got more important battles to fight. Like Gary from accounts and his crap jokes.
Writer & Activist
Gina Martin is the activist, journalist, and influencer behind the viral campaign to make Upskirting a sexual offence in the UK. In between writing for Refinery29, Glamour Magazine, The Telegraph and Grazia, campaigning to save the planet, and promoting sustainable fashion, she runs one of the most positive, community-engaged, and aesthetically pleasing instagram accounts we’ve ever seen. We love her, and we’re sure you will too.
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