No, It’s Not Your Imagination—Your Period Does Affect Your Skin

As much as we may try to ignore them and get on with our lives, periods do affect many aspects of our health—and skin is no exception. So, what happens to our skin during our menstrual cycle, and is there anything we can do about it?

What Happens

According to Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, all parts of your menstrual cycle do, in fact, affect your skin. “During your period, hormone levels are low,” Piliang tells SheKnows. “Your skin will be dryer, more sensitive and more prone to inflammation.”

Giving your skin a little TLC (not the channel) is the key to getting your skin through your period, she explains. A good place to start is applying a gentle fragrance-free moisturizer twice daily, avoiding harsh soaps and very hot water, Piliang says, adding that a soothing yogurt mask may help decrease inflammation and soothe sensitive skin.

Then, after your period is over and you move toward mid-cycle (when you’re ovulating), your estrogen levels begin to rise. “Estrogen means your skin cells are plumper,” Piliang explains. “Your skin will appear fuller and is more resilient. This is a good time for a light exfoliation and to start back on gentle exfoliating products like alpha hydroxy acids.”

After you finish ovulating, your estrogen level drops and your progesterone level rises. Testosterone levels also peak around the time of ovulation. “This predominance of androgen hormones (progesterone and testosterone) leads to increased sebum production and oilier skin,” Piliang says.

On top of that, the skin cells lining the hair follicles become stickier and form plugs, which can make pores appear larger, she adds. If the plug is large, there’s a good chance blemishes like blackheads and whiteheads will develop. “These hormonal changes become more imbalanced towards androgens until your period,” Piliang says. “Then is all starts over again.”

Treatment Options

Because each part of your menstrual cycle affects your skin in different ways, it’s helpful to take that into consideration when deciding how to treat and care for your skin. For example, during the first week after your period, when your skin is dryer and more sensitive, Piliang says it is important to treat your skin gently. And while, yes, this does apply to your face—she suggests using extra moisturizers—Piliang also recommends skipping painful procedures like facials with extractions and bikini or facial waxing.

Then, when your androgen (testosterone and progesterone) levels begin to rise in the second half of your cycle and your skin becomes oilier, topical products to loosen the plug and dry up the oil—such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide and adapalene—can be helpful, she adds. Not only that, but benzoyl peroxide helps to dry up oil and open pores and is antibacterial.

Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, alpha hydroxy acid all help to exfoliate the skin, keep pores free of debris and dry up oil. And retinoids (like tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene) are vitamin A derivatives, which decrease oil production and keep the pores open. “All of these can be irritating, so you want to be cautious with using them during your period and in the first few days after,” Piliang says. “They also make you more sensitive to the sun—so wear your sunscreen!”

If you try these methods and hormonal acne does not improve, Piliang then suggests that you make an appointment with a dermatologist.

How to Navigate Yoga While You Have Your Period

For some of us, yoga is always a little tricky… and becomes even more complex when we have our period. We know light exercise is good for us during menstruation, but sometimes the couch looks more inviting than a yoga mat. Then there are the logistics. Thankfully, most yoga pants are dark-colored, so in case a few drops (or more) of blood sneak through, it’s shouldn’t be too obvious—but that doesn’t make me feel less self-conscious about it. Not to mention the fact that bending your legs and contorting your torso into different shapes may not be the most comfortable when you’re battling killer cramps.

But never fear. I spoke with some stellar yoga instructors to get their top tips on how to get the most out of yoga during your period.

1. Take it Easy

If you’re the type who likes to push your body to the limit during yoga, your period may not be the best time to do that. “If you’re used to killing it in every posture, give yourself a pass to just breathe and stretch gently if that is what feels good,” says Carolyn Funke, an E-RYT 200-certified yoga instructor who teaches at Balance Yoga and Wellness in Larchmont, New York.

2. Don’t Forget the Water

Drinking water is always a good idea before and after class, but Funke advises you try to hold off chugging it during class. “It never feels good to be too full in the belly while you’re bending and twisting, and having to leave class to pee is annoying too,” she says.

3. Pay Attention to Positions

Doing yoga on your period means some positions may feel better than others. Funke recommends backbends, Fish pose or Wheel along with some gentle spine twisting. And although some people say you should avoid inversions at all costs while menstruating, Funke doesn’t think that’s necessary.

“If you want to stand on your head, go for it, but be honest with yourself,” she says. “If you’re feeling dizzy or are prone to anemia, maybe just lay on your back with your legs up the wall.”

Kino MacGregor—or as she is known on Instagram, KinoYoga—an international yoga teacher, author of four books including The Yogi Assignment, says that in the ashtanga yoga tradition, it is not advised to do strenuous yoga practice on the days of heaviest flow during your menstrual cycle.

“One of the main reasons for this is that during days of heaviest flow, the muscles may feel extraordinarily flexible while lacking the necessary support of core strength,” she adds.

If you suffer from menstrual cramps, MacGregor says you may find some restorative yoga poses to be therapeutic. However, if you push yourself to go into extreme yoga poses, it may make you feel worse.

4. Pick the Right Period Products

We have a lot of options when it comes to period products—including tampons, pads (both reusable and disposable), menstrual cups and discs—but how do we know which is best to use for yoga? In short, it’s whatever makes you most comfortable. If you’re not used to using tampons, for example, popping one in before a yoga class may distract you while you’re bending and stretching.

5. Clothes Matter

Yoga attire is usually based on comfort, and that is especially true during your period. “For practice, it is advised to wear comfortable clothes that do not compress the abdomen during the days of your cycle,” MacGregor says.

6. Find a Class You’re Comfortable with

Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all practice, and that is especially true during your period. Funke suggests trying different kinds of classes to find out what feels best for you. “Some people love a vigorous hot yoga class, while others feel better with a yin class or gentle restorative yoga,” she says. “It’s all good. We’re not judging.”

Originally posted on SheKnows.