Hormonal acne used to be the bane of my life. Every cycle I would get horrendously painful cystic spots bulging under my skin. My chin and my jawline were most affected.
If you have a quick look into acne mapping, you can see that the chin and the jaw are most associated with hormonal acne. If you couple this with the fact that my acne worsened in the lead up to my period, it’s pretty safe to say there was something hormonal going on here. Pinpointing exactly what can be tricky though.
If you do a Google search for “how to get rid of hormonal acne” you’ll be greeted with hundreds of answers. They range from “there’s nothing you can do about it” to “drink more water and cut out dairy” to “try this expensive wonder product”.
I felt like I’d read all the articles. Nothing seemed to work for my hormonal acne. I say hormonal acne, to be honest – it felt more like “all the time” acne. But, it definitely got worse when I was due on my period.
As a teenager I’d always had “okay” skin. Not brilliant skin. Not horrendous skin either. Just “okay”.
Through high school I would usually have at least one spot on my face at any given time. My skin was pretty average. I wasn’t plagued with acne as a teen. But, my skin definitely wasn’t perfect either.
As I got older I figured my skin could only improve. Acne is for teenagers, right? By the time you reach your twenties it all just fades away. Or maybe not.
I continued to have spotty skin well into my twenties. Looking back at photos, it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. Back then, I guess I didn’t appreciate that pores and texture are just part of having skin. I was aiming for flawlessly airbrushed skin that you see on a magazine cover.
These days, I realise that that’s actually an unattainable beauty standard. Unless my skin was made of plastic, it is always going to have some amount of “imperfection”. It’s skin. It’s supposed to be like that.
So, my teenage skin was average. As I went into my twenties my skin continued to be average. I nearly always had a spot on my face. But, my skin got really bad in 2019.
a link between stress and acne?
This was when my marriage, and subsequently my entire life, fell apart. When things went tits up in my marriage it was horrendous. Thankfully we managed to turn things around, but it took a lot of therapy.
During therapy I had to confront years of unhealed trauma. I will always say therapy was one of the best experiences of my life, but it was also the single most difficult. While I was healing, my stress levels were through the roof.
I found myself being an absolute nervous wreck. I was afraid that someone was “coming to get me” while I was at home. I was afraid to go out. I wasn’t sleeping. I was quite honestly a mess. And it really showed in my skin.
Am I Too Old For Acne?
I started to notice a pattern. About a week or so before my period, these absolutely huge, painful, cystic spots would show up on my chin and jaw. They would stick around until my period was done. Then they would heal for about a week, leaving me with a week of clear skin before the whole cycle started over again.
I was getting about 1 week or less of “normal” skin each month. I was getting tired of being spotty. I was frustrated thinking “shouldn’t I have grown out of this by now?”.
The thing with these spots wasn’t so much that they were unsightly. I mean, they were. But the thing that bothered me the most was the pain.
My skin was so sore to the touch. It was irritated and red. Have you ever had a spot that felt like so much pressure under your skin, that it’s really itchy? My entire chin would be full of them.
Of course when you itched it, it hurt like hell. It was making me miserable and I never left the house without makeup. I became completely obsessed with my skin.
I knew there was something hormonal going on. I could see this pattern that aligned perfectly with my cycle. Back then, I didn’t understand my body quite as well. So I set about finding a topical solution to my skin woes.
For me, it has to be Mooncup.
Mooncup is an economical, eco-friendly alternative to tampons and pads. It’s my all-time favourite period product and it totally changed the way I feel about that time of the month.
I Tried All The Products
I figured that a good skincare routine could cure me of my acne ailment. I’d never been “great” at skincare. I never had a proper routine. I was too tight to spend a lot of money on products. But, by this point I was getting desperate.
I decided to join a skincare group on Facebook to get some tips as to how to tame my angry, irritated skin. It seemed like everyone in the group had a super fancy skincare routine with about 10 different products. So, I figured I should do that too.
I started with a basic cleanse tone moisturise routine. I went into the pharmacy and picked up a brand I’d never heard of before (but had heard good things about) and went on my merry way. I thought this was the start of me fixing my skin.
A couple of weeks went by of me using my new products and I saw literally no improvement in my skin. I was still going through the stress of dealing with my mental trauma and the skin products weren’t making a difference. I figured I needed more products.
In the Facebook group I was a part of, everyone was talking about acids. “You need to be using an acid”. For those who aren’t familiar, acids aren’t there to burn your skin off, as the name would suggest. Although you do have to use them with care.
Acids are basically liquid exfoliants. They exfoliate dead skin cells and build up to make your skin silky smooth. They claim to be able to get rid of fine lines, uneven skin tone and, of course, acne.
You might have heard of salicylic acid or BHA. It’s commonly found in many over-the- counter spot treatments. There are literally thousands of people who swear by it.
Of course, I wanted to introduce this miracle wonder product into my routine. So I bought myself a salicylic acid serum and a salicylic acid mask. The serum was for daily use. The mask, weekly.
I thought that this would be the miracle I was waiting for. I had the most complex skincare routine I’d ever had in my life. I was spending a small fortune on products each month. I so desperately wanted it to work.
The thing was. I felt like my skin wasn’t improving at all. In fact, I felt like it might even be getting worse. I’d read that your skin can “purge” when you start a new routine. That it might actually get worse before it gets better. I thought this was probably normal so I carried on.
I became a bit obsessed with throwing more and more products at my skin in a bid to clear my acne. Part of me knew that the products weren’t working. But part of me was afraid to stop using them in case my skin got even worse. It felt like a catch 22 situation.
Then lockdown came along. Now, we’re probably all aware by now that national lockdowns are, in fact, no fun at all. But when UK lockdown #1 happened, I was full of optimism.
I thought it would be a fun opportunity to be at home and spend some time chilling out with my family. I’d just spend the last almost 2 years piecing my life back together. I thought it would be a good few weeks to spend some much needed quality time.
Of course, I was naive in thinking that the lockdown would be 4 weeks at most. Hindsight is 20:20 after all. But, it did give me an opportunity to experiment with my skin.
I figured I wouldn’t be seeing anyone for a while. I’d run out of all my products. So, rather than order new ones I decided to quit. Cold turkey.
I bought myself a pack of face wipes (dermatologists everywhere, I can feel your eyes rolling right now), and a moisturiser and decided that was it. No more fancy products. Let’s see what happens.
As much as I enjoyed applying all my fancy products. Really, I knew they weren’t right for my skin. So I decided to go right back to basics.
To start with, I didn’t see much of an improvement. But, things weren’t getting worse at least. I took it as a good thing.
If nothing else, I realised I didn’t need to be spending a ridiculous amount of money on products each month. They were making no difference to my skin anyway. So I stuck with the face wipes for a good few months.
What I started to notice was that my skin was no longer as red and angry. I still got the hormonal chin spots, and they were often super painful. But they came a few days before my period and were usually gone by the time my period ended. This was a dramatic improvement on my skin before I quit skincare.
What I figured out is that my skin is actually quite sensitive. So, all the harsh products I was using on my skin to get rid of my spots were actually just making it more angry and inflamed. I was doing myself no favours at all.
The Real Reason My Acne Cleared Up
But that’s not the only thing. I know now that my stress levels also played a massive factor into my skin. I’d had a traumatic couple of years. Things went wrong in my life, and then I was forced to confront all my past trauma and move forward from it.
None of this was easy. It was damn hard work. My anxiety was through the roof. And while I was healing I was a mess. My skin was at its worst when I was going through all this.
Once I made it out of the other side, my skin was more “typical”. It was the kind of hormonal skin you might expect. Some painful chin spots at PMS week which were all healed by the end of my period.
After having such terrible skin and feeling the pain that came with it, I was content to just have a few hormonal spots once a month. I could live with that. I figured perfect skin was just not the one for me. I was okay with it.
I was still happy using my very basic products. I was happy with my skin.
As I continued to live my life in sync with my cycle, I learned so much more about stress management. I found ways to cope with my anxieties. I found patterns of when my anxiety cropped up that aligned perfectly with my cycle.
The more I learned about these patterns, the easier it became to combat stress. In fact, now I’m the least stressed I’ve ever been in my life. I owe a good portion of that to therapy. But also to understanding my cycle.
I know when stress is likely to come up for me. I know what triggers it. I understand my body’s needs through the stressful phases of the cycle and I’m careful to prioritise self care when I know I need it most.
It’s no coincidence that my stress levels have gone down since aligning my life with my cycle. I also believe it’s no coincidence that my skin is now the best it’s ever been.
I am still using those same basic products. I use a micellar water to remove makeup. Aside from that I wash my face daily with water. I use a face soap once every 10 days or so, and I use a basic natural moisturiser twice daily.
That’s it. I have 3 very basic skincare products that I use in a semi-regular routine. They’re not harsh on my skin. I’m not going overboard with products. It’s working for me.
I don’t use fancy products on my skin any more. I’m not following a special skin-perfecting diet. I’m just living my life in sync with my cycle and reducing stress wherever possible.
The last few cycles, my skin has been “perfect”. Yes, I still have texture in my skin. Yes, you can still see my pores. That’s what skin is supposed to look like.
But I’m not getting spotty in my premenstrual phase. I’m not spotty on my period. My skin is clear throughout the month.
I have noticed that drinking alcohol can cause me to break out. This isn’t new. My skin has always been this way if I’ve had a few too many.
But the clear skin through PMS week and beyond..? This is new. And I really like it!
If you’re struggling with hormonal skin, have a think about whether your stress levels could be affecting it. If you want any help figuring out how to reduce stress through your cycle, drop me a message on Instagram and I’ll be happy to help.