This blog post is actually a sneak peek of one of my FAVOURITE modules of the F.ACNE five week program (online acne program developed by 5 health professionals and me)…HORMONES.
Hormones are AMAZING chemical messengers that are created in the endocrine glands and influence pretty much every major bodily function; from hunger and reproduction to even emotions and mood! They often get a bad rep but you wouldn’t be able to live without them so it’s time to get to know them and make peace!
Learning about hormones and finding cyclical patterns of symptoms can assist in helping you understand your own body and acne. For example, I personally know my acne will be 10 x worse in the luteal phase of my cycle. In saying this, there are certain symptoms (chin cysts & chin hair) which have occurred in the middle of my cycle during stressful phases of my life which I now realise indicated a hormonal imbalance (I had high testosterone).
To understand ABNORMAL symptoms, it’s important to know what symptoms to expect throughout different phases of the menstrual cycle. So… here it is! A summary of each phase of the menstrual cycle and what symptoms you can expect.
What your hormones are doing?
Menstruation is classified as DAY ONE of your cycle (the day you see red!). A decrease in oestrogen and progesterone (see graph above) causes the collapse of the uterus lining and the start of your “mensus” (bleeding). During this phase, testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest meaning you’ll feel like resting or having some quiet time.
Due to a decrease in temperature and sebum production, your blood circulation will slow down and your skin may appear slightly dull and dry. Your skin may feel more sensitive so we suggest sticking to your normal skin care routine and keeping things simple. Avoid trying new products and focus on moisturising/hydrating your skin and repairing any problem areas which may have flared up during your premenstrual or luteal phase. I personally love using a gentle cleanser and a non-comedogenic face oil (like Hemp of Jojoba oil) as a moisturiser.
Every woman is different and while some may suffer intense cramps, lower back pain, headaches, bloating, flu-like symptoms and spasms during the first couple of days their period; others will feel completely rejuvenated and even a sense of peace and calm. The good news is that as your oestrogen begins to rise on day three of your cycle, you will begin to feel like your usual self and regain some much needed energy.
The Follicular Phase
What your hormones are doing?
During the follicular phase and at the onset of menstruation your body’s pituitary gland releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) in response to a drop in progesterone and oestrogen during menstruation. As its name suggests, FSH stimulates the growth of a follicle (containing an egg) in the ovaries. It takes 13 days for an egg to reach maturity, hence the length of this phase. As the egg matures, the follicle grows and starts to produce oestrogen. At around day seven, estrogen begins to rise causing your uterine lining to thicken and a lining of blood vessels and soft tissue known as the endometrium to develop in preparation for a fertilised egg.
Escalating oestrogen levels can reduce sebum secretions and stimulate collagen production making you less prone to breakouts and more likely to glow! This is the best time to maintain your good skin, try new skin care products, exfoliate or put on a mask as your skin will be less sensitive. Due to a decrease in sebum secretions, it is also important to moisturise your skin during this period and promote oil balance. We absolutely swear by Jojoba oil as it is said to be the same molecular structure as your skin’s sebum and helps to regulate oil flow.
As your oestrogen levels take a steady climb upwards, so will your mood, energy and concentration levels. Studies have even shown links between the follicular phase and women experiencing higher amounts of pleasure due to increased dopamine released by the brain. Various studies have found that oestrogen has similar characteristics to the satiety hormone leptin, acting as an appetite suppressant and regulating energy balance and body fat by inhibiting hunger. In other words… you’ll be more likely to hold back on that third piece of snickers slice. Your hormones are preparing your body for ovulation which means your libido and sex drive will also increase!
The Ovulatory Phase
What are your hormones doing?
In a 28 day cycle, ovulation occurs on day 14 however this can vary among women and can range from days 12 to 16. During the ovulation phase, oestrogen levels reach a peak, which causes the pituitary gland to release a rush of Luteinising Hormone (LH). This rush causes the mature follicle in the ovary to rupture and for an egg to be released into your fallopian tube. This process is called ovulation! At this stage in your cycle your progesterone levels begin a steady climb upwards in preparation for the Luteal phase where your body is preparing your uterus for a fertilised egg.
Like the Follicular Phase, increasing oestrogen levels can reduce sebum secretions and assist in collagen production making your complexion appear more even and radiant! This is the best time to maintain your good skin, try new skin care products or put on a mask as your skin will be less sensitive. Please note that some women experience minor breakouts during this phase due to heightened oestrogen levels. Some women are more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations than others so don’t be too concerned if you get the odd pimple during this phase. However, if you are experiencing worsening symptoms, this may represent a hormonal imbalance. Spots (or cysts) on your jawline, cheeks and chin are a reflection of hormonal fluctuations so this is a good way to tell if you’re breakout is associated with your cycle.
Similar to the follicular phase, ovulation is characterised by a rise in oestrogen and a subsequent boost in energy and confidence. At the start of ovulation and at the end of the follicular phase (around day 14 of a 28 day cycle) the body receives a surge in estrogen and testosterone. This is the optimum time to relish in high-impact, arse kicking fitness sessions. We’re talking boot camps, boxing, Kayla – whatever pushes your limits and has you working your arse to the bone. This is also a great time to try that new class at the gym; you’ll be more confident and more likely to break through the pain barrier.
The Luteal Phase
What your hormones are doing?
During the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle your body’s pituitary gland releases a hormone called Luteinising Hormone (LS) in response to high amounts of oestrogen in the blood. Luteinising Hormone causes a follicle containing an egg to be released from the ovaries. This follicle bursts as the egg is released and forms a corpus luteum which begins to produce progesterone. The corpus luteum secretes high amounts of progesterone during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle to prepare the lining of the uterus (endometrium) for possible implantation or pregnancy.
If the egg is not fertilised in the uterus, progesterone levels, oestrogen and testosterone will suddenly drop causing the corpus luteum to degenerate and the lining of the uterus and the egg to be shed via menstruation.
Escalating progesterone in the body encourages the production and secretion of higher amounts of sebum. Your body will also experience an increase in temperature during this phase which, combined with excess oil can contribute to breakouts and problem skin. Avoid switching skin care products or trying new things and instead, keep it simple! I like to use fragrant-free cleanser to wash my face and a couple of drops of tea tree oil and/or lavender in our non-comedogenic face oil.
As your body’s progesterone levels take a steady climb upwards, you are likely to experience a drop in mood and a lack of energy. Many women report feeling lazy, lethargic and bloated and some studies have even likened the effects of progesterone to that of Valium in the body. You know those days where you just don’t feel like yourself? You’re probably in your luteal phase or “lutealing” as we like to call it! Towards the end of the luteal phase, women may suffer from symptoms such as depression, irritability, insomnia, water retention and slower digestion (some women report a couple of days of constipation) as your body experiences a surge in progesterone.