As if being bloated, crampy, and cranky as all get out isn’t bad enough, some of us also get period acne. As a matter of fact, 65 percent of people report a worsening of their acne during their period.
Here’s what to know about managing and treating period-related acne and whether you’re dealing with run-of-the-mill breakouts or stubborn, painful chin cysts.First, know what you’re dealing with
Before going into battle, it’s always best to know who your opponent is. In the case of period acne, this means knowing how to differentiate a hormonal break out from a regular one.
The easiest way to do this is to look at the timing. Acne that’s related to your period is more likely to flare up during the week leading up to your period or during your period. Plus, it tends to clear up or improve when your period is ending or over.
Already have acne? You might notice that it gets worse during this time. If you tend to have clear skin, you might notice a pimple or two pop up.Blemish types
Think a pimple’s just a pimple? Nuh-uh. There are different types of blemishes. Knowing the difference between them can help you narrow down the best acne treatment.
These are the major players:
- Blackheads. When a clogged pore remains open, the pimple rises to the surface of your skin and looks black.
- Whiteheads. These stay under the surface of your skin. They form when a blocked pore closes, causing the top to appear white.
- Papules. This is a type of inflammatory acne. These are the small, pesky pimples that look like pink bumps. They tend to hurt.
- Pustules. Another type of inflammatory acne, pustules are red at the bottom. The tops are white or yellow and filled with pus.
- Nodules. These form deep under the skin. They tend to be large, solid, and painful.
- Cysts. This type of blemish is deep and filled with pus. They’re painful and can cause scarring.
Those dang hormones. That’s why.
Your hormones fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle. Just before your period starts, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This can trigger your sebaceous glands to secrete more sebum, an oily substance that lubricates your skin. Too much can result in clogged pores and breakouts.
Hormones can also increase skin inflammation and the production of acne-causing bacteria.
PMS is also associated with increased stress, which might also worsen acne.… and just keeps going
Unlike other PMS symptoms, period-related acne doesn’t always go away once your period starts. You can blame your hormones for this, too.
Testosterone, a male hormone that we all have in our bodies regardless of our birth sex, affects us differently depending on levels of our other hormones.
When your hormone levels fluctuate toward the end of your period, testosterone can also trigger sebaceous gland sensitivity. Again, the result is more sebum and clogged pores.It might be especially bad around your chin
Notice a deep, throbbing pain in your chin or along your jawline? It’s not unusual for hormonal acne, especially cysts, to pop up in these areas. They might not look like much on the surface, but they can cause a world of pain.Pro tip
Don’t try to pop chin cysts. Seriously. You won’t win, and it’ll just lead to more pain and increase your risk for scarring.You might also notice it popping up down there
Seeing any kind of lump anywhere near your vaginal area can set off some major alarm bells. Before you panic, know that some people do report vulvar breakouts before their period.
Hormones can be to blame for breakouts in this area, but there are other possible period-related causes, too.
Other period products can also cause contact dermatitis, which is a reaction to something that touches the skin. Scented tampons, pads, and wipes can do it.How to soothe deep, painful breakouts
The deep pimples and cysts that sometimes come with periods can be pretty painful for some, but there are things you can do to ease the pain.
To get relief during a painful breakout, try:
- a warm compress for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, three or four times a day to soothe pain and help draw out pus
- a cold compress or ice 5 to 10 minutes at a time to relieve pain and swelling
- benzoyl peroxide to kill bacteria
Period-related acne can be particularly stubborn. You can help speed up the healing process with a mix of over-the-counter (OTC) products.Choose your fighters
Here’s what to look for and how to build it into your routine:
- Wash your face twice a day using a gentle nonsoap cleanser, like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser.
- Use glycolic acid pads to remove dead skin cells, reduce inflammation, and promote the growth of new skin.
- Use an OTC benzoyl peroxide spot treatment beginning with a lower strength, like 2.5 percent.
- Use an OTC salicylic acid product, such as cleanser or cream, to keep pores clear.
- Use a tea tree oil spot treatment. Tea tree oil has been shown to kill bacteria and improve mild to moderate acne.
Here are some other things you can do to deal with breakouts:
- Avoid irritating products, such as greasy sunscreens, cosmetics, oils, and concealers.
- Protect your skin from friction from things like tight collars, straps, or helmets.
- Limit your exposure to UV rays by staying out of the sun when possible and using nonoily moisturizers with sunscreen.
- Wash your face after activities that cause you to sweat.
- Use acne products as directed. Applying too much will irritate and dry out your skin.
One of the most frustrating aspects of period acne is that it usually just keeps coming back. Here are things you can do throughout your cycle to stay two steps ahead of those pesky hormones.OTC acne products
The same products that can help an active breakout can also help you prevent another one.
The Mayo Clinic recommends starting with benzoyl peroxide products in a lower strength and gradually increasing over a few weeks.
Products containing alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, can help remove dead skin cells and prevent clogged pores. They also help stimulate the growth of new skin cells so your skin looks smoother and clearer.
Salicylic acid products are a good option, too. They’re available without a prescription in strengths that run from 0.5 to 5 percent. They keep your pores from clogging to prevent breakouts. To avoid irritation, start with a lower strength and work your way up until you know what your skin can handle.Diet
There’s some evidence that regulating your blood sugar levels by eating foods that have a low glycemic index (GI) can help with hormonal acne. The GI is a measure of the rate at which a food spikes blood sugar levels.
High-GI foods have been shown to worsen acne. They include:
- sugary foods and drinks
- white bread
- other highly processed foods
Many of these same foods have been linked to increased inflammation, which also plays a role in acne.
If you can, try to limit your intake of these foods. You don’t need to completely avoid them, but reducing them might give your skin a boost.Prescription treatments
If you continue to have period acne after trying OTC and home treatments for three cycles, consider talking to your healthcare provider or a dermatologist about prescription acne treatments.
They may recommend using one or a combination of the following:
- Retinoids can treat mild to moderate acne. They can be used for long-term prevention.
- Birth control pills have been shown to improve hormonal acne.
- Anti-androgens, such as spironolactone, can also help. Spironolactone is prescribed off-label, but it’s known to be effective for acne.
PCOS is a common hormonal disorder that can cause a range of symptoms.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have acne along with any of the following:
- irregular or missed periods
- excess facial and body hair
- weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- dark patches of skin on the back of your neck and other areas (acanthosis nigricans)
- thinning hair and hair loss
If you don’t already have a dermatologist, you can browse doctors in your area through the FindCare tool.Bottom line:
Zits happen, especially around menstruation. You can thank your hormones for that.
OTC acne treatments and some tweaks to your routine should be enough to help get rid of pimples. If those don’t seem to cut it, talk to your healthcare provider about prescription treatment.Reference:
Adult acne. (n.d.).
Fabbrocini G, et al. (2015). Low glycaemic diet and metformin therapy: A new approach in male subjects with acne resistant to common treatments. DOI:
Geller L, et al. (2014). Perimenstrual flare of adult acne.
Hammer KA. (2015). Treatment of acne with tea tree oil (melaleuca) products: A review of efficacy, tolerability and potential modes of action. DOI:
How to treat deep, painful pimples. (n.d.).
I have a pimple near my vagina. I do not shave my pubic hair and I have never had any type of sexual intercourse. What may be wrong? (2017).
Kucharska A, et al. (2016). Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. DOI:
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Acne.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018). Over-the-counter acne products: What works and why.
Premenstrual syndrome. (2019).
Saint-Jean M, et al. (2017). Characteristics of premenstrual acne flare-up and benefits of a dermocosmetic treatment: A double-blind randomised trial. DOI:
Tanghetti EA. (2013). The role of inflammation in the pathology of acne.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical activity guidelines for Americans – 2nd edition.
Wang Y-Y, et al. (2019). How to evaluate acne in reproductive-age women: An epidemiological study in Chinese communities. DOI: