As an adult, you assumed breakouts were a thing of the past once. But, no. Your skin is smooth until the week before your period and then, boom, it’s like you’re 16 all over again, with acne appearing most prominently on your chin, jawline, neck, shoulders, and back.
Cyclical breakouts are caused by hormones. A woman’s hormone levels rise and fall over the course of 28 days, in a cycle known as the infradian rhythm, and these hormone shifts are normal and natural. They are an innate part of female physiology when we are in our reproductive years. When our hormones are balanced, we don’t experience unpleasant symptoms like acne throughout our monthly cycle. When our hormones are imbalanced, we experience a host of unpleasant symptoms, including acne.
Here’s another way to look at it: Hormone shifts throughout the month are normal (and can be leveraged to our advantage). Acne isn’t.
The good news? You can use food, lifestyle, and supplement strategies to balance your hormones and erase cyclical acne.
When it comes to adult acne, knowledge is power. Here’s everything you need to know to say goodbye to cyclical acne forever.
Meet your 28-Day Cycle, aka Your Infradian Rhythm
The first step toward clear skin all month long is to understand what’s happening in your body over the course of your infradian rhythm.
During your 28-day hormone cycle, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone levels naturally rise and fall. When your system is healthy and you’re cycling normally, these fluctuations occur in familiar patterns. Specifically:
- During the follicular phase (which is the first days of your cycle up until ovulation): estrogen levels begin to rise
- During the ovulation phase (mid-cycle): estrogen and testosterone rise until they peak
- During the luteal phase (which occurs right after ovulation and up until you start bleeding): estrogen, testosterone and progesterone rises in the first half and then falls
- During the menstrual phase (bleeding): all hormone levels fall to their lowest levels
The hormone changes that happen during each phase mean different things for all aspects of your life, affecting your energy levels, concentration, communication skills, and strengths and weaknesses. It also affects your skin.
How Fluctuating Hormones Affect Skin
Estrogen and progesterone levels affect the thickness of the skin differently each phase of your cycle. During the follicular phase and especially during ovulation, high levels of estrogen boost collagen, make the skin thicker, and improve elasticity. You can thank the estrogen during this phase for that famed ‘ovulation glow’.
Testosterone levels also rise during the luteal phase and that helps keep skin thick. But testosterone is a double-edged sword when it comes to skin. Studies show a link between spikes in testosterone and acne.
So this is the crucial point in your cycle when you either become vulnerable to breakouts or go through the second half of your cycle with clear skin. What causes some women to break out and others to barely notice a blemish? The difference is in the body’s ability to efficiently process and eliminate the excess estrogen and testosterone in the system as levels rise.
If your body isn’t processing hormones properly during your luteal phase and eliminating them efficiently, excess estrogen and excess testosterone accumulate and fuel acne.
This happens in two ways: the excess estrogen causes estrogen dominance and skin inflammation, and the extra testosterone triggers the sebaceous glands to produce more oil.
For women with optimally functioning endocrine systems, these hormonal peaks don’t cause a lot of problems. But for women who can’t process hormones correctly, acne is often the unwanted result.
Premenstrually and during your period, estrogen drops and your skin gets thinner, retains less moisture, and produces less collagen.
Progesterone rising and falling in the luteal phase can worsen skin conditions if present.
This is why The Cycle Syncing Method® is so effective in addressing these fluctuations, as you’ll be eating in ways that improve estrogen and progesterone imbalances.
Signs that Acne is Caused by Imbalanced Hormones
So timing — that is, when you breakout — is a major sign that acne is hormonal. Breakouts during the luteal (premenstrual) phase are a sure sign that your hormones are out of balance and could use some TLC.
Another sign of hormonal acne is where you breakout. Breakouts along the chin and jaw line are a sign of hormonal acne. Pimples on the temple are another common sign of a hormonal imbalance that stems from liver congestion due to excess estrogen. If you’ve got pimples on your forehead, it’s usually a sign of a gut imbalance.
Here are more telltale signs of specific hormone imbalances and root causes of acne:
- If you break out during ovulation, the cause is high estrogen and you will need to support your body’s ability to break it down more quickly during this phase with cruciferous vegetables.
- If you break out before your period, the cause is low progesterone and you can use food and lifestyle to support boosting progesterone. The supplement Vitex can also help support progesterone.
- If you break out all the time, the cause is inflammation, so incorporate inflammation-fighting foods into your diet like cruciferous vegetables and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and egg yolks.
- If you break out during stressful situations, the cause is high cortisol and dysregulated insulin. Focus on balancing blood sugar and limiting high-sugar foods.
- If you break out after 35, the cause is the erratic hormonal shifts related to perimenopause. Make it a priority to engage in The Cycle Syncing Method® to bring balance back to your monthly hormone shifts.
- If you break out during postpartum/miscarriage, the cause is plunging levels of estrogen and progesterone and the return of menstruation. If your period has returned, your priority here should be engaging in phase-based self care by practicing The Cycle Syncing Method®. If your cycle has not returned, seek out support from acupuncture.
None of the root causes of acne can be spot treated. Hormone-driven and inflammation-driven acne are caused by imbalances inside your body that need to be addressed at the core. I offer phase-specific skin care advice below, but any long-term fix for easing acne must go beyond skin care strategies. A holistic, sustained and sustainable fix for adult acne must include food, supplement, and lifestyle strategies.
Your Skin Care Schedule During Your 28-Day Cycle
Here’s how to time your skin care routine to match your hormonal needs throughout the month:
- Day 7-12 (follicular phase). If you get a facial with extractions, schedule it during your follicular phase. This is also the time to do any hair removal.
- Day 13-24 (ovulation/first half of luteal). Facials are still okay during this time, but it’s best to go for masks, not extractions. Dry brushing is a great way to help the lymph offload the estrogen. You don’t need much in the way of products during this phase.
- Day 25-Day 28 (the second half of luteal). This is a perfect time for home care with your favorite products and using oil-based serum to reduce sebum production. Clay masks are also great during this time, and you can use products with lactic acid to shrink pores.
- Day 1 – Day 6 (Bleeding). During menstruation, focus on restorative, soothing skin care. Think hydrating and calming masks, and collagen masks.
NOTE: Don’t have any extractions or hair removal during the second half of the month when skin is thinner and increased blood flow to your capillaries means more post-extraction swelling. Save facial appointments until right after your bleed is over.
Every day of your cycle. I take Balance Supplements every day of my cycle to make sure my hormones and skin can be at their best throughout the month. Whatever you do to optimize your micronutrients, don’t skip this step! Clear skin starts on the inside and with what we eat and how we supplement.
…. And if you don’t have any idea where you are in your cycle, start tracking it now with the MyFLO app. You can only practice cyclical self-care when you know which phase you’re in!
4 Factors That Contribute to Hormone Imbalances and Cyclical Acne
Hormone imbalances are the root cause of adult acne, and there are several key ways our hormones get out of balance. Here are five main factors that affect hormonal harmony:
- Micronutrient deficiencies: In order for the body to make enough hormones — and to eliminate excess hormones efficiently and effectively via the liver — we need optimal levels of key micronutrients. When our bodies are deficient in specific micronutrients, we will be more prone to breakouts.
- Your detoxification system is sluggish. If you experience acne as part of your 28-day hormone cycle—for example, if you notice breakouts around ovulation (mid-cycle) and/or right before your period—it’s a sign that your body isn’t processing and eliminating excess hormones. Here’s what happens: during the second half of your cycle, estrogen and testosterone peak. If your detox system (lymphatic system, liver, and large intestine) is congested and can’t get rid of these excess hormones quickly enough, estrogen builds up in your body (estrogen dominance) and causes problems (like skin inflammation). The extra testosterone sends signals to your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Acne is the result.
- Inflammation: Chronic inflammation, which is fueled by a variety of common factors — from eating pro-inflammatory foods to being too sedentary to exposure to toxic chemicals — is a root cause of acne.
- You’re not getting enough exercise (or sex!) Both exercise and sex help flush the stress hormone cortisol from the body — and keeping cortisol moving out of the body is essential for glowing, gorgeous skin. If you’re not moving enough or clocking enough amazing orgasms, the evidence could show on your face.
Why the Conventional Acne Treatments You’re Using Aren’t Working
When I had acne, I tried everything my doctor would give me. I was desperate to improve the way my skin looked and the way I felt about myself. I imagine you’ve also gone through a list of potions and pills, hoping each would work for you. I personally tried a long course of antibiotics to stop the acne, which permanently stained my teeth slightly yellow and destroyed my gut microbiome so badly that I spent my entire freshman year of college with viruses, yeast infections, and flu-like symptoms. I tried Retinol-A cream and Salicylic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide thinking I could heal my skin from the outside and just fix the surface of the issue.
Needless to say, none of those things worked.
There’s a reason these commonly prescribed medications don’t work — and most even come with dangerous side effects:
- The birth control pill: The pill disrupts your microbiome, endocrine system, and micronutrient levels – all systems essential for keeping your skin clear. You may have clear skin while you’re taking it, but not without added side effects that can worsen issues like PCOS, plus increase your risk of some reproductive cancers. Once you decide to stop using hormonal birth control, a common symptom of the withdrawal period is acne, often worse than you’ve had before because of the internal disruption that has occurred as a result of the medication.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics do incredible damage to the microbiome because they don’t distinguish between good bacteria and bad bacteria—they just kill all of them—and robust gut health is important for clear skin. As with hormonal birth control, when you come off the antibiotics, the acne may not only return, it can be much worse than it was before because of the microbiome damage.
- Spironolactone/Aldactone: Just as I don’t recommend synthetic hormonal birth control or meat and dairy that contain synthetic hormones, I don’t recommend the steroid medication spironolactone. This steroid is nothing like the hormones your body produces on its own. It disrupts your body’s production of testosterone by confusing your body with a synthetically similar steroid. Plus, spironolactone use can trigger one of the most common hormone imbalance issues (and a cause of acne)—estrogen dominance—as well as depression, blood clots, and increased risk of some cancers. Spironolactone is not safe to take long term and is not going to prevent acne beyond the point that you are using it.
- Isotretinoin (originally Accutane): If you’re prescribed Isotretinoin, then you are also prescribed hormonal birth control, because Isotretinoin causes birth defects. There are other side effects—including an initial worsening of acne—and severe depression. The original patented drug, Accutane, was discontinued after many users developed inflammatory bowel disease and use of the drug was associated with increased risk of suicide. Usually this medication is offered as a last resort, but rarely have diet and lifestyle changes been part of prior acne-treatment protocols.
Once I figured out how to eat and live to support my hormones, my skin cleared up (and a lot of other great stuff happened too). My skin’s been clear ever since and I’ve helped many other women achieve the same lasting success.
Worst Foods for Your Skin
One of the most powerful ways to balance your hormones and support clear skin is by what you eat — and what you don’t eat.
Your liver needs enough key micronutrients from food to help your body detoxify excess hormones and other skin damaging waste products, so it’s important to prioritize foods that contain those micronutrients and liver support compounds — foods like cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, and small, oily fish like sardines (rich in skin-friendly omega 3 fats). Because inflammation drives acne, it’s important to avoid eating inflammatory foods, like sugar and dairy.
Here are some of the specific foods I recommend saying goodbye to entirely if you experience cyclical breakouts:
- Dairy – In addition to the fact that a lot of US dairy products contain synthetic hormones that contribute to hormone imbalances, dairy is inflammatory — and inflammation is a root cause of acne.
- Peanuts – The same allergens in peanuts that cause certain people to have serious adverse reactions can cause many other folks to experience skin inflammation.
- Soy Isolate– This form of highly processed soy can create estrogen overload in those who are already hormonally sensitive.
- Canola, sunflower, safflower, vegetable oil – These cooking oils have more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. A high ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats is inflammatory — and hard on the skin.
- Caffeine – Coffee and black and green teas strip your body of essential B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc, all of which are important for healthy, glowing, and clear skin.
- Gluten – Like dairy, gluten is inflammatory and can increase the likelihood of breakouts
What foods are best for clear skin? I give you my top recommendations below, in my step-by-step guide to clear skin.
How to Solve Cyclical Acne for Good — Your Step-By-Step Guide
The skin is the largest organ of detoxification and one of your top goals for easing cyclical acne is detoxing the excess hormones and other toxins in your body. Here are my top strategies for saying goodbye to cyclical acne for good, and I save the most important — supplementing for detoxification and glowing skin — for last. Pay special attention to the supplements section. Targeted micronutrients in the form of high-quality supplements are what really move the needle on your skin health.
Step One: Understand that hormonal acne is an “inside job”
The root causes of acne start deep within your body. They don’t start at the level of the skin. That means that any changes you make to your skin care routine will only help so much… and, if you do nothing else, the root causes of your acne will smolder on. So your first step in easing hormonal acne is shifting your mindset. You can only truly address hormonal acne by understanding it for what it is — a condition with internal root causes — and then using food, supplement, and lifestyle strategies to address those root causes.
Step Two: Practice The Cycle Syncing Method™
The Cycle Syncing Method™ is the practice of living in a way that gets your hormones working for you rather than against you. It involves tailoring your self-care and hormone-support routines to your unique needs during each phase of your 28-day hormone cycle. It is also what differentiates the Flo Protocol from other hormone support programs, and it is what will ultimately make the biggest difference when it comes to clear skin. The first step in practicing The Cycle Syncing Method™ is to track your cycle. Once you know what’s happening in your body each week of the month, it’s time to match what you eat, how you move, and even how you plan your schedule and how you interact with others with your hormones.
Step Three: Eat your way to clear skin
Food is one of the most powerful levers you can pull when it comes to easing hormonal acne. That’s because the right foods address not just one but several root causes of acne. Specifically, you can use food to (1) reduce system-wide inflammation, which fuels acne; (2) address hormone imbalances, like estrogen dominance, which exacerbate skin issues; (3) support your body’s natural ability to detoxify, (4) balance your blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, which calms your oil glands and decreases the bioavailability of androgens (high levels of androgens can trigger breakouts); and (5) patch up micronutrient deficiencies that can contribute to breakouts.
Wanna do a deep dive on eating for acne, including which foods to prioritize? Here’s where to turn:
- To learn which foods to eat to support detoxification, go here.
- To build an anti-inflammatory, micronutrient-rich eating plan, go here.
- To find out the worst foods for acne, go here.
What’s on your plate is one of your best defenses against breakouts. Make food a top priority in healing the root causes of acne.
Step Four: Find good skin care
There are a plethora of organic skin care lines to address acne-prone skin, from Marie Veronique to Renee Rouleau Anti Bump Solution. Check out Credo Beauty and Cap Beauty for more excellent options. This is an important step because if you’re giving up the medicated topicals, you will need something to help with skin turnover, pore decongestion, excess oil, and cysts.
Step Five: Use targeted supplementation to clear your skin
As I said, I saved one of the most critical steps for last. The right supplementation can make all the difference between slightly improving your acne and clearing it for good. You will read a lot on the Internet about micronutrients that are best for skin, but after nearly 20 years of research — and of using these same supplements to clear my own hormonal acne — this is what I recommend:
- Magnesium. A lack of magnesium causes skin inflammation. Taking magnesium with calcium combined in supplement form can lower the amount of C-reactive proteins in your body which cause this inflammation. Calcium is part of our tissue matrix – bones, cells, and skin – and very important for skin cell renewal.
- Omega-3s. Getting your omega-3 fatty acids in fish or flax oil will give you almost instant results. Clearer, softer, smoother skin as well as stronger hair and nails – you can see it happen in days. They have a big picture, whole body affect, as well as results in the short term. I also advise supplementation. It is hard to overstate the importance of omega-3 fatty acids when it comes to skin health.
- Zinc. Zinc deficiency is a very common issue for many women. When we are deficient in zinc our pores become easily irritated by bacteria and show redness. A large-scale scientific study concluded that zinc supplementation is very effective even when compared to commonly prescribed antibiotics. I also recommend having a little bit of grass-fed liver every week as part of a meal or as a snack. It’s full of copper and vitamin A. The copper will balance out the zinc in your body and the vitamin A is what your liver needs to detoxify from excess hormones. A well-functioning liver boosts your absorption of all vitamins and minerals and prevent deficiencies developing in the first place.
- Probiotics. We need probiotics for a healthy gut. A common symptom of a damaged and depleted microbiome is acne and other skin issues like rosacea. It’s particularly important with hormonal acne as your microbiome assists your body in processing and eliminating excess estrogen. If you’ve been on the Pill or antibiotics for any length of time, probiotics could be key to getting your skin back on track.
- B Vitamins. Your skin needs B-vitamins to regenerate and renew as they provide the energy all of your cells need for fuel. Taking a good B-complex every day that includes a high level of B6 will target hormonal and premenstrual acne. B6 prevents skin inflammation and overproduction of sebum (the oil your skin produces at can create acne issues).
Always remember that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you. You can do this – the science of your body is on your side.
I designed my Balance Supplements specifically to help women address these key deficiencies, balance their hormones, and reclaim their energy.
You don’t need to feel listless and exhausted for 1-2 weeks every month. You can reclaim your energy in as little as one 28-day hormone cycle.
BALANCE by FLO Living is the FIRST supplement kit for happier periods that supports balancing your hormones. Balance Supplements include five formulations that provide essential micronutrients to balance your hormones. Think of them as your personal “insurance policy” against environmental factors that are (knowingly or unknowingly) zapping your energy every month.
Balance Supplements can help you have more energy within a few weeks!