A woman tracking her menstrual cycle so she can sync her skincare

Can Cycle Syncing Your Skincare Prevent Period Pimples?

Hormonal fluctuations define the four phases of a woman's menstrual cycle. This can lead to irritability, cravings, fatigue, malaise, bloating, and yes — hormonal acne. So should you change your skincare based on your monthly cycle? Here, Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) weighs in on cycle syncing your skincare.



5 minute read

We tend to think of our monthly cycle as just a finite “time of the month” — when in reality, there are four distinct phases that repeat. Each phase has its own hormonal signature, and it’s the fluctuations between phases that lead to the stereotypical irritability, cravings, fatigue, malaise, bloating, and yes — breakouts.

While it certainly helps to be conscious of how our mood and mindset may be affected by monthly hormone levels, there’s not a lot we can do to change it. Our skin, however, is another story: knowing what is happening, and when, means we can tune our routine (aka sync to our cycle) to help our skin respond better to potential hormonal acne. We’re not promising to erase all your PMS pimples, but preparing your skin with the right products might make a noticeable difference in your monthly breakouts.

Here’s advice from our founder and acne expert, Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), who weighs in on whether cycle syncing your skincare can prevent period pimples.



Syncing your skincare to your monthly cycle

According to Dr. Lee, hormonal acne is distinct from other types of acne in both its timing and location. These breakouts tend to show up around the same time every month, and often appear around the chin and jawline.

Because these breakouts are tied to hormonal fluctuations related to your period, the first step in cycle syncing is to track your monthly cycle. You can do it the old-fashioned way (aka jot it down in your journal) or use one of the many apps available.

If you experience hormonal acne, start with a routine that includes ingredients that gently exfoliate and that keep pores clear. Dr. Lee’s top picks include:

  • Salicylic acid: a beta hydroxy acid that exfoliates and breaks up trapped oil and dead skin
  • Retinol: a vitamin A derivative that encourages cell turnover and helps even skin tone
  • Sunscreen: protects skin from UV damage which can make acne worse

SLMD After Acne includes Salicylic Acid Cleanser, Retinol Resurfacing Serum, and Dual Defender, a non-comedogenic moisturizer with SPF 30.

If you already have chronic acne that tends to worsen at certain times during your cycle, Dr. Lee suggests using an everyday acne kit, like her SLMD Acne System, which treats acne at each stage. Once you’ve got your acne under control, you can switch to a maintenance regimen.

4 phases of cycle syncing your skincare routine

Once you’ve got your acne maintenance routine down, you can customize it based on your skin’s needs. Here, we break down the monthly phases and offer up Dr. Lee’s recommendations for syncing your skincare to your cycle.


Days 1–6
This phase is characterized by low estrogen and progesterone levels. Your skin might look dull, dry, tired, inflamed, or some combination of those. It may also feel extra sensitive. Most experts suggest avoiding waxing and intensive exfoliating. Make sure you get plenty of sleep so your skin can renew itself properly overnight. It’s also not the ideal time to try new treatment products, since your skin might be more temperamental.

Skincare suggestions

Keep up with your exfoliating face wash and nightly retinol, but don’t forget the moisturizer and sunscreen. Those two products will help keep your skin barrier functioning properly, leaving you less susceptible to irritation and acne.

Follicular phase (post-menstruation)

Days 6-12
Estrogen begins to rise during this phase. This is significant because studies show that estrogen helps maintain both collagen and natural hyaluronic acid levels, reduces inflammation, and may aid in the prevention of photoaging. These benefits explain why your skin typically will look its best during the follicular phase.

Skincare suggestions

This is a good time to introduce new treatment products, or to resume using exfoliants. If you’ve got acne-prone skin, exfoliating with a combination of alpha and beta hydroxy acids 2-3 times during this period can help encourage a healthy glow and help keep pores from becoming clogged.


Days 13-16
This phase marks the approximate midpoint of your monthly cycle, when estrogen and testosterone rise, leading to the release of an egg. Testosterone is a type of androgen hormone, known to increase sebum production — which can set the stage for acne breakouts.

Skincare suggestions

Keep up with your skincare routine, including cleansing and exfoliating. Now is a good time to introduce a mask to deep clean pores, removing the buildup that can lead to active acne. If you typically experience a bout of inflammatory pimples right before your period, Dr. Lee recommends applying an all-over acne lotion that contains either benzoyl peroxide or sulfur. This will inhibit acne-causing bacteria.

A woman using SLMD BP Spot Treatment for hormonal acne

Try SLMD spot treatments when period pimples pop up.

Luteal phase (pre-menstruation)

Days 17-28
This is the stereotypical PMS phase, when mood swings, cravings, fatigue and more appear in full force. Many symptoms are caused by fluctuating hormone levels, notably a drop in estrogen, leading to a relative rise in testosterone, accompanied by an increase in progesterone. This often leads to the last thing you need when you’re feeling lousy: a batch of painful, inflammatory acne popping up around your chin and jawline.

Skincare suggestions

If your skin can tolerate it, try using both your exfoliating treatment and your acne lotion daily (always follow packaging guidelines). Continue with the rest of your previous regimen, adding spot treatments depending on your pimple type: salicylic acid for blackheads and whiteheads, benzoyl peroxide for inflammatory acne. Dr. Lee notes that it’s best to apply spot treatments to freshly cleansed skin, and avoid layering other skincare products on top of the pimple.

Dr. Lee’s last word

Hormonal acne can be really frustrating, because it’s difficult to control the underlying causes. I recommend having a consistent skincare routine specifically for acne-prone skin. Track your monthly cycle, and mix in acne treatments to prevent pimples from forming in the first place. If your hormonal acne is severe, and you’re worried about scarring, talk to your dermatologist because there are prescription options you can try.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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