Cycle Syncing

Could This Health Hack Be the Cure for Your Hormonal Acne? A Dermatologist Explains

The magic of intuitive skincare.

By Langa Chinyoka
Blonde woman wearing gray sweater leaning over couch.

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It’s one of the cardinal rules of skincare: Whatever’s happening on the outside reflects what’s going on inside. Breakouts, dull skin, and dryness can often be signs of nutrient deficiencies, dehydration, and hormone imbalances. And, of course, we know that when hormones are involved, your monthly cycle often plays a role. Enter: the practice of cycle syncing for skin. (Not to be confused with the other buzzy beauty term, skin cycling.)

Thanks to the work of holistic wellness, the idea of switching up your habits to support hormonal shifts has gone mainstream. (So much so, that we created a cycle syncing guide to help you connect with the foods and workouts that support your body best during each phase.) Because of that, it comes as no surprise that many of us are wondering how to align our beauty products and practices with the changes in our hormones (and therefore, our skin).

No doubt, you’ve already noticed how your body feels right before your period. My cystic chin acne, and heightened emotions are my monthly warning signs. For years, I just dealt with it. Inevitably, I ended up with new bouts of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation every month. But then, I had an epiphany.

Featured image from our interview with Iskra Lawrence.

Black woman applying skincare in mirror.
Image by Belathée Photography

A Cycle Syncing Deep-Dive

I know how to treat breakouts. I know when they’re coming. So why don’t I switch up my nightly routine accordingly? I started applying the Paula’s Choice BHA Lotion on my chin the second I noticed my period symptoms coming, and voila—my monthly cystic acne has all but disappeared.

This miraculous shift in my approach to skincare took place a few years back. It wasn’t until recently that I came across the idea of cycle syncing. Here’s how it works.

Anyone who menstruates experiences a 28-day cycle that keeps their hormones in flux. During that time, our bodies go through different phases in which the symptoms shift and vary. Instead of keeping a rigid routine during that time, some experts suggest listening to your body and responding to its needs accordingly. As a beauty editor, I’m always preaching the importance of catering your routine to your skin’s needs. And while that usually means choosing the right products for oily or dry skin, cycle syncing is a much more profound way to get in tune with yourself.

Skincare products on white tray.
Image by Michelle Nash

The Expert on Cycle Syncing for Skin

In a perfect world, we’d be able to sync our entire lives to our monthly cycles. We’d work when we have energy, rest when we feel sluggish, and work in harmony with our natural rhythms. But alas, deadlines are due, and the world is always knocking at our door. But cycle syncing is an attainable way to cater your daily routine to your monthly cycle and improve your skin by improving your mind-body connection.

To understand the changes our skin goes through during our cycles, I spoke to Dr. Trevor Cates, a licensed naturopathic doctor and author of Natural Beauty Reset: The 7-Day Program to Harmonize Hormones and Restore Radiance. As an expert on beauty and hormones, she led me through the effects our monthly cycles have on our hormones. Keep scrolling for the secret to beating those monthly breakouts.

Brunette woman applying skincare in bathroom.
Image by Teal Thomsen
Dr. Trevor Cates

Dr. Trevor Cates is the author of the USA Today best-selling skincare book, Clean Skin from Within. As the first woman to be licensed as a Naturopathic Doctor in California, Dr. Cates is passionate about helping her patients improve their skin and hormones through a natural approach.

The Skinny on Cycle Syncing for Skin

Cycle syncing is matching your skincare to your menstrual cycle. Your skin goes through distinct but predictable phases every month. Getting in tune with your period can give you cues on when to expect breakouts, when to expect duller skin, and how to respond to keep your skin even throughout the month.

While everyone has the potential to benefit from more intuitive skincare, you might especially benefit from cycle syncing if you:

Brunette woman wearing white shirt applying moisturizer in mirror.
Image by Teal Thomsen

What Happens to Your Skin Throughout Your Cycle

Dr. Cates reminds us that shifts in our hormones impact skin differently all throughout the month. Here’s a breakdown of what happens to your skin over the course of your cycle’s four-week period:

  • Week 1: Menstruation. Skin is at its most sensitive.
  • Week 2: Follicular Phase. Skin is at its most resistant.
  • Week 3: Ovulation. Hormone levels rise.
  • Week 4: The Luteal Phase. Skin is volatile.

Over this period, your hormones fluctuate and your skin reacts. “Your high androgen levels stimulate sebum production in the skin, especially right before a woman’s period starts. This can trigger acne breakouts in some women,” Dr. Cates says. “After ovulation, around days 17-24, progesterone increases which can increase sebum production as well.”

Various skincare products on a white marble counter.
Image by Teal Thomsen

Benefits of Balanced Hormones for Skin

By changing up your skincare, food, and movement practices—not to mention your mindset—Dr. Cates shares that it’s possible to address the hormonal imbalances that are giving you trouble. “First, it’s good to know what’s out of balance, and then you can address the issues,” she notes.

If your hormones feel especially out of balance, Dr. Cates recommends this hormone quiz to understand what’s going on. But for most of us, simply following our skin’s cycle can lead to glowier, less irritated skin.

Brunette woman wearing blue robe applying face oil in bathroom.
Image by Tom Medvedich

The Best Skincare Products for Cycle Syncing

Phase 1: Menstruation

During the first week of your cycle, your skin is at its most sensitive. Focus on hydrating and repairing. Take a break from harsh actives and use nourishing ingredients with hydrating, restoring, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Evolve Organic Beauty Hyaluronic Serum

u003cpu003ePump your skin full of hydration with this soothing, softening serum. Slather it on generously—your skin needs it.u003c/pu003e


May Lindstrom Honey Mud Enzyme u0026 Acid Facial Pudding

u003cpu003eThis unique cleansing pudding is the perfect balm for irritated skin. Honey is an effective anti-inflammatory ingredient, but skip the DIY honey masks. Instead, incorporate this blend of honey and enzymes to make your skin glow.u003c/pu003e


Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin™ Facial Barrier Mask

u003cpu003eSheet masks instantly boost hydration, and this is one of the best. Packed with ceramides and fortifying ingredients, your skin will be hydrated for days.u003c/pu003e

$14.99 (reg. $35)

Phase 2: Follicular

Your skin is at its best the week after you menstruate. It’s glowing and resilient. Prolong this by using brightening ingredients, re-introducing exfoliants, and even experimenting with new products.

Maya Chia The Super Lift Vitamin C-More Treatment

u003cpu003eProlong your natural glow with this potent vitamin C serum. Its blend of vitamin C, tranexamic acid, and ferulic acid synthesizes collagen to keep your skin bright.u003c/pu003e


Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser

u003cpu003eIt’s not just the smell of strawberries that keeps me coming back to this cleanser. It’s the dullness-defying blend of natural exfoliants that brings out the best in your skin.u003c/pu003e


Marie Veronique Probiotic + Exfoliation Mask

u003cpu003eYour skin can take a little more exfoliation during this period, so try this enzyme mask which provides intense hydration and helps brighten skin, all without compromising microbial balance.u003c/pu003e


Beauty products on white tray sitting on light wood console table.
Image by Michelle Nash

Phase 3: Ovulation

As estrogen and testosterone rise, so do oil levels. Beware of clogged pores and irritation! Keep up a routine of actives, exfoliants, and detoxing ingredients to flush out your pores and prepare for rising sebum levels.

The Inkey List Lactic Acid

u003cpu003eThis no-nonsense exfoliating liquid is a simple, but effective lactic acid toner that combines a gentle AHA with hyaluronic acid to moisturize and sweep away dead skin.u003c/pu003e


Dermalogica Daily Micofoliant

u003cpu003eAdd this exfoliating powder to your daily cleanser for an extra deep wash. Clear out excess sebum with this foaming, brightening cure for dull, congested skin.u003c/pu003e


Klur Supreme Seed Purification Mask

u003cpu003eThis nourishing antioxidant mask gently purifies and decongests any oil buildup and debris without stripping your skin of essential nutrients.u003c/pu003e


Phase 4: Luteal

Prevention is the name of the game in this final phase. Anti-inflammatory products like AHAs, BHAs, and niacinamide will get you through this volatile time with as few breakouts as possible.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Exfoliant

u003cpu003eThis cult-favorite salicylic acid solution works its magic deep within your pores to gently sweep away excess oil and quickly remedy breakouts.u003c/pu003e


Rose Ingleton MD Skin Calming Booster

u003cpu003eThis potent serum is full of calming ingredients like sea whip, u003cspan style=u0022font-size: revert; color: initial; font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, u0026quot;Segoe UIu0026quot;, Roboto, Oxygen-Sans, Ubuntu, Cantarell, u0026quot;Helvetica Neueu0026quot;, sans-serif;u0022u003egreen and white tea extracts, and niacinamide to soothe irritated skin and protect against damage.u003c/spanu003eu003c/pu003e


Renée Rouleau Rapid Response Detox Masque

u003cpu003eThis rescue mask is a must-have for purging pores and calming cystic acne. It’s delicate enough for breakout-prone or sensitive skin while clearing hormonal blemishes, fast.u003c/pu003e