Why is PMS so tough on your skin?
Long past our teen years, many of us find that PMS still has the ability to make us break out like we're back in junior high. That's because hormones affect not just the inner workings of your body, but also play a role in the way your skin regulates, sebum, your very own, self-produced skin lubricant.
Your monthly cycle is kind of a see-saw between the two big lady-centric hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is the dominant hormone during the first half of your menstrual cycle and progesterone is during the second, but levels of both estrogen and progesterone fall to their lowest levels just before menstruation.
While estrogen and progesterone are the main hormonal drivers of your menstrual cycle, it's actually a third hormone that really wreaks havoc on your skin: testosterone. Yes, ladies have testosterone, too – albeit less than our gentlemen friends. While estrogen and progesterone are busy fluctuating back and forth over the course of our cycle, testosterone levels remain pretty constant. This means that when levels of both estrogen and progesterone drop right before menstruation, testosterone levels are higher in relation to your lady hormones than they are at any other time in your cycle.
So what's this got to do with acne?
Well, the elevated levels of progesterone in the second half of your cycle cause your body to produce more sebum, the oily, waxy substance that keeps your skin lubricated. Then, the relatively high levels of testosterone right before your period cause your skin to produce even more sebum. While you definitely want to keep producing sebum – your skin would dry out without it – this extra oily environment can create the perfect environment for P. acnes, the bacterium that can cause increased skin inflammation and breakouts. So it's not the oil itself that's the problem, but the inflammation-causing bacteria it can feed.
Up your fibre intake: Fibre helps keep your blood-sugar levels balanced (rapidly fluctuating & insulin levels can contribute to acne) and can help reduce testosterone levels in women.
Eat more omega-3 EFAs: One of the "good fats," these fats can help reduce inflammation (remember, it's the inflammation that causes acne, not the oil) and lower testosterone levels in women.
Get antioxidant nutrient straight from the source: Ever looked at a skincare product and seen that it contains vitamin A, C or E? That's because these antioxidant nutrients are skincare superfoods! Antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, carotenoids (vitamin A precursor) and minerals zinc and selenium are often low in acne patients. These nutrients help produce collagen and repair skin damage. They also help fight the free radicals that can break down skin elastin, so they're anti-aging to boot. So instead of splurging on expensive antioxidant skincare products, save your cash and buy antioxidant-rich foods so your skincare regime works from the inside out!
Skin Superfoods to Eat
Ground flaxseeds: One of my favourite skin health superfoods, flaxseeds are high in fiber and a great plant-based source of omega-3 EFAs. Find out how they can make a fantastic gluten-free pizza crust with this recipe and while this might seem funny, these lactation cookies are a good source of flax and B vitamins which also help to balance hormones too! Don't worry, you won't start squirting out milk.
Pumpkin and pumpkin seeds: Both pumpkin flesh and seeds are acne-fighting foods, but for different reasons. The seeds are rich in zinc while pumpkin flesh is full of carotenoids, vitamin C and fiber. The seeds add beautifying zinc to my Chocolate Chia Granola while pumpkin flesh makes forms the base of one of my most popular muffin recipes
Asparagus: So what if it makes your pee smell funny? It'll make your skin gorgeous thanks to being an excellent source of selenium and vitamins C and E. Check out the asparagus recipe from my Joyous Health book for my favourite way to prepare it.
Dark leafy greens: If I could get everyone to eat more of just one food family, this would be it. Remember, the darker more vibrant the green, the richer those leaves will be in powerhouse nutrients like vitamins A, C, E and fibre. Add beets for a even bigger dose of fibre with my Warm Beet Kale Bowl Recipe.
Almonds: Almond oil is another ingredient you'll often see on natural skincare products, and that's because almond oil is an incredibly rich source of vitamin E. But when you just use the oil, you're missing out on all the fantastic fibre the almonds themselves contain, so eat the whole food to get the whole spectrum of skin benefits with my Cinnamon Almond Butter Recipe or this Chocolate Almond Butter Milkshake.
Here's a great quick reference for skin superfoods:
Things to Avoid
Refined sugar: It's called blood-sugar balance for a reason; nothing's going to throw this delicate balance out of whack more than extra doses of refined sugar, so stick to natural sweeteners, and even use those sparingly. My Joyous 10 Day Detox is a delicious and doable detox to help you kick your sugar habit for good.
Refined grains: Remember how fibre helps regulate insulin levels? Well, the refining process strips out that valuable fibre, leaving these once healthy foods nutrient-poor.
Processed fats: Most foods and nutrients do not benefit from being processed. Processing fat-containing foods often results in higher levels of trans- and omega-6 fats. Remember that there are good fats, like monounsaturated fats and omega-3 EFAs, but having too many trans- and omega-6 fats upset the balance of omega-3 fats and can contribute to 10 Foods to Reduce Inflammation.
Reduce stress: Chronic stress contributes to inflammation and hormonal fluctuations, so it's no wonder that a bad week can cause breakouts. Fight stress by spending some time in nature (vitamin G has so many benefits and adding meditation to your self-care regime.
Exercise: Wait, doesn't exercise put stress on your body? Well, kind of, in the short term, but over the long term it helps reduce stress by helping your body learn when it's time to kick things into high gear, and when it's time to rest, relax and heal. Think about it as sweating out the stress!
Use natural skincare products: Many chemicals used in personal care products can be endocrine disruptors that can affect your hormones. Besides, you'll see above that many of the skin-boosting nutrients I mentioned above are great when used topically and widely available in natural skincare products. One of my favourite skincare product rules is "if I wouldn't put it in my body, I won't put it on my body. Check out the Joyous Health line up of natural body care products or make your own!
Do you have any natural PMS or acne-fighting tips we need to know about? Let us know in the comments below!
I started a 5-part post a while ago on solutions to help balance your hormones. You can read more here:
Also, this is a great video post on 7 Natural Health Solutions for Acne.