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  • Writer's pictureMeg Hagar, MS, RD, CDN, CHHP

How to track menstrual cycle phases & acne

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

If you have a menstrual cycle- did you know you can use it to figure out your acne? So many of my clients experience a difference in their skin depending on where they are in the menstrual cycle. So today, I'm gonna share everything you need to know about menstrual cycle tracking and how to use that information to figure out why your period causes acne (or why it doesn't- depending on the person!)

And, don't worry- if you don't have a menstrual cycle keep reading. I'm gonna explain how you can read your acne based on tracking data!

What to track

In order to get a good natural period acne treatment regimen in place, we are gonna want to know WHEN you break out more. So, the first step is to actually track your acne so we can figure this one out. If you want a done for you acne tracking tool, check out my All In One Acne Tracking Journal on Amazon. Otherwise, here's the info you'll want to track:

  • Diet

  • Hydration

  • Sleep

  • Stress levels

  • Where you are in your menstrual cycle

  • Acne (new breakouts, acne progress, where they are, how big/red/painful, etc)

When do you break out during your cycle?

Once you know that information, we can talk about when do you break out during your cycle? I'd say at least 90% of my clients fall into two camps: the ovulation breakouts and the PMS breakouts, many experience both. Here's why:

  • Ovulation breakouts happen because when women ovulate, testosterone spikes just a pinch- but for some women who are sensitive (or for women who already have higher baseline testosterone), that pinch might be just enough to mess with your skin and cause breakouts. Luteinizing Hormone also raises, which is what initiates ovulation- and the rise of this hormone can actually stimulate the oil glands in the skin to produce more oil, doubling your chances of experiencing pimples during ovulation period.

  • Pre period acne/Period acne flare ups happen because the hormones that typically keep testosterone in balance- estrogen and progesterone, are low. This means testosterone is the main acting hormone and, again, in women who are sensitive (or who have higher baseline testosterone), it means wreaking havoc on the skin during this time. This goes for getting zits during your period as well.

How to track your cycle

But, HOW to actually track your cycle is another piece of this puzzle. There are 4 common ways to track your cycle ovulation:

  • Data input/symptoms only. This means keeping track of your symptoms (energy levels, cervical mucus, hunger, "ovulation pain", sore breasts, headaches, etc either manually or using an app

  • Basal Body Thermometer (BBT) Method. This means taking your temperature with a basal body thermometer every single day at the same time. Your basal body temperature will spike slightly about 24 hours before ovulation.

  • Ovulation Predictor Kit (OPK) Method. This one is where you pee on a test strip (similar to a pregnancy test) and look for the darkening of the line compared to the test line. This method measures the rise of Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which peaks about 24 hours prior to ovulation

  • Manual exam. This means using your fingers or tissue to look at the color & consistency of your cervical mucus. Some women also feel for the position of the cervix to help them determine where they are in the menstrual cycle as well.

Because none of these methods on their own are "fool proof" on their own, I usually recommend that my clients use a minimum of 2 simultaneously (or even 3 if possible) for a few cycles to get good, solid data in place and establish a baseline. If you wanna know more specifics on exactly HOW I recommend doing each of these methods, check out my Clear Skin Library where I have a whole step by step section on exactly how you can do this). (PS, if you don't mind using an app, I also LOVE LOVE LOVE the Kegg device for cycle tracking. I use it myself and I love it!).

So, that's the first step- track your acne along with your cycle (or keep reading on how to track your acne without a menstrual cycle). Stay tuned for the next post on exactly what to DO with this information!

How to track your acne without a menstrual cycle

If you want to know how your period can cause acne but you don't actually have one (or you don't have a "real" one i.e. you're on hormonal birth control, etc), this section is for you!

You're still going to track your acne, but instead of paying attention to where you are in your cycle, you're going to try to establish patterns based on other potential triggers. You'll want to note when your most severe breakout days are and look back in your data about 3 days prior to the first signs of the severe breakout. Did you have a stressful day? Is there a food that keeps popping up in your diary within 3 days before a severe breakout? Did you sleep well those nights before it started? These are all important factors in how your skin is doing. This part is all about trying to identify and establish patterns. I recommend doing this for at least 2-3 months if you can! (Again, if you need a good acne tracking tool, check out my All In One Acne Tracking Journal).

And in the meantime, here are some resources you might find helpful:

Clear Skin Library- an acne healing recipe database that takes the guesswork out of how to eat for hormonal acne (and all kinds of acne for that matter!) AND additional tools to help you figure out the root causes of your acne (like more in depth info on cycle tracking, printable acne tracking journal, educational workshops, tips, tricks & more!)

Acne Nutritionist Shop- a collection of acne tracking tools I think you need to know about! Includes acne meal prep staples, my fav tools for healing acne naturally, courses and supplement recommendations!

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