How skin, hair, mood and appetite changes throughout the menstrual cycle

How your skin and hair changes at every stage of your menstrual cycle – and what to do about it

30th April 2023 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

Whether it’s itchy skin, breakouts, hair loss or an increase in appetite during your menstrual cycle, we break down what happens at each stage of your period and the symptoms that come along with it

If it’s not cramps and cravings, it’s breakouts and breakdowns.

The wide fluctuations in hormones across the four stages of your menstrual cycle can cause havoc with everything from your skin to your hair, moods, appetites, and even sleep.

In this feature, we take a look at how these hormones change at each of the four stages of a menstrual cycle.

We look at what these changes mean for your skin, hair, and appetite, and, most importantly, what you can do to help relieve at least some of the period symptoms.

Click the links in the box to the left to jump to the most relevant section.

FURTHER READING: How your skin changes in each decade of your life | Makeup tips for each decade of your life

The four stages of the menstrual cycle

Period symptoms at each stage of your periodmamabella | mamabella

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As a little refresher on what happens during your menstrual cycle, we’ve explained the four main stages of your period below. The days listed are the average and will depend on how long your cycle is. If you don’t already, we highly recommend tracking your period so you have a better idea of what menstrual stage you’re in.

There are apps that do this – Clue and Flo are good ones – or if you have an iPhone you can also track it in your Health app. You can even get notifications that alert you when you’re entering different phases, which can help you make positive food, exercise, and work/life decisions.

  • Days 1-5: Menstrual phase a.k.a Menstrual Winter

This is when you’re on your period. The phase starts on the day you first start bleeding and lasts for around five days.

  • Days: 6-14: Follicular Phase a.k.a Menstrual Spring

The follicular phase starts on the last day of menstrual bleeding and lasts until ovulation. This phase gets its name from the fact it’s when egg-containing follicles start to develop.

  • Days: 12 to 14: Ovulatory Phase a.k.a Menstrual Summer

The egg is released during this phase.

  • Days 15 to 28: Luteal phase a.k.a Menstrual Autumn

During this phase, your body begins lining the uterus for implantation, awaiting the arrival of a fertilised egg. If the egg arrives and isn’t fertilised, the uterus lining starts to break down and you re-enter the menstrual phase.

How each stage of your period affects your skin, hair, mind, and body

The best way to remember how you’re going to look and feel during each stage is by likening the phases to seasons in a year.

When you’re on your period, your symptoms are at their worst so it can be described as your Menstrual Winter. During the Ovulatory Phase, you’ll be feeling and looking your best so it can be described as the Menstrual Summer.

Menstrual Phase

What causes dry skin and how to get rid of dry skin for goodShutterstock

Hormones: During the menstrual phase estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. The drop in progesterone causes the breakdown and shedding of the womb lining which results in bleeding.

Skin symptoms: The low levels of oestrogen lead to dry, dull, and flaky. This is because estrogen helps stimulate collagen and elastin – two components that are considered the building blocks of skin and which cause it to look plump and youthful. Low estrogen also interferes with the natural production of hyaluronic acid and hyaluronic acid is what attracts and retains moisture. Dry skin has a tendency to become irritated and this can make your skin feel red and itchy.

Hair symptoms: In a similar way, estrogen has been shown to positively impact the health of hair. It can increase hair growth and thickness, as well as balance out the production of androgens. Androgens have been found to shrink hair follicles which makes them weaker, which in turn causes women’s hair thinning. As a result, when estrogen levels are low it has the opposite effect. Hair becomes thinner and more fragile. It looks dull and you may experience more shedding during your period.

Appetite: Many women experience cravings and an increase in appetite during the menstrual phase. These cravings are often for sweet or salty foods. Conversely, some women lose their appetite. This is because estrogen can impact the release of hormones associated with hunger and satiety, such as leptin and ghrelin.

Mind and body: Energy levels are low during your period, this is partly due to the drop in estrogen and progesterone but it can also be because of your body having to deal with cramping and changes in appetite. Despite the stereotypes of women being moodier on their period, it’s actually the days leading up to the womb lining – the luteal phase – being shed when mood swings truly take hold.

FURTHER READING: The best intimate products for all your period and feminine hygiene needs

Follicular Phase

Hormones: During the follicular phase, your body is preparing for ovulation and this sees a rise in the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). As the follicles mature, they cause increase estrogen levels to rise.

Skin symptoms: With higher levels of estrogen comes higher levels of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid all of which leave your skin looking brighter and clearer.

Hair symptoms: The increase in estrogen also helps improve the health and quality of your hair. Hair may feel thicker and stronger during this time, and some women may notice even see an increase in growth.

Appetite: During the follicular phase, you may see a drop in appetite and may feel less hungry overall. This is due to the rise in estrogen, which can help to regulate appetite and mood.

Mind and body: This steady increase in estrogen also helps improve concentration and energy levels. You have the most clarity during this period, which makes the Follicular Phase and ovulation a good time to make decisions.

Ovulatory Phase

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Hormones: At the end of the Follicular Phase, and as the body enters the Ovulatory Phase, estrogen levels peak and you’ll likely feel your best. This is due to a surge in a hormone called lutenising hormone (LH), which causes the egg to be released, but it’s also due to a rise in testosterone.

Skin symptoms: Due to peak levels of estrogen, your skin will be glowing and radiant during this phase. It will look plump, hydrated, and youthful.

Hair symptoms: Similarly, hair will feel thicker, and shinier and you may notice an increase in growth. This has been associated with making women look their best in order to attract a “mate.” Sadly, this is the shortest phase of the four so the impact is short-lived.

Appetite: During the ovulatory phase, you may crave high-carb foods. This is due to the surge in estrogen, which can impact hunger and metabolism.

Mind and body: The Ovulatory Phase is a good time to train and work out because energy levels are high, your mood will be bright, and – because of the increase in testosterone – you’ll feel stronger than before. You may also see your libido spike during this phase, this is again due to higher levels of testosterone which are released to encourage you to want to have sex when you’re at your most fertile.

Luteal Phase

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Hormones: Just as you’re feeling your best, the luteal phase comes along to ruin everything. The follicle that released the egg produces progesterone, which causes your womb lining to thicken in preparation for a fertilised egg.

Skin symptoms: Higher levels of progesterone have also been shown to increase how much sebum your body produces. Excess sebum causes oiliness of the skin. This, in turn, makes pores swell and become more prone to buildup, dirt, and dead skin cells, which leads to breakouts and acne. Increased sebum also raises your body temperature and makes you sweat more, which can also clog pores and lead to spots. Some women additionally experience something called progesterone dermatitis which is an eczema-style rash caused by a reaction to the higher levels of progesterone. This can lead to a rash and itchy skin.

Hair symptoms: Increased levels of sebum can also increase the oiliness of your scalp, which cause hair to become greasier and limp. Progesterone can also stunt the anagen (growth) phase of your hair cycle while increasing the resting, or telogen phase. This causes increased hair shedding and hair loss.

Mind and body: Progesterone has been shown to have a “depressant” effect, which causes low energy and low mood. If your mood is naturally high, you may find that this rise in progesterone simply makes you feel more chilled. However, for the majority of women, this causes anxiety and paranoia, mood swings, and random crying.

FURTHER READING: What happens to skin and hair during menopause? | How to unclog pores on your nose and face in six steps

How to manage the period symptoms of each stage

Aegles Acne Clear now SupplementAegle's

Below we explain how to counteract the negative skin and hair impacts of the menstrual, and luteal phases. We’ve also noticed a huge difference in our skin, cravings, and mood since taking the Aegle’s Acne Clear Now supplement and using the Harmony elixirs in the Adaptogenic Apothecary beauty box.

You can read more about these in our Aegle’s Acne Clear Now review, or in our best beauty subscription box guide.

Menstrual phase

  • Drink more water to boost hydration
  • Take time to rest to preserve your energy levels
  • Opt for hydrating serums, mists, and moisturisers – we’ve started listing the best hydrating skincare products here
  • Avoid over-exfoliating at this stage
  • Boost hair health by applying a hair oil – we recommend rosemary hair oil
  • Avoid skincare with strong fragrances to minimise the chances of irritation
  • Opt for adaptogenic skincare where possible
  • Avoid retinol or products that are known to cause irritation

Luteal phase

  • Drink more water and green tea
  • Exfoliate regularly to keep pores clear and prevent breakouts – we recommend the Paula’s Choice Exfoliant because it’s gentle yet effective.
  • Use a clarifying shampoo to remove excess oil
  • Use a scalp scrub to remove any buildup
  • Avoid greasy, high-sugar foods which can make oily skin worse
  • Avoid overbrushing the hair, or pulling it too tightly
  • Keep a journal to track your emotions

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