During my teenage years, and for a large part of my early 20s, I took my clear complexion for granted. "I don't really break out," I'd say smugly while a friend bemoaned a blemish, or later if I had to detail my skincare routine for work. My emotions were still aboard the same dramatically swinging pendulum as most teens (emphasis on the dramatic), and I watched almost removedly as my body filled out and changed at the tail-end of my high school years. But dammit, at least I didn't have to deal with acne.
That is, until the past year or two, when a small but nonetheless notable smattering of blemishes have consistently taken up residence on my chin. The timing and placement of these breakouts are proof enough that they're hormone-related, but still—it's enough that when I say "I don't really break out" nowadays, it kind of feels like I'm lying. Oh, and then there's the fact that for a few days a month, I'm so emotionally precarious that a delayed Postmates order can push me to the verge of tears. It all begs the question: Are our 20s just Puberty: The Sequel?
In a way, yes. Even though we're typically fully-formed adults by the time we hit 21 (physically speaking, at least), our bodies never stop changing, and our hormones surge on. Specifically, as we enter our prime years for fertility, our progesterone and estrogen levels are at their peak, ebbing and flowing with our menstrual cycles. This alone can lead to weight fluctuation, mood swings, and yes, acne—even if you've never experienced it before. The chief difference is that unlike the unpredictability of our hormones during our adolescent years, we at least have a 28-day timeline to work with and remind us what's coming.
And that's when things are functioning normally—things get even more complicated and unpredictable when your body isn't in balance.
"When our hormones are acting out, they express themselves much like we remember when we were teenagers," says health expert Nicole Granato. "Our 20s is the time when we start really understanding our hormones and the effects they have on our body, I find that many women experience weight gain, acne, hair loss or growth in odd places, as well as irregular menstrual cycles. Most of the time it is our body's way of letting us know we are deficient in vitamins and minerals coming from the food we eat to and the supplements we take."
So, how can we better manage these changes? What can we expect in the first place? Keep reading to see how to deal with your hormones below.
"Whatever is going on inside our body reflects on the outside," notes Granato. Leading up to your period, it's hormone fluctuations, which can send your sebaceous glands into overdrive (which might manifest in a breakout, most likely along your chin). Increased levels of progesterone can also cause dehydration, which gives your complexion a dull appearance.
Granato recommends preventing this by simply upping your water intake. To tackle existing an existing breakout, try Acure's Radical Resurfacing Treatment (£11) which combats blemishes without drying out your skin even more.
If your skin is going haywire throughout the month, it could indicate that something is out of balance. Birth control is a common culprit, since it's regulating your hormone levels in a different way (though in many cases, this can also clear up your skin). But stress, lack of sleep, and a poor diet are also frequent offenders since they all can impact your hormones as well.
You can blame a boost in progesterone for sudden onset crankiness in the days leading up to your period (although on the flip-side, the hormone estradiol encourages happy thoughts when you're ovulating). Granato recommends eating for happiness, which means sticking with nutritious foods that are known to encourage a lift in mood. (Fill up on cruciferous veggies like broccoli and kale, as well as fatty acids, which are found in fish, walnuts, and sweet potatoes.)
"Weight gain, a hard time losing it, cellulite and even inflammation around the stomach area are all common with hormone imbalances," says Granato. And small fluctuations (as well as ugh, bloating) are often the status quo during that time of the month. (Isn't womanhood swell?) Your best plan of attack is drinking lots of water and making sure your nutrient levels are in check. "The most important thing I remind people is to make sure you are eating whole grains, healthy fats, plant protein 90% of the time and consider cutting dairy," she says. "This does not mean you have to be a vegan, but you want to ensure you are eating enough (and well enough) to support your body." Make sure you're getting all your vitamins too with a daily supplement. And the good news: Your 20s are the time when it's easiest to build muscle and stay in shape. So by all means, get moving.
Want to find out more about keeping your hormones in balance? See the foods that will do the trick.