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 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 recently, when a small but nonetheless notable smattering of blemishes began consistently taking 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 an approximately 28-day timeline to work with and prepare for what's coming.
But 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 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 and the supplements we take."
Meet the Expert
Nicole Granato is a certified women's health and wellness coach. She specializes in areas of infertility and pregnancy as well as body image, sexuality, and weight issues.
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, that means hormone fluctuations sending 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 an existing breakout, try Acure's Radically Rejuvenating Serum ($19) which combats blemishes without drying out skin even more.
If your skin is going haywire throughout the month, it could indicate that something deeper is out of balance. Birth control is a common culprit since it's impacting 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 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. 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 necessary vitamins, too, with a daily supplement. And the good news: Your twenties are the time when it's easiest to build muscle and stay in shape, so by all means, get moving.
Want to learn more about keeping your hormones in balance naturally? See the foods that'll do the trick.