What is ‘period face’ and what beauty products can help?

Laura Kennedy has some advice to perk up grey skin pallour experienced during menstruation


It should go without saying that age, genetics, lifestyle and so on will all influence your menstrual cycle in various ways. If you wake up several mornings each month experiencing bad pain, low mood, fluctuations in appetite or any of the other aspects of menstruation that can negatively affect quality of life, your skin may be the last thing you care about. However, there is a phenomenon known as ‘period face’.

It is a version of the grim, greyish, swollen face you might observe in the mirror when you are sleep-deprived or under the weather, though often with more water retention and inflammation involved. Add to that the grinding abdominal pain, which may give you the ‘shook’ expression of a military veteran or someone who has made the error of going into Penneys at lunch time on a Saturday ‘for a browse’.

If I’m not feeling well, I naturally usually won’t care how I look. However, as every woman knows (since discovering as a child that periods can even happen on weekends), nothing slows down for us and menstruation frequently coincides with important work or life events. If you have to get on with things or do something important, you want to feel like yourself. I don’t feel myself over the few days a month when I awake looking like the love child of a naked molerat and a two-day old batch loaf. As a former sufferer of chronic adult acne, my confidence takes a nosedive when my skin starts to break out, so I’ll change my skincare routine when I notice the signs.

If you’re looking to tackle the symptoms as they appear on your face, there is plenty you can do, starting by cleansing really well. When it comes time to remove makeup or cleanse the skin, the kindest thing you can use is an oil or balm cleanser. Far from making skin oilier, it will gently cleanse away makeup and the day’s grime without stripping or irritating your skin. Massage it in gently but firmly, then wipe with a warm flannel or muslin. If you wear makeup, you will need to cleanse twice in order to remove it all. Cleansing is also a perfect time for some facial massage, which will stimulate dull skin and promote drainage.

Medik8 Blemish Control Pads (£27 from medik8.com) are by far the best and most reliable anti-breakout product I’ve found in a long time. The pads are alcohol-free, making them suitable to use even on more reactive skin types. You will often find high concentrations of alcohol in over the counter acne and teen skin products, perpetuating the myth that the alcohol will ‘dry up’ breakouts and oily skin. What it will actually do is dry skin out to the point that it is flaky and reactive, all while kicking sebum production into overdrive to counteract the alcohol. The result will be even worse breakouts, oiliness and angry skin. These pads contain the maximum amount of salicylic acid you will get in an over-the-counter product, as well as allantoin, which soothes inflammation. Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble ingredient which is proven in its effectiveness against acne, breakouts and blackheads. Use the pads anywhere you feel the need – face, back, or anywhere else you are prone to breaking out.

Dull skin is very common during and after your period. Whether your skin takes on a yellow or a greyish hue at this time, an illuminator can help brighten the face. Boots Botanics All Bright Radiance Balm (€8.49) is very affordable and versatile. You can combine it with moisturiser or foundation, apply it to the legs and arms, or just dab it onto the high points of the face to look a little less flat.

Tackling dark undereye circles is a pain at the best of times, but they can go from a whisper to a scream around the week before and during your period. I recently discovered Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Serum Concealer (€38), which is nothing short of miraculous. It neutralises ashen and blue tones like a corrector, but also conceals. If you have deep skin, opt for an apricot- or orange-toned corrector product to counteract dark tones under the eyes. If you’re paler, choose peachy pinks. Apply a touch of your usual concealer or foundation over the top if the discolouration is particularly deep in contrast to the rest of the face. Undereye darkness is instantly neutralised.

If you wear foundation but don’t normally wear blush, there is no single step in your makeup routine that will improve your face more. Good foundation application flattens out the facial features and blanks out the face’s naturally varied tonality, leaving a rather moonish appearance. We need to put tonality back in with blush to prevent makeup looking jarring and masky. It may seem counterintuitive, but by adding this extra product to your routine, you will look as though you’re wearing less makeup, and have a more natural, fresh-faced finish.

Even though skin can become a little more prone to redness during your period, upping the intensity of your blush will counteract that puffy, tired look. After concealing any redness, apply something like Chanel Joues Contraste Powder Blush in Hyperfresh (€40). It looks terrifyingly bright in the pan, but suits all skin tones from palest to deepest and gives a beautifully natural finish. Apply sparingly with a clean, fluffy brush and it will leave you wondering how you ever skipped blush.  

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