Honestly, I can’t really complain about my period. It’s pretty much always on time, lasts for about four to five days, isn’t crazy heavy, and ever since I liberated myself from a major source of stress at the top of the year, I barely even get stomach or back cramps any more (spoiler alert: they used to be debilitating). But as they say, every rose has its thorn—and mine are sore, swollen, and tender breasts.
Like clockwork, as soon as my cycle starts creeping up, my boobs start aching. They feel heavy, get about half-a-cup size bigger (which looks great in low cut tops, but feels horrible), and if my nipples brush against my shirt the wrong way, I may as well have entered the fifth dimension of hell.
“Our hormone levels fluctuate throughout our menstrual cycle,” explains Stephanie Hack, MD, board-certified gynecologist and founder of Lady Parts Doctor. “During the first half, estrogen levels increase, causing the uterine lining to grow and thicken. Estrogen also causes the development of milk ducts in our breasts in preparation for pregnancy. During the second half of our cycle, progesterone levels increase, preparing the uterine lining for the implantation of a fertilized egg. Progesterone affects the breasts as well, causing milk glands to grow in preparation for lactation. This leads to swelling and tenderness of the breasts.”
A soft, supportive sports bra usually helps to alleviate some of my discomfort, but during my most recent cycle, I needed a little something extra. Enter: Figaro Apothecary’s Relief Balme ($65).
When I met the brand’s founders back in April, they told me that the balm—which is made with 100 percent natural ingredients, including arnica, menthol, ginger oil, and a proprietary blend of green echinacea, CBD, and CBG—was good for cramps, muscle soreness, and strains. But whether they realized it or not, it also works wonders for tender, swollen PMS boobs.
“Arnica flower—specifically, Arnica montana—contains two unique molecules, helenalin and dihydro helenalin. Those extracted molecules have been studied for bruising, pain, and inflammation,” says Anar Mikailov, MD, board-certified dermatologist, co-founder of Skintensive, and co-author of Fitzpatrick’s Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology, 9th Edition. “Interestingly, topical turmeric has been studied to help reduce inflammation in people who are lactating, [as well as relieve] pain, swelling, and tension.”
Though more rigorous research needs to be done to confirm the anti-inflammatory benefits of cannabinoids, Dr. Mikailov notes that topical CBD and CBG show good promise in their ability to relieve pain. What’s more, he adds that menthol and ginger oil have been proven to provide temporary pain relief when applied topically thanks to their inflammation-quashing properties.
Based on my own experience with the balm, all of this rings true. To use, I simply turn the dial on the bottom of the packaging before applying it all over my breasts and nipples. Then, I put on a supportive bra and get instant relief. The combination of the two is like a breath of fresh air, and any time I feel it wearing off, I simply apply more (FWIW, it isn’t messy and travels easily, which makes reapplication a breeze).
While I personally swear by this product when my period starts kicking up discomfort in my breasts, it’s important to note that its ingredients may cause irritation if overused or if you’re someone who has sensitive or reactive skin. “Menthol, wintergreen, clove, orange, and ginger should all be used in moderation as they are particularly known to cause skin sensitivity,” explains Dr. Mikailov. He also recommends that anyone who is currently pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using these ingredients unless they’ve been cleared by your doctor.
And while breast changes during your period are completely normal, Dr. Hack does mention that it’s important to monitor any shifts in your breast and underarm area—especially if symptoms persist past your period cycle. “[Consult your physician, if] a mass on either breast or underarm does not disappear once your cycle ends,” she shares. “Also monitor for changes in the skin color or texture, if you have a fever, nipple discharge, or if there are changes in nipple appearance.”
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