Those terrible years of teen acne, those wonderful months of pregnancy glow, and that disappointing arrival of menopausal dryness. As different and unique as each skin stage is, they all derive from the same source: what we call our “sex hormones.”
Estrogen and testosterone are hormones that both play large roles in the maintenance of our skin throughout our lives. In our teenage years, there is an influx in testosterone which increase sebum production. This causes oily skin which can often lead to acne. During pregnancy, we are flooded with extra hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, as well as increased blood flow. This gives us that fabled pregnancy glow. But what does each hormone do and how do they maintain our skin?
Estrogen is probably the hormone you’ve heard most about. Among its many other responsibilities of preserving bone mass and ensuring reproductive functions, it also preserves the elasticity and moisture content of the skin. Wrinkles, moisture levels, and skin thickness are all affected by estrogen. Estrogen can increase collagen production in the skin to maintain thickness and hydration, allowing for plump, wrinkle-free skin.
Testosterone is found in both men and women. It not only enhances libido responses and strengthens muscle and bone but also manages sebum production. During periods of hormonal flux such as puberty, menstruation, or menopause the skin can become unbalanced and therefore oilier, allowing for acne. It is also in charge of hair growth. When estrogen levels drop during menopause, women can sometimes experience facial hair growth as their testosterone levels are left unbalanced.
Progesterone is the hormone that helps maintain pregnancy. It thickens the lining of the uterus to help it accept the fertilized egg. It also helps regulate the body’s monthly menstrual cycle. In regards to our skin, Progesterone helps balance out the sebum produced by testosterone to keep our skin nourished and hydrated but not overly oily.
These hormones, when working in sync and in balance, can make our skin look youthful and glowing. But when we hit menopause, there is a sudden and dramatic shift within our skin. It is easy for women to feel self-conscious and even depressed over their appearance during this time. But if we can better understand this transition, we can take better action to help treat and care for our bodies.
During menopause, the most common change women find in their skin is dryness. Once estrogen production slows down, it puts a halt on collagen production as well. The loss of collagen thins out the skin, causing it to lose elasticity which takes shape in the form of wrinkles.
Another common skin symptom of menopause is flushed and blotchy skin. Many women attribute that as a reaction to hot flashes but in fact, estrogen has anti-inflammatory properties. So without estrogen, the skin can experience increased inflammation, exacerbating certain skin conditions like rosacea.
So if menopause is inevitable, is there any way to save our skin?
This can all sound overwhelming and a bit terrifying. But if we arm ourselves with a plan of action, the transition can feel much more manageable and much less scary. One method of ensuring a smoother transition is to help maintain our hormone levels. Hormone supplements can help balance estrogen levels by helping your body make more of its own progesterone. An increase in progesterone will help balance out our testosterone levels, providing smoother, acne-free skin. This will also help our skin retain more of its elasticity and hydration. Supplements are the best way for us to fight back from within but we can also do a lot from without as well.
There are a lot of products on the market aimed to be the next wonder cure for wrinkles and aging. So what to pick? What to use?
After our estrogen levels drops, our skin will lose elasticity and moisture, leaving it dry and wrinkled. To boost our hydration, products including hyaluronic acid are great. Hyaluronic acid can help increase moisture to the skin, improving structure and firmness. Vitamin C and rosewater can improve brightness and even out skin tone. Rosehip and argan oil can provide extra moisture and improve skin pigmentation.
During menopause our skin’s turnover rate slows down, which can lead to dull looking skin. Exfoliation can help improve that dramatically. Rather than physical exfoliation, chemical exfoliation can lead to better and quicker results. Products with Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA or also known as salicylic acid) help “unglue” dead surface skin cells, leaving behind smoother, brighter skin.
Improving collagen production is also important and one of the most effective products are retinoids, such as retinol. It increases the rate of skin cell turnover, revealing finer, smoother skin while also increasing collagen production.
And an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure, as they say. Sunblock is always going to serve the skin well, no matter our age. UV rays are damaging to the skin but much more so during the skin’s fragile period during menopause. Protection is key.
Menopause can be an overwhelming period of transition. But understanding what is happening beneath the surface of the skin can help us better appreciate what our bodies are going through. And by understanding, we also learn how to help and aid our body through this period. With this knowledge, hopefully we can learn to feel confident and comfortable at any age.