There is so much skincare advice in the world that knowing where to start can feel a bit overwhelming. This is especially true for women going through menopause.
Yes menopause can cause skin to change dramatically - but modern science has finally brought some good news to the table! So first let’s unpack why menopause (time of life hormone change) affects skin; then let’s describe what kinds of skin aging changes typically occur from texture and tone to underlying skin health. We'll also share real knowledge on how you can keep your skin acting younger and healthier during this ‘change of life’ time.
It may not be realistic to hang onto our youth forever and really who wants to pretend to be 20 when you should be proud to be 50! But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and turning the clock back a few years.
Menopause and Your Skin
Menopause marks the second time in a woman's life when hormonal changes take place, the adult change, as opposed to puberty, is when estrogen and progesterone hormone production decreases. As a result, the ovaries stop releasing eggs and eventually menstrual cycles stop. The average age of women entering menopause is 51 years. However, menopausal symptoms typically begin months and often several years prior. This pre phase is referred to as "perimenopause." In truth, hormone changes for both men and women begin at 30 - however the declines are relatively small at that point. But for women, at 40, the hormone declines become more noticeable and at menopause, women experience a period of rapid diminishment. Post menopause hormones continue to decline but the rate of change stabilizes.
When a woman's estrogen levels drop significantly, so do her progesterone levels. Both hormones play a key role in a woman's sexual and reproductive health. Both are considered steroid hormones, especially estrogen, which can affect your serotonin levels as well as your overall health.
In terms of menopause symptoms and side effects, most women experience hot flashes, insomnia, fatigue, and mood swings. Traditionally, society likes to pretend menopause isn’t happening even though right this minute, over 32 million American working women are actually in some phase of menopause. And even more ignored, despite all the skincare articles and product in the world, is this ‘time of life’ skin aging. This is likely because the skincare business typically focuses on what we call general anti-aging. And that is aging primarily driven by sun exposure and other external causes, such as blue light or pollution. This is because much of hormone driven - meaning for the purposes of this blog - menopause caused aging, was thought to be impossible to do anything about.
Let’s start with some skincare basics. Your skin is your largest organ. Its job is to protect your body from bacteria, pathogens, viral infections, and other external aggressors that are harmful to your overall health.
Skin is made up of two layers: the dermis and the epidermis. The epidermis is the thin, top superficial layer that contains melanin and gives your skin its color and UV protection. The dermis is the thicker and more resilient layer beneath the dermis that holds the blood vessels, nerve endings, and fibers.
During the perimenopausal (remember that’s pre menopause and can start as early as the mid forties) and active menopause phases, the physiological makeup of our skin—and its resiliency—begins to deteriorate and change.
Most Common Menopause Skin Side Effects
The chief culprit against youth here is estrogen, estrogen and again estrogen! Not only is estrogen responsible for our overall health as a woman, but it's also directly responsible for keeping skin young, supple and healthy. The visible signs of aging in 45+ skin have less to do with your age and everything to do with declining estrogen levels.
Even young women who go through induced or surgical menopause will experience the same accelerated aging as women who enter menopause naturally. As mentioned a moment ago, it's also important to keep in mind that there are multiple factors contributing to the skin aging process, including UV exposure over the years and environmental antagonists (pollutants, free radicals, etc.), nutrition, and a slowing metabolism.
Now, let's get to the specific skin issues that menopause causes:
Collagen is one of two key proteins that gives skin its structure, elasticity, and firmness. It makes up the bulk of skin's dry weight, and even as early as age 30, it starts to break down. Within the first five years of menopause, however, most women stand to lose up to 30 percent of their skin's collagen supply.
With the loss of collagen—thanks to those declining estrogen levels—comes the dreaded acceleration of aging. That means wrinkles, sagging skin, hollowing around the eyes, and other unexpected changes around the cheeks, mouth and jawline. To be fair genetics plays a big part here too. Some people - men and women alike - belong to the lucky egg club - and have pretty lineless skin well into their elder years.
Deep Wrinkles and Loosening
Collagen loss isn't the only thing that contributes to aging skin. Your skin also has elastic fibers and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) which give your skin its plumpness and bounce. In case you haven't already guessed, the production of these skin molecules and materials also diminish due to that drop in estrogen levels.
The loss of elastic fibers and GAGs directly cause facial wrinkles to become more pronounced. Additionally, many women experience loosening skin, which is not only particularly bothersome but is particularly visible on the neck and hands. Do you remember the wonderful writer, Nora Ephron who wrote the iconic When Harry Met Sally movie with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal? She also wrote a bestselling book with sharp but very funny insights on aging called, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”, which you may find worthy of an afternoon laugh. Nora understood that the neck even more so than the face was one of the worst signifiers of aging. Indeed, many women are proud of their laugh lines and crow’s feet as they reflect a lifetime of laughter and love but for these same women, they often say, what can I do about the skin on my neck?!
Thinning of the Hair and Skin
So the hard truth is that all of these declining hormones mean a diminishing skin matrix and slower tissue cell production. And with less production, well the skin’s dermis becomes fundamentally less strong - meaning thinner. Of course, this is not at all the area of the body where we want to become thinner! Anyway, thanks to the loss in collagen, GAGs, and yep, basic moisture (which is caused by a decline in Hyaluronic acid but we’re jumping ahead here) - your skin thins, it becomes less resilient, which equates to more bumps, bruises, and tears. Oh and by the way, estrogen decline even contributes to delayed wound healing. So it is not in your imagination that a cut or a blister from your latest new shoes does take longer to go away!
In addition to your skin thinning, the hair on your head and body also starts to get thinner during menopause. However, by some cruel design of the universe, facial hair tends to increase during this time. Of course, a hormonal imbalance is to blame, because while estrogen levels decline, testosterone levels apparently remain the same.
Dryness and Irritation
Dryness is one of the most common complaints among menopausal and postmenopausal women. You can thank estrogen once again for this because it's essential to skin hydration. One of estrogen's many responsibilities is to increase the production of GAGs, Hyaluronic acid (HA) and natural oils.
GAGs, Hyaluronic acid and natural oils support your skin's barrier function. More importantly, they play a vital role in water attraction and retention. Without them, your skin barrier loses some of its natural moisture retention capabilities and is subject to micro-cracking and irritation as the barrier weakens.
Skin Itching (Pruritus)
Pruritus is one of the more severe skin conditions associated with menopause. While itchy skin during menopause is normal considering the dryness and irritation that occur, pruritus causes an intense and nonstop itching sensation. That sensation can plague the entire body, not just the face. Pruritus is more common in postmenopausal women over 65. If you've ever had a really bad mosquito bite, then you can probably imagine what it feels like.
Flushing and Night Sweats
Sorry, but we’re not done yet with the menopause bummer list. With the estrogen decrease also comes a decrease in the microcirculation of the skin. Hence, flushing—or blushing—which can occur on the face, neck, palms, cheeks, and rather incredibly, soles of the feet. In some cases, this can result in Rosacea.
Flushing is also linked to the common symptom of night sweats, which are periods of intense and heavy sweating. Hence the flushing - it literally indicates heat.
Acne and Hyperpigmentation for Menopause Skin
Acne can also crop up during menopause. It's more common during the perimenopausal period (remember that’s the period of active hormone decline before menopause’s formal onset begins), but it can last well into your 70s. If you're experiencing acne during menopause, it's partially due to an increase in testosterone levels.
Since estrogen also regulates melanin production in the epidermis, hyperpigmentation, i.e., dark spots also begin to make an appearance. Hyperpigmentation is most often associated with UV ray exposure and can occur at any time in your life. However, with the breakdown of estrogen causing an increase in melanin synthesis, dark spots can really come alive.
Keeping Your Skin Healthy During Menopause
Learning about menopause and its effects on skin is a bit of tough pill. But there are ways to keep your skin youthful, bright and healthy well into your silver years.
A Healthy Lifestyle
Living a healthy lifestyle, i.e., eating healthy and exercising, is the key to stopping the clock. Nutrition is especially closely related to your skin health. Not only does proper diet and exercise keep your skin healthy, but it also keeps your body disease-free.
You are what you eat remains a truism throughout life. Many of the fundamental building blocks of life come from the fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables we eat and the water we drink. So, your first line of defense against menopausal skin is to ensure you are getting plenty of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fatty acids straight from the source. And if not, to supplement your food intake with high quality supplements.
Your second line of defense is to get your blood flowing. A moderate amount of exercise is enough to increase circulation, deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the cells, and eliminate cell waste. It also promotes collagen production and the birth of new skin cells.
Sunscreen with a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 is the most important weapon in your skin arsenal at every age. Your skin especially needs this protection during your menopausal years when it starts to thin out. Wearing sunscreen and limiting your sun exposure not only protects you from skin cancer, but it also slows down photo-aging—hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, fine lines, and other forms of skin damage.
If you up your SPF game by using a sunscreen that's formulated with antioxidants, you can potentially reverse some of the sun damage done in your more formative years.
Retinoids are for many women, an important element to successful anti-aging skincare. These vitamin A derivatives are clinically proven to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and smooth out the skin. Retinoids promote cell turnover and stimulate collagen and elastin growth, which can plump up your skin.
Our bodies naturally produce hyaluronic acid and it is a major player in keeping your dermis healthy. Hyaluronic acid is considered to be one of the aforementioned GAGs due to its superior water attraction and retention properties, which directly keeps the skin plump, smooth and free of fine lines and wrinkles. Hyaluronic acid molecules are a primary part of the extracellular matrix and works to keep structural collagen proteins in place.
As everyone ages, Hyaluronic acid production declines. You still produce it - just less of it than you did when you were in your raging twenties! So, choosing serums and other skincare (and yes we must say that that definitely includes the caire serum boost) with this key ingredient can replenish your daily skin supply. Make sure to choose a serum or moisturizer with multiple HA molecular weights as a balanced formula is the key to true hydration and skin health. This is because only very low (think: very very tiny) weight molecules can effectively penetrate the skin barrier and get down to the dermis and make a difference. What this means is that tiny HA molecules wield a great deal of power. Each molecule (which is actually a chain) can lift up to a 1000x its weight in water. So as the HA fills up like a balloon, so does the dermis.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) can help exfoliate and refine skin's texture. AHAs such as glycolic or lactic acid have been shown to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles as well as uneven skin tones. We recommend choosing skincare with these ingredients very carefully as dermatologists note that women with menopausal skin can find the experience of AHAs to be an irritant. So build up use frequency with time and perhaps consider trying lactic acid first as it is considered gentler than glycolic.
Don't Forget to Moisturize
Remember, your skin is the largest and of course one of the most important organs you have, and its care goes beyond the face, neck, and chest during menopause. Take care of your body and your skin with good food, blood-moving exercise at least 3 or 4 times a week, sunscreen, and skincare that is designed for menopausal aka estrogen-challenged skin.
Everyone’s individual perimenopause, active menopause and post menopause skin aging experience is their own. Reach out to us today and tell us yours. We caire about our community and anything you share will be kept confidential but will help us create the most desirable hormone defying skincare going forward.