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To our readers: This article contains important information that is relevant to us all. 50% of the world’s population will experience menopause so it is imperative that the other 50% understands and supports them. The more we understand each other, the more we can help each other.
Both challenging and transformational, the move into perimenopause, menopause, and beyond brings with it many changes – including to our skin.
Shifting hormone levels can affect our skin in several different ways. And the effects are often noticeable well before menstrual periods actually stop. Menopause itself is defined as the point when a woman has not had a period for 12 months. But many notice symptoms starting during the perimenopause phase, which can last months or even years.
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Of course, the exact symptoms we experience during perimenopause and menopause vary from person to person. Some people may sail through this transition relatively unruffled, while others feel like their whole mind and body are affected.
However, research shows that changing hormone levels typically affect our skin in a few particular ways. Many women experience an abrupt onset of skin aging signs during menopause. The skin feels thinner, drier, more sensitive, and more prone to bruising and a decrease in collagen production can result in more lines and wrinkles. This is also when women may also begin to see signs of sun damage.
In this blog post, we’ll explore menopause and its effect on our skin, discussing the impact of hormonal changes on our skin’s structure. We’ll also look at how we can offset these effects through lifestyle and proper skincare. And we’ll consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and how it can change our skin’s response to menopause.
What is the Menopause and How Does it Affect our Skin?
As we’ve seen, women officially reach menopause when they haven’t had a period for at least a year. The months (or more normally years) leading up to this point are known as perimenopause – this is the time the symptoms of hormonal changes begin to be noticed.
In exceptional cases women may become menopausal in their 30s, or even younger. This is known as premature ovarian insufficiency or premature menopause.
It will also happen abruptly after induced menopause, which is when a woman’s menstrual periods end due to a medical intervention such as surgical removal of the ovaries or, for example, some cancer treatments.
The main hormone involved in menopause is oestrogen. It’s actually three hormones, oestradiol, oestrone and oestriol, but they are known collectively as oestrogen. Often thought of as the female reproductive hormone, oestrogen is actually produced by everyone, including cis men. And it is the changing levels of oestrogen in our bodies that cause most of the symptoms during the perimenopause.
As well as decreasing oestrogen levels, the transition into menopause also sees a decline in our levels of progesterone, the hormone that governs the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.
Most of us are already familiar with some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause. As well as changes to the menstrual cycle, deceasing oestrogen levels can cause hot flushes, sleepless nights, vaginal dryness, frequent UTIs, joint pain, brain fog, mood swings, and increased anxiety. There are actually more than 30 menopausal symptoms, according to The Menopause Charity.
Not everyone will get all these symptoms. But many of us experience at least some of them.
What about our skin? Well, decreasing oestrogen has a big impact here too. As well as playing a vital role in our reproductive cycles, oestrogen is involved in keeping the structure of our skin strong, plump, and elastic.
As our hormone levels change, so too does our skin. Here are some of the ways that perimenopause and menopause can affect our skin:
1. Increased Dryness and Sensitivity
During perimenopause, oestrogen and progesterone levels are still fluctuating, especially in the early years. This can lead to changes in our skin’s ability to stay hydrated. Both oestrogen and progesterone play a role in how much sebum we produce. As a result, one of the earliest effects many of us notice on the skin is increased dryness.
This can get worse as a woman moves further into menopause and sebum production decreases further.
As well as their skin feeling noticeably drier, many women report increased skin sensitivity during perimenopause and menopause. Oestrogen appears to have a protective effect on our skin, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
Once oestrogen levels start to drop, this protective effect also reduces. One 2017 study found that 32% of perimenopausal and post-menopausal women report increased skin sensitivity. Signs can include itching, redness, and small bumps or pimples. And for someone experiencing hot flushes, this may also contribute to the skin looking red more often.
Just to keep us on our toes, during the perimenopause phase some women will notice their skin is oilier instead of drier. Although the overall trend is for us to produce less sebum as we move into menopause and beyond, the interplay between different levels of hormones can also lead to increased sebum production at times.
This is because the ratio between our oestrogen levels and our testosterone levels is changing. Unlike oestrogen and progesterone, testosterone doesn’t decline suddenly when we reach menopause. Instead, we slowly start to produce less and less of it after we leave our 20s behind.
Once we reach menopause, the sharp decrease in oestrogen means that we have a higher testosterone-to-oestrogen ratio than before. As a result, the effects of testosterone can be more obvious – and these can include oilier skin. In turn, this may contribute to blocked pores and acne.
Of course, increased sebum levels aren’t the only potential cause of acne during menopause. Stress, increased sweating during hot flushes, and lack of sleep can also play a role.
3. Reduced Collagen
As oestrogen decreases, so too does collagen production. Researchers say that collagen levels reduce rapidly in early menopause, decreasing by around 30% in the first five years. Although this loss does slow, we continue to experience about a 2% reduction in collagen every year for the next 15 years.
This loss of collagen has a marked impact on our skin’s structure. It is why women tend to notice their skin is thinner and less elastic as they move through menopause. Wounds tend to heal more slowly, and some women might find they bruise more easily than they did before.
Thinner, less elastic skin is also more prone to visible signs of ageing, such as wrinkles and sagging. In turn, this can affect our confidence in our appearance – at exactly the time when our changing hormone levels make it difficult to feel at home in our own bodies.
Taking Care of the Skin During Menopause
We’ve looked at some of the changes that can start to affect our skin during perimenopause and menopause. Increased dryness and sensitivity, thinner and less elastic skin, and potentially increased risk of breakouts and acne – none of this sounds ideal!
Menopause is, of course, a natural part of getting older. None of us can stop the march of time and changes to our skin are inevitable as we navigate the transition into this new phase of life.
Be wary of any product that promises magical solutions to the signs of skin ageing. All of us develop lines and wrinkles as we get older, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. We may live in a youth-obsessed society but getting older should be something to celebrate – after all, it is an opportunity that not everyone gets.
Having said that, there’s also nothing wrong with wanting to take care of our skin and look the best we can for the age we are. Many women find their confidence dips as they approach menopause – something that can be linked to decreasing oestrogen as well as the physical and mental challenges of going through this transition.
Taking care of our skin and addressing some of the effects of perimenopause and menopause may help us to feel more confident and cope better with the changes we see in the mirror. And the right interventions can also support our skin’s health, keeping it functioning well for longer.
So, while there’s nothing that can halt the effects of menopause altogether, there are things we can do to take care of our skin as we navigate through this period of change.
1. Hormone Replacement Therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective and widely-used treatments for menopausal symptoms and many women find it completely life-changing when it comes to coping with this stage of life, simply because it replaces the hormones that their bodies are no longer producing.
Of course, we’re not suggesting starting HRT just to avoid skin issues. But those struggling with other symptoms of menopause and considering HRT, may find their skin benefits too.
The benefits of HRT have been proved and HRT can also alleviate many of the skin issues associated with menopause. By replacing the hormones our body is no longer producing, HRT helps to increase collagen levels and decrease the risk of developing dry skin.
Modern HRT comes in the form of patches, gels, creams, pessaries and tablets which can be prescribed by GPs and specialised menopause clinics around the country.
Women who still have their uterus intact, will also need progesterone to keep the lining of the uterus thin. Most women these days are prescribed micronised progesterone – also called body-identical, or natural – which is chemically identical to the human hormone. Progesterone also helps boost sebum production and keep the skin supple.
2. Lifestyle Options
Although many of the changes we notice in our skin during menopause are due to our shifting hormone levels, our skin can also be affected by some of the other symptoms of perimenopause.
Many people struggle with insomnia, anxiety, and mood swings during this stage of life. Lack of sleep and the stress of coping with symptoms can take their own toll on our skin, as well as the rest of our lives.
While it might not cure these symptoms altogether, taking care of our physical and mental health can help us cope better with the challenges that perimenopause and menopause throw at us. The NHS recommend eating a healthy diet, avoiding smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, exercising regularly, and trying relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
None of these things is a quick fix, but they help to keep our mind and body healthy and be in a better place to deal with the symptoms of menopause. In turn, feeling healthy and less stressed may help our skin look and feel better too.
Since many of the symptoms of menopause are caused by decreasing oestrogen, it makes sense that seeking alternative forms of oestrogen can alleviate some of these symptoms. This is the theory behind HRT but has also inspired research into natural replacements for oestrogen.
Enter phytoestrogens, which are found in plants. As the name suggests, these plant-based compounds mimic oestrogen in our bodies. They won’t have as dramatic an effect as HRT but studies suggest that a diet rich in phytoestrogens can reduce the effect of menopause on our skin, increasing skin elasticity, boosting collagen production, and reducing wrinkles.
Examples of phytoestrogens include daidzein and genistein, which are found in many plants but especially in soybeans. Another is resveratrol, which is found in grapes.
This doesn’t mean we should go overboard and start eating tofu and grapes for every meal. Balance is important! But incorporating high-quality soy-based foods into our diet may help avoid skin dryness and keep our skin thick and elastic for longer.
And while soybeans are an excellent source of phytoestrogens, they aren’t the only option. A diet rich in vegetables can help access more of these plant-based oestrogens and will also bring the added benefits of all the other vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in plants. This is great news for our skin and for the rest of our body.
Last but very much not least on our list is skincare. Lifestyle and diet can do a lot to support healthy skin, but it is often the products we apply directly to our skin that have the most noticeable impact.
The changes our skin experiences during perimenopause and menopause may mean we need to reassess our existing skincare regime and introduce new products designed to tackle the exact issues we’re experiencing.
As we’ve seen, a decrease in collagen production is behind many of the skin changes we see during menopause. So, many of us turn to products that are aimed at boosting collagen production when we reach this stage of life.
You’ve likely heard of retinol, a chemical derived from vitamin A that can increase collagen levels and reduce the signs of skin ageing. Although retinol does seem to be effective, it can also cause sensitivity issues, including redness, peeling, and dryness. If your skin is already dryer and more sensitive due to menopause, this might not be something you want to risk.
There’s also a question of sustainability. Retinol – vitamin A – is currently manufactured by chemical synthesis from petroleum-derived substrates, such as acetone and acetylene. It’s also often contains animal derivatives – an issue for us, as a vegan brand, and for anyone who is vegan or attempting to reduce their consumption of animal products.
Petroleum-derived ingredients may be everywhere in skincare, but they are non-renewable and unsustainable. At Whitfords, one of our commitments to sustainable skincare is that our products are 100% petroleum-free.
Fortunately, there is an alternative to retinol that is gentler on menopausal skin and better for the environment too. Bakuchiol is a plant-based ingredient made from the seeds of Psoralea corylifolia. As a 2019 study showed, bakuchiol has a comparable effect to retinol but without the associated redness, photosensitivity, and scaly skin.
It’s also the star ingredient in our Papaya & Bakuchiol Gel Serum, which is one of our recommended products for perimenopausal and menopausal skin. The bakuchiol in this serum makes your skin feel firmer, smoother, and more elastic, while papaya enzymes help to soothe and regenerate sensitive or damaged skin.
Suitable for normal to dry skin, the serum comes as a gel which absorbs easily into the skin, leaving it feeling nourished, plumped, and velvety soft. This also means it requires minimal water in the manufacture – another win for the planet.
If menopause has your skin feeling dry and undernourished, the cold-pressed acai, moringa, and baobab oils in the serum are the perfect antidote. Packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and omega fats, these oils help to soften the skin and combat inflammation.
As well as nourishing, collagen-promoting products like our Papaya & Bakuchiol Gel Serum, we recommend using a good SPF daily. Decreasing oestrogen can leave our skin more vulnerable to sun damage, so it is even more vital to protect it during and after menopause.
Finally, a Whitfords’ top tip is that any product we use on our face can (and should) be used on your neck and chest (décolletage), as these are areas that often show the signs of ageing and need some extra care, especially as we move through menopause and beyond.
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Sources and further reading:
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Lephart, E. D., & Naftolin, F. (2021). Menopause and the Skin: Old Favorites and New Innovations in Cosmeceuticals for Estrogen-Deficient Skin. Dermatology and therapy, 11(1), 53–69. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13555-020-00468-7
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