The most common menopause symptoms are so familiar, they’ve become tropes: Sudden crying jags; tossing and turning all night due to chills and hot flashes; a drastic dip in libido. Yet, many rarely consider the impact this hormonal shift could have on their skin. As it turns out, the loss of estrogen can have a dramatic effect on one’s complexion. “The signs of chronic skin aging are accelerated with menopause,” warns Jessie Cheung, MD, board-certified dermatologist in the Chicago area. This includes increased dryness, wrinkling, laxity, and a thin, paper-like texture.
While menopause is inevitable, you don’t have to simply accept its changes to your skin. There are plenty of ingredients, products, and even foods you can rely on to help your skin fight back against the effects of menopause. Here, two board-certified dermatologists help us break it all down.
What happens during menopause?
At birth, women’s ovaries contain all of the eggs they'll ever have in their bodies. Every time an egg is released from an ovary and it goes unfertilized, menstruation occurs. Therefore, when eggs are no longer released, menstruation ceases, along with a lowered production of hormones needed for fertility, predominantly estrogen.
“Hormones rule the body, and menopause disrupts the balance of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone,” explains Janet Allenby, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Delray Beach, Florida. A decline in testosterone can lead to the infamous drop in libido, progesterone loss can affect mood, and low estrogen can cause those night sweats and affect skin (more on this later). A woman is considered to be menopausal after she hasn’t had a period for a year, which typically happens in the late forties or early fifties (though it can happen earlier, either due to genetic reasons or illness).
Okay, so how does menopause affect skin?
In our youth, estrogen plays a vital part in skin plumpness and hydration by increasing levels of hyaluronic acid and promoting skin-barrier function (which prevents moisture loss). Estrogen also drives the sebaceous glands to produce the skin’s natural oils, and less of this hormone makes moisture matters worse. Yet maintaining collagen is estrogen’s primary anti-aging action — and without this hormonal protection, fine lines, wrinkles, and a decrease in skin thickness make their presence known. “Thirty percent of the collagen in the skin is lost during the first five years of menopause, and two percent is lost every year thereafter,” Dr. Cheung shares. For this reason, you’ll want to start fortifying your skin with the right ingredients as early as you possibly can.
How can I prepare my skin for menopause?
There’s a lot of talk about perimenopause, or the transition into menopause. This is the gradual decline of estrogen production, which can begin several years before menopause, when the ovaries actually stop releasing eggs. Yet in terms of the skin, Dr. Allenby doesn’t believe there’s a marked distinction between the two. “Once you begin seeing the signs of less estrogen, you’re there,” she says. That’s when it’s time to do something to defend your skin, if you haven’t taken measures already.
Being proactive in terms of maximizing and maintaining collagen while estrogen is still present can go a long way. This means using sunscreen and topical antioxidants daily to protect skin from the environmental and free radical damage that compromises collagen. Dr. Cheung also emphasizes the importance of skincare ingredients that can help optimize collagen production while your body is still pumping out estrogen, like growth factors and peptides (which can both be found in SkinMedica® TNS Essential Serum®, $281).
I’m already going through menopause — how can I help my skin?
There are a handful of cutting-edge skincare ingredients that have been found to mimic the effects of estrogen in the skin — without the potential drawbacks of hormone replacement therapy, which include
an increased risk of blood clots, breast and uterine cancer, and stroke. “The latest skincare advances make the skin think it isn’t estrogen-deficient, so it acts like it isn’t,” Dr. Allenby explains.
One particularly interesting ingredient in this category is called methyl estradiolpropanoate (MEP), which is the foundation of the product line Emepelle® ($195). “Emepelle contains estrogen-receptor activators that only affect the skin,” explains Dr. Cheung. This technology has also been found to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, increase hydration, and essentially imitate the youth-imparting benefits of estrogen. “Patients note improvement in wrinkles, dryness, and sagging, and these changes were significant in studies of both premenopausal and postmenopausal women, ” Dr. Cheung adds. Unlike hormone-replacement therapy, MEP is broken down into an inactive compound once it’s metabolized by the skin, which means no potential hormone-based side effects.
No discussion of menopause symptoms — skin-related or not — would be complete without mentioning hot flashes, and there’s a product that was designed to alleviate both. Pause Well-AgingTM; Hot Flash Cooling Mist ($39) instantly lowers skin-surface temperature, reduces redness, and promotes the evaporation of perspiration as a unique complex of niacinamide, vitamin C, DMAE, and peptides works to combat the visible signs of collagen loss.
Can I improve visible signs of menopause with my diet?
There’s no question that a healthy lifestyle has a positive impact on the skin, and that a poor diet, excess alcohol, smoking, sun exposure, and other detrimental habits have a profound effect on its appearance. However, this is especially important to consider during menopause, when your skin’s resilience and texture is most vulnerable. Consider supplementing your diet with phytoestrogen-rich foods. Phytoestrogens are a natural compound found in some plants and, when eaten, they have similar effects to estrogen produced in the body. You can find it in tofu, broccoli, flaxseed, and berries, all of which can help optimize the health of menopausal skin.
You can also consider switching up how you eat. “Studies have shown the benefits of intermittent fasting and low-carbohydrate diets for stimulating the body’s natural production of growth hormone,” explains Dr. Cheung. “This can improve the skin’s resilience, increase lean muscle mass, reduce visceral fat, and decrease the visible aging effects that sugar can have on the skin.”
Furthermore, supplements may be able to minimize the effects that menopause can have on the skin. Dr. Allenby recommends Skinade® ($135 for a 30-day supply), a clinically-proven marine-derived collagen that she believes helps support existing collagen and improve dry skin. Dr. Cheung believes adaptogens may be beneficial as well. “Adaptogenic herbs can help support the body’s response to the stress of menopause and may help promote deeper sleep,” she says. Holy basil, ashwagandha, and rhodiola can be found in a wide variety of forms, but it’s best to consult with your doctor before beginning any supplements — especially if you’re using hormone replacement therapy.
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