How menopause affects your skin

And what you can do about it

Aging is a fact of life; however, looking your age is not! Since aging is a disease of hypohydration (loss of water), staying hydrated is key to preventing the telltale signs of aging. Otherwise, cell membranes become damaged, vital moisture leaks out, and we gradually wrinkle and dry up.

While many factors play into this process, including stress, diet, skincare, and genetics, sun damage is the leading cause of skin cell damage in men and women. For women, however, the second leading cause of skin cell damage is menopause.

Menopause—the ending of menstruation—is caused by the natural decline of the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. And, because more women are entering puberty early, it’s likely that they will be entering menopause early, as well.

This has bearing upon your skin—as well as your reproductivity, weight, bone density, and other factors. Because estrogen helps your skin produce oil and retain moisture, declining estrogen levels can cause the skin to become dry and less plump. The skin literally cannot retain its moisture.

Declining estrogen levels also result in the production of fewer glycosaminoglycans, also known as GAGs. This hormonal change leads to the lowering of collagen content and makes your skin less elastic.

Collagen is essentially the scaffolding upon which your dermis is built. Studies show that collagen levels drop 30% in the first five years of menopause, followed by another two percent per year for the next 20 or so years. Loss of collagen means your skin loses its youthful volume and tightness and begins to sag. The wrinkles tend to be deeper than the fine lines we can accumulate before menopause because the thin is skinner and cannot maintain its volume.

This thinner, post-menopausal skin also bruises and tears more easily—and is likely to take longer to heal.

In addition to dry, sagging skin with more wrinkles and less elasticity, another effect of menopause is the appearance of dark spots, sometimes called “age spots,” on skin that has been exposed to the sun. These are caused by overactive pigment cells, triggered by ultraviolet (UV) light, which speeds up melanin production. On skin that has had years of sun exposure, age spots appear when melanin becomes clumped or is produced in high concentrations. Often, these darker areas (called “melasma”) appear on the outer edges of the face, rather than more centrally, as is the case with the melasma associated with oral contraception. Use of commercial tanning lamps and beds also can cause age spots on various parts of the body.

If that weren’t enough, disrupted hormone levels can also result in acne, making you feel like a teenager again—in all of the ways you didn’t want to—and can also result in unwanted facial hair, while your hair thins in the place you probably want it—on your head!

(Good news for black women: According to a 2016 article in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, certain characteristics of black skin make it less likely to wrinkle than white skin. That’s because:

  • Black skin contains more melanin, providing more UV protection.
  • The outer layers of black skin have more fat (lipid) content.
  • Collagen fibers in black skin are denser and more numerous.
  • Elastic fibers do not break down as quickly in black skin.)

So, to recap: menopause is likely to result in dryer, thinner skin, with less volume and elasticity, that bruises easily, heals more slowly, and is prone to hyperpigmentation, unwanted facial hair growth, loss of hair on your scalp, and perhaps acne.

What’s a girl to do?!

For starters, don’t stress! It’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you deal with it! And in the case of skincare and haircare, you have lots of options:

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. That means eat your water and fortify your cellular membranes through a diet that I wrote about in a recent blog post, here. Cell membranes are made up of two layers, composed of fatty acids held together by phospholipids. Phospholipids make possible a cell membrane’s elasticity, fluidity, and electrical potentials, enabling other compounds and nutrients to move in and out of the cell in a healthy way. The kinds of fatty acids you feed your cell membranes are really important. Essential fatty acids like DHA and GLA have been shown to contribute to cell membrane health, while trans-fats and many vegetable oils are actually hard on cell membranes. Other good cell membrane nutrients include lecithin, which is found in the cell membranes of all living things, calcium AEP, phosphatidyl serine, and fat-soluble antioxidants like tocotrienols, Q10, and lipoic acid.
  2. Consider phytoestrogens. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can fend off most of the effects of menopause on your skin. However, HRT is not typically prescribed for skin issues. But you may not need a prescription because there is a natural alternative found in foods. Isoflavone phytoestrogens are in beans, lentils, and soy and can help to reduce thinning of the skin during menopause. Your dermatologist may also prescribe topical creams containing isoflavone.
  3. What about collagen supplements? The jury is out regarding the effectiveness of collagen supplements and creams. While there is research that shows they can work, the quantities studied are often far greater than the dosage in most supplements or creams. That’s why I prefer to give my body the ingredients that enable it to produce its own collagen. (And, by the way, although men don’t go through menopause, their bodies do need collagen. It’s a primary building block for skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues. It’s also found in your organs, blood vessels, and intestinal lining.) Two additional technologies you may try to boost collagen production are:Infrared light! Developed for use by NASA to limit bone and muscle loss in space, infrared light therapy is FDA-approved for:
    • Stimulating collagen production.
    • Increasing the production of fibroblasts, which make collagen.
    • Improving blood circulation to tissues.
    • Reducing inflammation in cells.
    • Speeding wound healing.

    There are many light therapy devices you can purchase for home use, or visit a spa or medical clinic for a professional infrared light treatment.

    Moisturizing facial massage. Another delightful way to minimize collagen loss is to give yourself a moisturizing rubdown (or, to counteract the effect of gravity, rub up!) each night utilizing your favorite facial or body oil. The massaging motion stimulates collagen production—while the moisture addresses your skin’s dryness.

  4. Become a sunscreen fanatic. It’s never too late to prevent future sun damage. Apply sunscreen daily to your face, hands, neck, and any other area that won’t be covered by clothing. (This includes feet in sandal weather.) While this protection won’t reverse prior sun damage, thicken your skin, or remove existing age spots, it will help to prevent further damage in all of these areas. Wear sunscreen every day, even in winter, even on cloudy days, even on days when you plan to stay indoors. (UV rays can penetrate glass.) Remember that you can eat your sunscreen too, by consuming red fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, pomegranates, and tomatoes, which contain lycopenes that work from the inside to increase the effectiveness of topical sunscreen. Murad even offers a supplement with 100% pomegranate extract to help you eat your sunscreen!
  5. Practice personalized skincare. To manage post-menopausal dryness, cleanse skin gently with a non-foaming cleanser designed for sensitive skin. Follow with a moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid, which binds moisture to the skin, and ceramides, a type of fatty acid that makes up 50% of the skin’s outer layer (the epidermis) and forms a permeability barrier to lock moisture into the skin. Top with a facial oil to add even more hydration. Hyperpigmented areas often require prescription-strength creams that include tretinoin. If these are not enough, ask your dermatologist about in-office facial peels or laser treatments to fade individual spots and enhance the skin’s overall brightness and youthful appearance. Of course, you will want to avoid irritating ingredients, including products with fragrance, colors and alcohol (usually listed as SD alcohol or denatured alcohol. And learn to love warm, quick showers, rather than long, hot ones. Moisturize with your body oil immediately after you towel off, as skin can absorb ingredients better when it’s still damp.
  6. Avoid Smoking. You’ll want to stop smoking for your overall health and longevity, anyway, but giving up smoking will also slow your skin’s aging process.
  7. Consider weight- or resistance-training. Exercise is important at all phases and stages of life, but as we age, weight- or resistance-training becomes especially important. First, because this type of exercise builds muscle, and muscle is 79% water. So, building muscle helps your cells, including your skin, retain moisture. Resting muscle also burns more calories than resting fat, so weight-training will increase your metabolism, helping to avoid mid-section weight gain. Second, this type of training stresses the bones, which they respond to by getting stronger—helping to prevent osteoporosis, which is also a post-menopausal risk. And weight-bearing exercises help to improve balance, strengthen joints, and improve mood. You’ll feel stronger because you are stronger!
  8. Remember to wear your crown. We may not like what time and hormone changes do to our skin, but we have the power to make the best of whatever life presents us. Remember to always “Wear your crown,” which means treating yourself like the royalty you are. I do this by practicing the Four Pillars of Modern Wellness: eating a healthy diet, awakening my body with exercise (including weights), being kind to my mind (prioritizing stress management), and nourishing my skin, which is, after all, our largest organ and “the face” we present to the world. By making good health a priority, you’ll feel — and look — your best.

That’s #ModernWellness!

(Watch a future issue for Part 2: Post-menopausal help for hair—both wanted and unwanted!)

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider, who should also be consulted with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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