The changes that happen to our bodies before, during, and after menopause play a part in how we take care of our skin and what products we use, but understanding hormones and their role really helps us respond to these changes. For many years there was a mystery and maybe even a taboo of talking about how women age, but that time has passed. Let’s be forewarned and armed with information as we take a look at how we can protect, strengthen and care for our skin.
But first, what is menopause?
Menopause is defined as the time when a woman’s reproductive years end. For some people, this can be an emotional time. Rather than look at it as an ending, it can also be seen as a beginning. Because hormones are involved in every change that happens, emotions sometimes ride high, but we can embrace this time and prepare for it with tools and knowledge.
For most women, menopause begins at age 50-51, but some women may start as early as their mid to late 40s. Before that time, there is a period called “perimenopause” which is defined as about an 8-10 year period preceding menopause, and skin can become drier as hormones begin to fluctuate. Studies show that approximately 85% of all women experience strong hormonal symptoms during this period of time. The period of time after menopause has completed (1 year without a period), is called “post-menopause”, and has its own challenges.
What are the changes in our skin during perimenopause and menopause?
Dry skin, wrinkles, and even acne can trouble women during menopause. For many women, their once tried and tested skin care routine will change completely. Estrogen levels drop while androgens (male sex hormones) can remain constant. The decrease in estrogen affects every part of the body, including our largest organ: skin. Skin can become dry, sagging, and wrinkles can develop. One thing that a decrease in estrogen does is lower the key protein in the skin: collagen. Almost a third of our collagen supply is lost within the first five years of menopause.
Most people know that collagen is an important building block for strong structured skin. It is associated with age for a reason: plentiful when we are young, decreasing with age. As estrogen levels reduce during menopause and perimenopause, skin changes include thinning skin, and less blood flows to the upper layer of the skin. Most women will look at their skin and just see that it looks dull or dry, and they are not wrong. Skin becomes less hydrated, which in turn leads to the formation of wrinkles. Collagen makes skin plump looking and elastic. As our collagen supplies diminish, skin loses its elasticity, and will not “spring back” as it did in previous years.
Previously glowing skin may become dull in appearance as hormone levels decline. Menopause and itchy skin go hand in hand. Many women complain of abnormal sensations to their skin like numbness, tingling or a crawling sensation.
If this weren’t enough, some women who have not had a break out in years, may suddenly see acne returning. Skin pigmentation may darken in spots or patches.
Are Menopausal Symptoms Genetic?
Some women may have a genetic predisposition to thin skin. If you look at your mother, aunts or other ladies in your family, you may see that they all seem to get their wrinkles in the same places. Some families may have a tendency to get many vertical lines, above the mouth, and down the cheeks or neck. Other families may not have anything like this, but may develop deep lines between the eyes, or deep creases down from the nasal folds. How your own wrinkles develop may have a lot to do with the places where your muscles are under the skin, and may have something to do with having thinner, thicker, or oilier skin before menopause.
Some menopausal skin conditions, however, may be able to be helped by how you care for your skin. Health problems specific to skin may play a role in your overall skin condition, but medications, particularly corticosteroids, may contribute to skin quality if you have been using them for some time. Other habits, such as smoking, can greatly increase the risk or disease, but also play a role in overly dried skin and more wrinkles. Smoking also reduces the formation of collagen and like alcohol, dehydrates the deeper layers of the skin, contributing to menopause symptoms.
Sun Damage, Skin, and Menopause
Estrogen also plays a role in the production of melanocytes, cells which manufacture the pigment, melanin, in our skin. As we enter menopause, the amount of melanocytes declines due to degeneration. Because the amount has been reduced, we manufacture less melanin and our skin appears lighter. Melanin helps protect us from sun damage, and therefore menopausal skin is higher at risk for UV damage. The irony is that the areas of our skin that we may have damaged when we were younger, now become the darker parts of our skin, standing out even more due to lighter pigmentation overall. These “age spots” appear on the face, hands, neck, arms, and chest, areas that typically get the most sun during our lifetime. If you have fair or light colored skin, or have had sunburns in the past, you are even more likely to develop many noticeable age spots.
Best Skin Care Before Menopause Changes Begin
You don’t need to resign yourself to dry, sagging skin! With a proper skin care regimen, you can maintain a healthy youthful appearance long after menopause. Take care of your skin well in your early 40s, and your skin will thank you for the effort to take the very best care of it that you can.
- Help keep your skin hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, limiting caffeine and alcohol
- Make sure your skin care products include humectants that will help retain water at the cellular level. These ingredients include glycerin, propanediol (from vegetables, not petroleum), sodium lactate, aloe, and water.
- Eat foods rich in collagen, and/or take a collagen supplement daily. If you are vegetarian, your best bet is eating a diet rich in dark green veggies, beans, seeds, and nuts to promote collagen development.
- Protect your skin from environmental factors like the sun by using sunscreen daily. Wear sunglasses and a hat.
- Do not smoke, or stop smoking as early as you can.
- Eat foods rich in antioxidants to nourish your skin.
Best Skin Care Products for Perimenopausal and Menopausal Skin
During menopause your best defense is the best offense! The skin care regime that you had for the last 15 years may not work any longer. Here are some tips to help you keep your skin supple during and after menopause:
- Make sure your skin care includes hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in young skin, and diminishes as we age. It works between the cells where it cushions and lubricates our connective tissues. In the facial skin, in particular, hyaluronic acid works to hold hydration in the cells as it attracts more moisture. Skin will help reinforce the skin’s protective barrier, calm inflammation and keep it vibrant, plump and elastic.
- Get antioxidants, especially vitamin C, daily in your diet. Vitamin C is the critical vitamin to work with hyaluronic acid and helps compensate for lowered estrogen levels. It boosts collagen production, may help reduce age spots, and brightens a dull complexion. It creates “pro-collagen” the precursor to collagen, so eat your berries, kale, broccoli, kiwi fruit, oranges, and other citrus. Include vitamin C into your night time routine, either by way of a serum, or in a night cream. Restore Night Cream is perfect for this, and was actually developed for dry skin in the menopause age range. It contains deep 72-hour hydration and a richer cream than you will have used in your 30s.
- Include probiotics into your diet and into the products that you use. Products like acidophilus or fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut may be a good addition to your diet, as they counteract the presence of bad bacteria in the gut and help promote a healthy digestive system. With hormone fluctuation during menopause, probiotics can help keep skin healthier, especially if you experience breakouts of acne. Topically, probiotics may help with bacteria and help “feed” the skin.
- Add peptides into your skin care regime. Peptides are small amino acid chains which help boost the immunity of the skin and hormone activity. Peptides are popular in wrinkle prevention and reduction, and help maintain collagen production. There are many different kinds of peptides, and each does different things. We have over 18 kinds in our Awaken Eye Serum, which is also rich in antioxidants, probiotics, and hyaluronic acid!
- Moisturize, Moisturize! In addition to drinking more water, your skin may require a richer face cream than you have previously used. Menopause makes your skin drier because oil glands are not as active. Use a daily moisturizer on your face, neck, and hands, and start adding a night serum and or cream into your nighttime routine. Pure Moisture provides deep 72-hour hydration, rich creams, and organic oils to moisturize, along with peptides, probiotics, and antioxidants.
- Protect your face and hands from sun damage. Use sunscreen daily, and don’t forget to put some on your hands, as they are one of the first places that sun damage shows on the body. Moisturize every day! We cannot repeat that enough for you.
- Exfoliate! You may have to add another day of exfoliation during menopause, in order to keep new skin cells on the top layer of your skin. Keeping the dead skin free of the surface also makes skin appear less dull, and keeps pores clear to reduce any acne or irritation.
Remember, just like we all wrestled with puberty, menopause is a part of a normal woman’s life. It does not mean you are ready to curl up and fade away… quite the contrary! Menopause comes at a time when we are ready to give the last third of our lives real meaning. It brings into perspective just what is important, and reminds us to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.
When we dealt with puberty, our journey was very self-focused. Our biggest dilemma may have been having a spot on our face for prom. Now, we may be dealing with children, aging parents, the death of a loved one, work, and many other complex life issues. Nurturing your skin and honoring the changes in your skin during menopause is an act of self care. It is important to remember that with age comes wisdom. Take that time for yourself, remember that you are beautiful as you go through this stage in life, and stay strong in your belief in yourself.
You are vibrant, beautiful, and healthy at every age!