What Really Happens to Your Skin During Perimenopause

When talking about menopause, hot flashes, changes in sleep patterns, weight gain and intimate issues like vaginal dryness usually dominate the conversation. As we all know, these symptoms are all due to hormonal fluctuations, which can take a toll on the skin as well. “Hormones rule the body, and menopause disrupts the balance of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone—and for many women changes in thyroid function may play a role as well,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Janet Allenby of Allenby Cosmetic Dermatology in Delray Beach, Florida.

According to Chicago board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessie Cheung, “The signs of chronic skin aging are accelerated with menopause. Among the skin-related symptoms of menopause are increased dryness, wrinkling, laxity and thin, paper-like texture. To add insult to injury, as estrogen falls, the relative increase of leads to acne and thick hairs in the beard line.”

How does estrogen affect the skin?

When estrogen levels are high (before menopause), this hormone helps promote the skin’s plumpness and hydration by prompting the natural production of hyaluronic acid. Estrogen also helps reinforce the skin barrier so moisture doesn’t escape the skin and tells the sebaceous glands to produce the natural oils that help keep the skin hydrated. Even more, estrogen protects the skin’s collagen—which is why fine lines, wrinkles and a decrease in skin thickness become more apparent as the levels of this hormone decline. In fact, Dr. Cheung shares, “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.”

Can you prepare the skin for menopause?

The gradual slow-down of estrogen production (or perimenopause) can begin several years before full-on menopause, which is official when the ovaries finally stop releasing eggs. But as far as the skin is concerned, Dr. Allenby doesn’t believe there’s a difference between perimenopause and menopause. “Once you begin seeing the visible signs of less estrogen, you’re there,” she says—and that’s when it’s time to take action (if you haven’t started already).

Menopause can’t be avoided, however there are skincare steps you can take to maximize collagen production and maintain the integrity of your skin’s supportive protein structure. At the top of the list should be using sunscreen and supplementing your skin with topical antioxidants daily to help shield skin from the environmental aggressors that accelerate the breakdown of collagen. Dr. Cheung also recommends skincare ingredients that can help optimize collagen production while estrogen is still available, such as growth factors and peptides.

You’ve hit menopause… Now what?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is an option for many menopausal women, and it can certainly help alleviate symptoms and improve skin-related changes—but it’s not right for everyone (which is why it’s important to find a doctor you trust). If you’re not a candidate for this treatment (or you want to maximize the effects HRT can have on the skin), these are a few advanced skincare ingredients that simulate estrogen’s effects on the skin. “The latest skincare innovations make the skin think it isn’t estrogen-deficient, so it acts like it isn’t,” Dr. Allenby explains.

An example is Emepelle, which uses an ingredient called methyl estradiolpropanoate (MEP). According to Dr. Cheung, “Emepelle contains estrogen-receptor activators that only affect the skin. Patients note improvement in wrinkles, dryness and sagging, and these changes were significant in studies of both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women.” Research has also shown that this skincare range helps promote the production of collagen, boost hydration and basically mimic the benefits of estrogen seen in younger skin. However, unlike hormone-replacement therapy, MEP becomes an inactive compound after it does its job within the skin (and there are no hormone-based side effects that affect the entire body).

Can your diet help visible signs of menopause?

Although you can’t eat your way out of menopause, there’s no doubt that a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet is beneficial for the skin—and too much alcohol, smoking, sun exposure and other bad habits aren’t doing any favors for your skin’s appearance. Dr. Cheung explains, “Studies have shown the benefits of intermittent fasting and low-carbohydrate diets for stimulating the body’s natural production of growth hormone, which 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.” She also recommends focusing on phytoestrogen-rich foods such as tofu, broccoli, flaxseed and berries to give menopausal skin a helping hand.

Supplements can be another way to the help improve the skin-related symptoms of menopause. Dr. Allenby is a fan of Skinade, a clinically-proven marine-derived collagen supplement that has been found to help protect existing collagen and improve dry skin. Dr. Cheung adds that adaptogenic herbs may be beneficial as well. “Adaptogens can help support the body’s response to the stress of menopause and may help promote deeper sleep,” she says. A few examples include holy basil, ashwagandha and rhodiola, which can be found in capsules as well as powders that are mixed into drinks or food. (It’s important to speak with your doctor before taking any supplements, especially if you’re using hormone replacement therapy.)

Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.

The brain behind the beauty blog InsiderBeautyBuzz and the innovative self-tan remover, Bronze Buffer, Paige Herman-Axel has two decades of experience writing about beauty and skincare. The former editor of NewBeauty magazine, Paige is now a freelance writer and consultant for various publications and websites, skincare companies big and small, as well as internationally renowned dermatologists and plastic surgeons.

In the rare time spent away from her computer, Paige can be found on a Pilates reformer, shuttling her 11-year-old son to and from lacrosse practice or playing fetch with her Havanese, Nugget.

© 2020 by Perry