What do you know about menopause? Sure, you know about hot flashes, but you may not know much else unless you're going through it. I recently had conversations with two menopausal women about menopause and dry skin. Both sang praises of the Rejuvenating Body Elixir's ability to keep skin hydrated. So, I decided a little focused research on menopause and dry skin was in order. But, of course, to have any meaningful conversation about menopause, we must delve into estrogen.
What is Estrogen?
Estrogen is a hormone that plays a role in developing female (and male) reproductive organs and is involved in several other biological systems. While you probably only think of the ovaries when you hear estrogen, it is secreted by the adrenal glands and the placenta during pregnancy. In addition, estrogen and progesterone (another hormone) stimulate the growth of breast tissue and helps regulate the menstrual cycle.
In addition, estrogen controls the cell renewal processes needed for healthy-looking hair, nails, and bones and those required for good-looking skin. When we are young and healthy, estrogen levels are high, so skin is smooth, firm, and supple. (Youth is truly wasted on the young.) However, as we enter perimenopause and menopause, estrogen levels decline.
Types of Estrogen
There are three primary forms of physiological estrogens in females: estrone (E1), Estradiol (E2, or 17β-estradiol), and estriol (E3).
- E1 - Estrone plays a more significant role after menopause when it is synthesized in fatty tissue from adrenal dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
- E2 - Estradiol is the most potent estrogen during the premenopausal period in a woman's life. (Synthetic estradiol is often found in topical estrogen creams, liquids, and gels.)
- E3 is the least potent estrogen but plays a significant role during pregnancy when it is produced in large quantities by the placenta.
Menopause and Estrogen
Menopause is the time of life when a woman's ovaries stop producing eggs, and she stops menstruating. It usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55. It's around the time when #hotgirlsummer takes on a whole new meaning.
Once ovulation has stopped, there is a significant reduction in the amount of estrogen and progesterone the body produces. The symptoms of menopause can vary from woman to woman, but one thing that most women experience is dry skin. If you think it is hard to keep ash at bay now, wait until later.
Estrogen and Collagen
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, accounting for about 30% of its total protein. Collagen holds your skin together and gives it structure and bounce. In addition to being in the skin, it's found in organs, blood vessels, tendons, muscles, bones, ligaments, and other connective tissues. Research shows that estrogen helps to keep collagen levels high.
Dry Skin and Estrogen
Dry skin occurs when your skin loses water too quickly and doesn't have enough oils to help keep moisture in. According to board-certified OBGYN Dr. Angela Jones, "reduced estrogen levels seen in menopause can contribute to dry skin."
When estrogen and progesterone decrease, collagen, sebum, and elastin also fall. Dr. Fatima Fahs, a Michigan-based board-certified dermatologist, states, "once menopause officially hits, many patients feel a sudden increase in wrinkles, loose skin, and dryness. Studies show that women's skin loses about 30% of its collagen during the first five years of menopause. This collagen loss continues at 2% every year after that." So, skin becomes thinner and less elastic, and you are prone to dry skin, sagging skin, and wrinkles. *Insert hyperventilating Emoji*
How to Keep Your Skin Healthy During Menopause
While menopause can cause some skin changes, Dr. Angela states, "menopause isn't the only reason women can have dry skin as they age. Some prime culprits are lack of exercise, poor diet and hydration, and not protecting skin via sunscreen."
Let's start with a diet with foods that help to stimulate collagen production. Here's what the Cleveland Clinic recommends:
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C is found in oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes.
- Proline. Proline is found in mushrooms, cabbage, asparagus, peanuts, wheat, fish, egg whites, and meat.
- Glycine. Glycine is found in red meats, turkey, chicken and pork skin, peanuts, and granola.
- Copper. Copper is found in liver, lobster, oysters, shiitake mushrooms, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, tofu, and dark chocolate.
- Zinc. Zinc is found in oysters, red meat, poultry, pork, beans, chickpeas, nuts, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and milk products.
Before you think ingesting collagen is the move, the science doesn't really back that up -- yet. Collagen breaks down in the stomach as just another protein source. So your body doesn't know if you ate your favorite spicy wings or swallowed some pricey supplements.
Skincare for Menopausal Women (Upgrade Your Skincare)
There are ways to fight back if you experience dry skin due to menopause. Dr. Angela states, "while Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is primarily used for the treatment of hot flashes and night sweats, it may also provide some relief for dry skin associated with menopause." There are also creams and ointments containing estrogen and progesterone. You may also change how you use the products you already have at home. Here are some simple changes you can make.
- Wear SPF30 or greater whenever you are in the sun ( I know I may sound like a broken record here). Prolonged sun exposure also leads to a breakdown in collagen. The very thing we are trying to avoid.
- Use a gentle cleanser. Harsh soaps can dry out your skin even further. And since the skin is already somewhat compromised, you want to be as gentle as possible.
- Stay away from heavily scented products. Fragrance is the number one skin irritant in skincare products. Since the skin is not as resilient as it used to be, too much fragrance can cause irritation.
- Choose products with ceramides, peptides, and hyaluronic acid to help moisturize and rejuvenate the skin.
- Choose a face and body oil loaded with skin-loving antioxidants and omega-fatty acids to nourish skin and lock in moisture.
- Use a rich, unscented body cream that moisturizes and nourishes your skin.
- Layer an oil over your cream as the final step in your skin and body care routine. The oil helps to hold the moisture into your skin for longer.
Lifestyle Changes to Make During Menopause
Don't suffer in silence. There is no prize for going it alone. Here are some other options you may want to consider:
- Talk to your doctor about what options may be suitable for you. It could be a combination of hormone replacement therapy, topical treatments, and lifestyle changes.
- Reducing your stress level. Easier said than done -- after all, menopause is about change, and your hormones are literally fighting against your happiness.
- Quit smoking. If you are a smoker, research shows that you will probably start going through menopause earlier than non-smokers. The study also indicates that smokers experience more severe menopause-related adverse effects.
- Increase your level of physical activity. Women are estimated to lose approximately half a pound of muscle mass annually after menopause. Since metabolism also slows down, women are more prone to weight gain after menopause. Increased physical activity, such as strength training, helps to maintain muscle and bone mass and strength.
Menopause can be challenging for many women. Here I primarily focused on the effects on the skin, but it goes far beyond just dry skin. If you're lucky, menopause is inevitable; dry skin doesn't have to be.