It's World Menopause Day!
Are hormones causing your skin havoc?
I first started to feel symptoms of the peri-menopause when I was 38. My little boy was just turning two and it only seemed like two minutes ago that I was in the midst of my post-partum phase! I hadn’t been myself for a few months and attributed my symptoms to the usual tiredness of being a mum, with a busy baby and a husband who worked away. I didn’t see that any of it had anything to do with being ‘menopausal’ especially at 38!
Having chatted to my husband (and endless googling!) I booked an appointment with my Doctor. He sent me for blood tests and putting all the pieces of the puzzle together I was told I had started the peri-menopause phase of life.
As it’s World Menopause day, I wanted to share my thoughts and findings of how your skin might be affected by the changes in oestrogen levels as you go through the menopause and offer some basic ideas that might help you transition through each stage.
Obviously, if you are concerned about your health and wellbeing and the menopause (or anything else!), then do seek help via your medical practitioner. I’ll also include links to the research and books that I talk about too (in the red text!)
But first, let's look at the terminology...
I’d only ever heard ‘The menopause’ called ‘The menopause’ – I had no idea about the differing phases! As someone who likes to be ‘forewarned and forearmed’ I got researching and came across Maisie Hill’s podcast: ‘Period Power.’ I soon bought her book called: Peri-Menopause Power (which I highly recommend!) and have been a mission to understand myself and my symptoms and future, potential symptoms, ever since!
In the book, Maisie explains that peri-menopause is the phase where you start to get menopausal symptoms but are still having some sort of period. This takes you up to the date of your last period, and the actual menopause bit, is the date a year from your last period, which marks your one year period free anniversary, then a day later you enter into the post-menopausal phase.
1. Premenopausal – from starting ovulation to getting menopausal symptoms
2. Peri-menopause – starting to get menopausal symptoms and still have some sort of period
3. Menopause – the date a year after your last period
4. Post-menopausal – the day after your anniversary date and beyond!
Our life expectancy has increased by about 30 years since the 1900’s, however, the age at which women go through these phases has only changed by about 5 years, thus meaning that we’ll spend on average 25 years longer, post menopausal, than women of previous generations!
During the peri-menopause oestrogen production reduces.
The rate of the oestrogen decline will determine how quickly you see the menopausal signs in your skin. For example, if oestrogen levels drop quicker than testosterone levels, you may develop acne. This is because testosterone stimulates the sebaceous glans to produce a slightly thicker sebum. This in turn increases the oiliness in the skin, causing acne breakouts.
If the ratio of testosterone is higher than the ratio of oestrogen, you may also experience facial hair developing too, especially around the chin area. It’s worth noting though, that this is about the ratio’s between the two hormones and doesn’t necessarily mean you have a high level of testosterone – it’s just the balance between oestrogen and testosterone is out of whack!
Less oestrogen, more damage...
As levels of oestrogen decline, the fat stored in your body is also re-distributed; leaving less in your face, neck and breasts and more around your abdomen, hips and thighs. This lack of fat can cause areas of the face, neck and breasts to start sagging; develop more fine lines and deeper set wrinkles.
Oestrogen is also key to the production of collagen and elastin, so it’s not surprising that with decreasing levels in oestrogen comes a decline in collagen and elastin – the essential building blocks (think scaffolding!) of the skin. It’s the collagen that gives your skin it’s structure, whilst elastin allows your skin to stretch and move. The reduction of these two proteins leads to the sagging and aging of your skin.
Levels of glycosaminoglycans compounds also reduce, which can leave your skin dryer, as it can no longer naturally maintain it’s hydration.
Blood capillaries reduce too, meaning less oxygen and nutrients are carried to the top layers of skin, which then start to thin and can get damaged more easily.
You may start to notice changes in your skin’s pigmentation as well! The production of melanocyte cells that produce melanin (the pigment in your skin) are stimulated by, yep you guessed it: oestrogen! You may see small white dots on areas that have previously been exposed to sunlight. On the contrary, if you have too much melanin, you may experience hyper-pigmentation, which can show up as dark patchy areas on the faces and, or, hands. This can often occur during pregnancy (Chloasma), as the female hormones fluctuate.
Aging with grace through lifestyle choices:
Research has shown that adding phytoestrogens into your diet may lesson menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, insomnia and skin complaints.
Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that have oestrogen -like properties and are classified as isoflavones, stilbene, coumestan and lignan.
Isoflavones are the most widely studied to date and can be found in soy beans.
Stilbene can be found in grapes and peanuts.
Flaxseeds are the main source of lignans but they can be found wheat flour, peanuts, fruits, berries, vegetables, tea and coffee too.
When a comparison is made between Asian diets and menopausal symptoms with a Western diet and severity of menopausal symptoms, it’s been noted that Asian women experience fewer adverse menopausal symptoms ad eat more soy based products compared to western women.
According to a research paper published in the National Library of Medicine by Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences:
“The average daily intake of community phytoestrogens in East and Southeast Asia is estimated to be between 20-50 mg per day. While the average intake of phytoestrogens in adults in the United States is only 0.15-3 mg per day, and in Europe, it is much lower at around 0.49 to 0.66 mg per day “
Phytoestrogens can also reduce fat accumulation and help to lower levels of inflammation, as they have antioxidant properties.
A nutrient dense wholefood diet is always going to help (we all know about eating the rainbow and enough fibre!) so in addition this and adding some phytoestrogens in, a diet rich in the following could also support you:
It’s also worth looking into supplementing with omega oils, in particularly, Sea Buckthorn, which is rich in omega oils 3,6,9 and 7!
Omega 7 is rarely talked about but has an incredible capacity to nourish, hydrate and regenerate the skin and mucous membranes.
Smoking is well known for it’s premature aging affects on the skin; this is because nicotine causing a reduction in blood circulation to the skin which, means less nutrients can be carried to the uppermost layers of the skin. The lack of circulation also prevents the skin from eliminating waste products properly, making smokers more prone to skin conditions and can exacerbate issues like psoriasis. Smokers are also at a higher risk of skin cancer too.
We all know that exercise is good for us, but did you know that research has shown; those who exercise regularly through-out their lives have thicker skin with increased collagen fibres! You all know I love a bit of Face Yoga and this is one of the many reasons why! It’s been proven to increase collagen, elastin and muscle strength, which in turn smooths, lifts and maintains the contours of the face, not to mention it’s hugely beneficial for anxiety, tension and migraine relief, to name a few!
Exercise becomes ever more important as we age, to help keep the joints mobilised and muscles strong. This is particularly the case for women, as your hormones change so does your muscle mass and the risk of osteoporosis can increase too.
Did you know, it’s recommended that peri-menopausal women (and those beyond) take part in a strength building exercise a few times per week to prevent bone loss and maintain muscle mass. Combining this with some cardio work and restorative yoga (to reduce anxiety, tiredness and to prevent burning out!) will keep not only your body strong, but your mind and skin too, as you re-oxygenate your cells and increase your blood flow.
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