Menopause Skin Changes
Estrogen / Oestrogen Hormone
Hormones are chemical substances that are like messengers to cells and organs. They help and control how these cells and organs work. Estrogen is the female hormone. Estrogen develops and maintains the female characteristics of the body.
Estrogen and Face
Hormone receptors are protein molecules that bind to a hormone. They attract hormones. Women have more estrogen hormone receptors in deeper layers of facial skin than in their breasts and thighs. This means we can say, in simple terms, that our face depends a lot on the estrogen hormone as it is attracting a lot of this hormone.
Menopause Skin ChangesWith the onset of menopause, the estrogen levels in our body reduce. The levels start dropping from perimenopause. Perimenopause is the period before a few years of menopause begins officially. The changes on our faces during menopause are all mainly due to the drop in estrogen levels.
Listed below are the main contributions of estrogen to our skin, and how our skin is affected when its levels drop:
- Sagging and Wrinkly Skin
Collagen is a protein that holds all the tissues in our skin together. It is the glue that holds them all together. As the amount of collagen reduces, cells become loose and collapse. Reduction in collagen results in fine lines and wrinkles.
Elastin is also a protein - and this one is responsible for the elasticity of the skin. Elastin is what is responsible for bouncing skin - when you pull your skin and it bounces back to its original spot - you can thank elastin for that. As the amount of elastin reduces, skin starts sagging. It does not bounce easily.
Estrogen plays an important role in the production of collagen and elastin. As estrogen reduces, collagen and elastin also reduce. The reduction starts from the perimenopause stages itself.
In post-menopausal women, in the first 5 years after menopause, 30% of collagen is lost. Thereafter, it gradually reduces by 2% each year. In post-menopausal women, elasticity reduces by 1.5% every year due to reduced amounts of elastin.
- Dead Cells / Cellular Turnover / Dull Appearance
New cells are formed in the deeper layer of skin. These new cells travel through the layers of skin and reach the top layer. In the top layer, they replace the old cells. The old cells fall off. This process of new cells being formed, travelling upwards and replacing the old ones is called cellular turnover. This regular replacement of old cells keeps our skin soft and bright. This process is quicker in babies and hence their skin is much softer than in adults.
Estrogen plays a role in the production of new cells in the deeper layer of skin. As estrogen amount reduces, fewer new cells are formed. Old cells are not being replaced as often as they should. This gives the skin a dull appearance.
Low Sebum / More breakouts / More / More Water Loss / Dry Skin / Sensitive and Irritated Skin
The oil glands in our skin produce sebum. Sebum helps the skin in its barrier function. It is like a coating that sits on the top layer of skin and acts as an extra layer of the barrier. The barrier function prevents water loss from the skin and protects the skin from attacks by environmental irritants.
Where there isn't enough sebum, barrier function is compromised. Skin becomes dehydrated and prone to attacks from irritants. Skin breaks out. Skin becomes irritated and sensitive. This is what is called dry skin. Skin becomes dry without enough sebum.
Estrogen plays a role in helping oil glands to produce sebum. As the amount of estrogen reduces, sebum reduces. Lower sebum means drier skin.
- Hyaluronic Acid / Water / Hydration
Hyaluronic acid is present in deeper layers of the skin, and is like a magnet to water. It attracts water and keeps skin hydrated. In menopause, the amount of hyaluronic acid reduces. As hyaluronic acid reduces, the water amount in our skin. This results in dehydrated skin.
- Thin Skin / Breakouts / Dehydrated Skin
Thin skin is more susceptible to breakouts. The top layer of our skin (the visible layer) acts as a barrier. It prevents water loss through evaporation and protects our skin from attacks from environmental irritants.
In thin skin, the barrier is not that effective. This results in more attacks from irritants - which results in breakouts on our skin. Thin skin also means it can get injured easily. This also means more breakouts. Thin skin also means more water loss and this results in dehydrated skin
In menopause, there are many reasons why skin thins. Loss of collagen and elastin results in skin thinning. Loss of hyaluronic acid contributes to thinning of the skin. Loss of sebum is another contributor. A reduction in the number of new cells being formed is another contributor.
It is a vicious cycle.
All these contribute to thin skin, and once the skin becomes thin, these factors get multiplied. example: Loss of hyaluronic acid (loss of water) is a contributor to thin skin - and thin skin losses more water because no effective barrier - See how it is a vicious cycle.
- Oxidative Stress / Cell Damage
Sun's UV rays, smoking, pollution and poor diet all cause oxidative stress to our skin. Oxidative stress is a whole topic by itself - but for the purposes of this article, suffice to say that oxidative stress causes damage to skin cells. This damage causes our skin to age.
Estrogen plays a role in defending our skin against oxidative stress. With the reduction in estrogen in menopause, our defence against oxidative stress reduces.
- Acne When old cells from the top layer are not regularly dropped off (point 2 above), these cells get stuck in pores and can cause breakouts. These breakouts can start out small and then gradually develop into acne.
Menopausal skin is also susceptible to attacks from environmental irritants (weak skin barrier - explained above). These attacks cause the skin to break out - and these breakouts also lead to acne.
This is why menopausal skin is prone to acne.