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As a woman begins to go through menopause, her hormone levels begin a steep drop-off. Sweating through hot flashes and dryness are the top skin complaints during this time, because estrogen and progesterone aren't telling the sebaceous glands to pump out as much oil. Lower levels of these hormones also diminish angiogenesis, or the growth of new blood vessels, which can also contribute to a dull complexion. These intense hormone imbalances can also trigger dilation of the blood vessels on the surface of the skin, which creates a spike in temperature and temporarily flushed and clammy skin (otherwise known as a "hot flash"). It's similar to a stress response surge of blood to the surface of the skin. Basically, the communication of some of these hormonal messengers has slowed to a crawl, so many of their functions aren't sparked off.
Science has proven that declining estrogen levels are associated with skin changes such as dryness, poor wound healing, decreased skin laxity and collagen content, and epidermal thinning and increased transepidermal water loss (diminished moisture on the surface of the skin).
Medical studies are evaluating the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on these skin changes, and some results show that HRT (which provides a low dose of estrogen and progesterone) increases sebum secretion and seems to be associated with beneficial effects on skin collagen levels and skin thickness. Estrogen also appears to increase mucopolysaccharide and hyaluronic acid levels in the skin, which maintain skin hydration.
Although HRT may be helpful for some, it's still a controversial solution for many of us. It's indicated only if you are symptomatic, meaning suffering from bone loss or severe hot flashes or dry skin. And it's definitely a subject to discuss with your doctor.
Many menopausal women notice changes in their skin -- especially increased dryness and wrinkling. These changes are believed to be due in part to the breakdown of collagen in the skin due to decreasing estrogen levels, which also decreases the blood vessel supply to the skin. Smoking and sun exposure also contribute to skin dryness and wrinkles. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) appears to increase skin thickness and elasticity and restore blood flow and moisture, thereby decreasing wrinkling.
Women begin to notice dryer skin, along with changes in pigmentation. Decreased cutaneous collagen at this time results in thinner skin with less elasticity, especially for women who have spent a great deal of time in the sun in younger years. Because of the decline of estrogen, women are also at higher risk of osteoporosis (bone loss) with fractures. Osteoporosis can result in skin sagging on the face where it once was taut.
Other skin changes at menopause include:
- a reduction in the ability of the skin to protect itself against UV radiation
- a decline in the enzymes necessary for collagen stabilization
- a reduction in the amount of sweat secretion and sebaceous gland output, contributing to the generalized dryness and roughness characteristic of aging skin
- a decrease in vitamin D production (necessary for strong bones and preventing fractures)
- a decrease in blood vessels and blood circulation in the skin
- a change in the rate of hair growth; hair often thins in some areas but may also grow thicker in other areas
- a change in hair color.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.