UV Protection More Important during Menopause
Among other things, oestrogens can make melanocytes (pigment cells) synthesise melanin; this is why pregnancy-related pigmentation occurs for example — increased oestrogen level stimulates melanin production.
As perimenopause and menopause progress, melanocytes start to degenerate, and most women lose a significant amount of pigment cells. Their skin actually appears lighter — fewer melanocytes produce less melanin. Other pigment cells, however, grow in size and produce even more melanin than before, making the complexion uneven without proper protection. These changes make menopausal skin susceptible to UV damage, which is why it needs effective and timely protection starting at the earliest stage of hormonal changes. Mind you, skin protection is not limited to the application of sunscreen. Routine skincare is equally important, simply because healthy skin is easier to protect than irritated, dry or inflamed.
Good Cosmetic Ingredients for Menopausal Skin
There are several categories of cosmetic ingredients beneficial for menopausal skin care.
- Moisturising water magnets, such as hyaluronic acid, glycerine, carrageenan, Chondrus crispus extract, gluconolactone, etc.
- Fatty acids and lipids from organic oils, such as evening primrose, apricot, olive, macadamia, sweet almond, argan, borago, canola, meadowfoam, sunflower and sesame oils. Don’t forget rich substances, such as shea butter, squalane, cocoa and in some cases coconut butter. Ceramides and mineral oil can be beneficial too.
- Prebiotics and probiotics, namely alpha-glucan oligosaccharide, inulin, bacterial ferments and lysates (Alteromonas filtrate, lactobacillus lysate, saccharomyces, etc).
- Antioxidants, such as resveratrol (especially), its new more effective version, metabiotic resveratrol, green tea, aloe barbadensis, rosemary and wild carrot extracts, vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, etc.
- Remodelling ingredients, agents that actively stimulate the syntheses of proteins and hyaluronic acid, such as EGF and other growth factors, plant stem cells, peptides (Matrixyl-3000, Rigin, Syn-TACK).
- Calming and anti-inflammatory ingredients: centella asiatica, aloe barbadensis, green tea, calendula officinalis, chamomile extracts, panthenol, peptide Skinasensyl, Albatrellus ovinus and some other fungi extracts.
- Microcirculation and capillary-strengthening ingredients: niacinamide (vitamin B3), caffeine, horse chestnut extract, escin.
Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid during Menopause
Any ingredients potentially increasing skin sensitivity in general and specifically to UV, damaging barrier function and leading to dryness should be avoided. Many of those are actually beneficial in a variety of ways, such as improving renewal process, lightening pigmentation, reducing wrinkles and even restoring skin elasticity to an extent. However, the side effects of regular application of retinol (a classic anti-age ingredient) and alpha-hydroxy acids can outweigh the benefits of skin care through menopause.
Some lucky women blessed with beautifully resistant skin without tendency to dryness and irritation would definitely benefit from intensive treatments. However, most of us will find these too aggressive. Fortunately, today we can find effective substitutes for most harsh ingredients. Retinol and its derivatives can be substituted by Bakuchiol, a natural ingredient with similar benefits and none of the side effects. Stimulating and remodelling effects can be achieved with the application of remodelling peptides, stem cells, remodelling factors, coenzyme Q10 and new epigenetically active ingredients, such as teprenone/geranygeranylacetone and Undaria pinnatifida extract, even niacinamide and metabiotic resveratrol. New acids, namely lactobionic acid or gluconolactone, as well as lactic acid can help restore the skin’s healthy pH without sensitising it.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Its Effect on the Skin
The general positive effect of HRT was recently demonstrated by a large observational cohort study which started about 40 years ago. More about Women’s Health Initiative
However, the effects of HRT on the skin still remain unclear. It appears that the skin’s structure shows no improvement with short-term HRT. The best results are achieved if HRT starts during perimenopause; it is able to prevent skin dryness and sensitivity. Both water retaining and barrier properties of the skin can be restored, at least partially, with long-term HRT. In addition to this, HRT has some effect on dermal thickness and elasticity, collagen content and density and the skin’s mechanical properties and reactions to stress. There are plenty of studies on this, but they’re controversial; while some researchers report positive effects on skin thickness etc, others deny any significant change. The skin’s varying responses to HRT are also subject of debate. For some unknown reasons, some women respond to HRT very well, while others do not. Weak responses correlate with tobacco smoking and are more common in women who recently entered climacteric period without any significant loss of dermal collagen. In women with low collagen density in the dermis, HRT supposedly increases collagen density and provides prophylactic effect later on, while women with higher levels of collagen only get the prophylactic effect. Simply put, women who experience more skin changes (wrinkles, skin sagging, etc) during menopause benefit from HRT more, than women with less visible symptoms. However, both categories of women can be aided through menopause with hormone replacement therapy to smooth the transition and avoid most unpleasant skin changes and both categories can be aided by daily skin care through menopause . Curiously, HRT has no effect on the number or depth of wrinkles, but rather increases skin elasticity and helps prevent slacking and sagging. Another thing HRT helps with is of course hot flushes.
Summarising all of the above, there is no doubt that HRT has some beneficial effect on the skin. Reduced oestrogen level during menopause is the cause of many skin problems and it can be at least partially corrected by hormone replacement treatments. However, HRT will not get rid of wrinkles, especially not on the areas exposed to the sun, such as face and hands. And as health authorities keep warning, HRT is not licensed for the management of skin symptoms and women should not use it solely for the improvement of their skin problems caused by menopause.