Menopause and the Skin

menopause_diagramThis post is prompted by a very common question I get asked: How does menopause affect the skin?  It goes without saying that women usually ask this question.

These women find that once they reach their late 40s or early 50s, they notice fairly significant changes to their skin despite the skin care regimen that had worked for them previously in their lives.  Menopause appears to be the culprit for these changes in the skin, but could something else trigger these changes?  Does menopause itself cause these skin changes, or is it another factor of aging unrelated to menopause?

Menopause is an incredibly complex hormonal process that all women experience as some point in their lives, usually when they reach their late 40s or 50s.  Think of it as puberty in reverse.

During puberty, there was a surge of increasing hormone production as a young woman’s body matured.  In menopause, the female hormone levels are declining with multiple consequences for women.  Menopause affects many parts of the internal body and also affects your external appearance, including, yes, your skin.

female-symbolTo understand better what happens to your skin in menopause, women need to understand a little more about the chemical and hormonal changes.  Basically, the ovaries, which are the primary source of estrogen for women, slow down and eventually stop the production of estrogen.  In addition, the ovaries and the adrenal glands continue to produce small amounts of testosterone.

Since estrogen levels are declining and testosterone levels are staying the same, the relative effects of testosterone on the female body are increased.  For women, this is the worst possible hormonal combination.

However, knowing what to expect when menopause changes your skin is better than having that aspect of aging unpleasantly surprise a woman.  For that reason, here are some of skin areas of concern in menopause every woman should know:

  • Oily Skin and Acne Breakouts.  Due to testosterone predominance, oil glands are stimulated to produce more and thicker oil or sebum.  This results in more oily texture and appearance to the skin as well as more plugging of the pores leading to more frequent acne breakouts.
  • Facial Hair.  Undoubtedly the most hated aspect of menopausal changes to the skin, and for good reason.  Again, testosterone is the force behind this stimulating growth of unwanted hair, especially in the chin, neck, and upper lip.
  • Wrinkles and Sagging Skin.  Estrogen levels are responsible for the different fat distribution in the female body compared to the male.  As women’s estrogen levels drop, fat deposits change with loss of the supportive fat in the face, neck and hands, allowing sagging of the skin.  Decreased estrogen also results in less production of collagen and less repair of damaged collagen.
  • Thinning of Skin.  Estrogen also controls the growth and maintenance of blood vessels under the skin. Decreased blood flow results in less oxygen and blood nutrients going to basal layer of skin cells.  This contributes to slower turnover of cells and eventual thinning of the skin layers.
  • Age Spots.  Estrogen also has a regulatory effect on melanin production and normally keeps abnormal darkening of the skin under control.  However, when menopause arrives and the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, melanin production increases and, more than usual, brown spots begin to appear on exposed areas of the face, hands, neck and chest.

Now, you know the effects of fluctuating hormones on the structure and function of the skin.  It is indeed not fair to women, and the occurrence and intensity of these skin issues can vary from woman to woman.

Skin fluctuation can also vary based on the care that women have taken of their skin over the years.  For example, women who have had excessive sun exposure or who have smoked for an extended period of time are more likely to experience fluctuations of greater magnitude than those who apply sunscreen regularly or remain tobacco free.

The good news is many if not all of the skin problems associated with menopause can be treated with existing and new developments in the area of aesthetic skin care.  Regardless of how many cosmetic skin issues you may have, your consultations with me at Maine Laser Skin Care are free and without obligation.  I will assess you and your photography, and give you my honest and professional opinion of the course of action that would be most helpful to you.

To schedule your consultation, simply call Denise or Emily at (207) 873-2158. You might not be able to avoid menopause, but we can at least alleviate the skin problems associated with menopause and make them far less obvious.

About Dr. John Burke

John Burke M.D. has practiced medicine for over 25 years, and is the founding partner of MidMaine Internal Medicine. He established Maine Laser Skin Care in 2004 after devoting years to learning the latest in laser and dermatologic technology. Dr. Burke has treated patients from all over the United States. He is one of Maine's busiest practitioners in laser treatments, and in the use of Botox for upper facial lines and excessive sweating.
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