Menopause: what does it do to our skin and how can we fight back? Heather Stephen finds out.
Hot flushes, drenched in sweat, sheets on and sheets off all night long – sound familiar? No wonder mood swings are a common symptom of menopause – and all of this can go on for years. And if that weren’t bad enough, your skin seems to go south almost as fast as the rest of you. But there are things that can help.
What is the menopause?
The menopause is that time in our life when our oestrogen levels decline and our periods stop. In the UK the average age for this to happen is 51 but one in every 100 women will reach menopause before the age of 40.
What does it do to our skin?
GP Dr Louise Newson runs a private menopause clinic at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull and explains: “Oestrogen is one of the main hormones in our body and when it diminishes it has a massive effect on our body.
“Up to 80% of women have symptoms of the menopause and a quarter of women have severe symptoms that often have a negative impact on their lives.”
And she adds: “The menopause affects skin as low oestrogen levels reduce collagen and elastin and blood flow to the epidermis leading to thinning and less hydration.”
And there are multiple issues that flow from that, so let’s tackle them one-by-one.
1. Sagging skin and wrinkles
Dr Christine Or from Dr Christine Medical Aesthetics in Tunbridge Wells says these classic signs of ageing go hand in hand with the start of the menopause. “With the loss of collagen women often notice they are looking tired and sad and their face is feeling saggy and more wrinkled.”
Dr Or recommends wrinkle relaxing injections for frown marks, crow’s feet and forehead lines, coupled with a good skincare regime including night cream with vitamin A and daily SPF 30-50 sunscreen all year round.
If your concerned about the sagging she prescribes the 8-point non-surgical facelift where small amounts of filler are placed to create a “naturally rejuvenated and gently lifted appearance.”
Harley Street Emporium recommendation: Beaute Pacifique Super Booster 3 Night Cream
Super 3 Booster is based on Beauté Pacifique’s patented formulation, containing three different forms of Vitamin A to repair and rejuvenate the skin’s collagen and elastin fibre structure. It works across the entire depth of the skin’s layers to strengthens the skin by:
reinforcing the skin’s elastic properties,
helping thicken the skin and make it appear less transparent, and
helping repair sun damage, fine lines, wrinkles and stretch marks.
It can also be effective for the treatment of thin skin, for example on the back of the hands and for dry and brittle nails.
2. Dry skin
“Oestrogen is an important hormone which helps to keep your skin healthy and plumped up so when it starts to decline this causes the skin to dry and wrinkle,” says Brighton-based consultant dermatologist, Dr Claudia DeGiovanni.
Dr DeGiovanni recommends “heavier creams designed for mature skin, to concentrate on the thinner skin around the eyes and to use a good body moisturiser within five minutes of showering.”
Dr Newson adds HRT can improve skin hydration by replacing oestrogen levels in the body.
Harley Street Emporium recommendation: NeoStrata Skin Active Cellular Restoriation
Its multi-mechanistic formula contains peptides that help lift and firm skin while Apple Stem Cells extracts work to reduce the oxidative damage causes by the environmental stressors that age our skin
3. Spots and oily skin
And just when you thought you’d never see another spot on your face again, you may suddenly find that your covered in them.
Generally, this is more of a problem during the perimenopause – the period leading up to the menopause. It is most common in women who had spots in their teen years but a minority develop acne for the first time.
“In most cases this is a manageable condition which can be treated with over-the-counter creams containing benzoyl peroxide,” says Dr DeGiovanni. “Topical antibiotics and retinoids are usually effective,” she adds.
Cleanser that contain Salicylic Acid are also useful as they help control sebum production, clear the pores and reduce inflammation.
Harley Street Emporium Recommendation: Dr Nick Lowe’s acclenz Purify and Renew Foaming Cleanser.
It gently removes all traces of make-up and impurities while reducing excess oiliness to reduce blemishes. It also exfoliates the skin leaving it looking clear and fresh.
Alongside the Salicylic Acid is Niacinamide, a B group vitamin and Allantoin, a plant extract. Both work to calm the skin and reduce redness.
Vitamins A, C & E – antioxidants work to neutralise the effects of skin-damaging and skin-aging free-radicals.
4. More sun damage
“Menopausal skin is more susceptible to UV damage causing deeper wrinkling and sun damage like age spots and lentigo – small brown spots on the skin,” says Dr DeGiovanni.
To avoid further damage the British Skin Foundation advises using sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 to protect against UVB rays which can cause skin cancer and which has a four or five star UVA rating to combat signs of ageing.
And Dr DeGiovanni adds: “Make sure you reapply your sunscreen every few hours, wear a wide brimmed hat and check your skin periodically for changing moles.”
Harley Street Emporium recommendation:
A lightweight mineral based moisturiser with a universal tint and antioxidants to help fight against further skin damage and repair what’s already been done.
It’s ideal for everyday use.
Remember to re-apply regularly.
That’s skin done – but what about the body?
This is the best known and most common sign of the menopause – affecting three out of four women. They feel like a sudden rush of heat to the skin and can be joined by sweating, palpitations and a flushed complexion. Some women only have them occasionally but others can have around 20 hot flushes a day.
“Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is the best treatment,” says Newson. “Some studies over a decade ago suggested a possible link between some types of HRT and breast cancer.
“But more recently studies have shown that when HRT is started in women under 60, there is a lower risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes.
“Some types of HRT can slightly raise your risk of breast cancer – less than the risk from drinking a couple of glasses of wine a night – but now the evidence clearly shows that the benefits of taking HRT outweigh any risks for the majority of women.”
2. Vaginal dryness
“Vaginal dryness is not only an issue during sex but can cause irritation and soreness generally which can really affect quality of life,” says Dr Newson.
“Around 70% of people experience vaginal dryness during the menopause. However, very few of these women ask their doctor for help. Many women believe that vaginal dryness is just a part of the ageing process and nothing can be done when this is just not the case.”
Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your doctor who can prescribe vaginal oestrogen tablets, creams or an oestrogen ring which can all be used long term.
You can also try over-the-counter vaginal moisturisers or lubricants and Dr Newson recommends opting for natural products to avoid irritation.
Take home message
Many women fear the menopause but with a little know-how you can tackle the effects and, surely, no more periods or PMS is something to celebrate?