10 Skin Care Tips For Those In Menopause From A Holistic Dermatologist
When we talk about skin changes, puberty gets the lion's share of the attention in the beauty market. How many advertisements, products, and campaigns are dedicated to teens and their skin care woes? And not that this tricky time shouldn't be taken seriously (acne and the like certainly should, we add); however, there's also another time when people go through hormonal and skin changes that doesn't get the same attention in the beauty space: menopause.
Menopause, of course, looks different for everyone who experiences it: It may come earlier, later, have unique characteristics, and so on. So for some, skin changes will not be of concern; however, for many, the way skin changes in menopause is very much a real thing.
Here, we spoke with board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., to discuss the best skin care tips for dealing with skin during menopause:
1. Get to know your hormonal state.
You can't fully understand your skin's changes until you understand what's happening below the surface. Knowing your skin is the first step to treating your skin.
"Estrogen is key for the normal functioning of the skin as well as the blood vessels, hair follicles, oil glands, and our pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. It is associated with collagen production, increased skin thickness, increased hyaluronic acid production, improved skin barrier function, maintaining skin hydration, reduced sebaceous (oil) gland activity, and improved wound-healing. It also plays a role in modulating inflammation," says Barr.
So estrogen does a whole lot. But it's not the only hormone that plays a role in all of this.
"The effect of progesterone on the skin is less well defined but is thought to contribute to skin elasticity, pigmentation, as well as increased circulation and sebaceous gland activity observed in the second half of the menstrual cycle is largely due to the influence of progesterone," she says. "Androgens, including testosterone, play a role in oil gland production."
So that's how these sex hormones interact with your skin—so what changes when you hit menopause? Essentially, they start to deplete.
"As our hormones diminish in menopause, the functions they perform to maintain the health and vitality of the skin diminish as well, characterized by a decrease in sweat, sebum, and the immune functions resulting in significant alterations in the skin surface including pH, lipid composition, and sebum secretion," says Barr. "These changes also provide potential alterations in the skin that may affect the skin microbiome."
While that may seem like a whole bunch of science speak (it is), what we're really getting at here is the drop in these sex hormones means your skin barrier function is weakened, you produce less oil, and your delicate microflora will likely see shifts as a result. This is why your skin changes.
2. Switch to products made for dry skin.
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So now that we know just how dramatic these changes are, you can understand why making key shifts in your skin care routine is essential. Given the barrier function is weakened, as well as the skin producing less oil in general, switching to heavier, more moisturizing products will be ideal for most.
"The result is that the skin becomes more dry, sensitive, and vulnerable to irritation, inflammation, and rashes," she says. See, one of the main duties of your skin barrier is to keep water and nutrients in—when weakened, it's not as able to do this job: "Because the skin loses some ability to retain moisture, the skin can get pretty dry, especially when there is low humidity. So washing with a gentle cleanser instead of soap—and avoiding aggressive exfoliation or scrubs that could tear or irritate the skin—especially on the face. Applying a moisturizer after washing and while the skin is still damp as well as throughout the day when your skin feels dry. A moisturizer with hyaluronic acid or glycerin can be especially helpful."
You may also consider opting for supplements that help revive your skin barrier. For example, mindbodygreen's nr+ contains phytoceramides. Ceramides are a key part of your skin structure—specifically the part that keeps everything sealed in, aids your barrier function, and supports hydration. In one study, participants with clinically dry skin who took a phytoceramide-rich wheat extract oil for three months saw up to a 35% improvement in skin hydration.
3. Notice new sensitivities.
Not only should you be mindful of thicker, moisture-dense products, but you may also start to notice heightened sensitivities to things you never had before. So you may also need to find sensitive-skin-approved items as well.
"Because the pH level of our skin changes at around age 50, skin becomes more sensitive, and women are more likely to develop rashes and easily irritated skin," says Barr. "Using fragrance-free products, with anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, and soothing properties is key to help maintain and restore moisture and the skin barrier integrity."
4. Pay attention to wound healing.
One common issue that many don't realize is that skin actually loses some of its wound-healing ability as we age: "Wound healing is delayed, and bruising is more common," says Barr. This can mean simple irritations stick around much longer than they once did in your youth.
This particularly poses a problem for sensitive skin folk, as sensitivities can often mean raw, irritated skin. Since your skin has less ability to bounce back, those inflamed patches may stick around for longer.
You may consider investing in actives that can help improve your wound-healing ability. Vitamin K has been long hailed as a champion ingredient for this reason. In fact, vitamin K is actually most commonly found in medicinal skin care products or those used by patients after surgeries or those with skin injuries. It's used as such because research shows that it significantly reduces healing time of skin, eases redness, minimizes swelling, and soothes inflammation. When used in your more standard OTC skin care products, it carries with it many of the same benefits, making it a popular addition to under-eye creams, serums, and healing balms.
5. Enhance collagen production.
Collagen is the structural protein that keeps skin taut yet supple. We start losing it in our 20s (yes, really), but it takes a steeper drop during this time. "Studies show that women's skin loses about 30% of its collagen during the first five years of menopause and about 2% of their collagen every year after for the next 20 years," says Barr, who notes that this drop accounts for many of the things we classically define as "maturing skin" like sagging, enlarged pores, and deeper lines. "The bottom line is that there are changes in skin tone, texture, and pigmentation showing up as a dull complexion, skin sagging, wrinkles, thinning hair, and more prominent 'age spots.'"
Collagen supplements are a great place to start, as the peptides are able to be absorbed by the body and then promote collagen and elastin production (they do so by encouraging healthy fibroblasts, which are the things in our cells that produce these molecules).
You can also look into targeted treatments and products, which brings us to our next point.
6. Get smart about what topicals you use.
If your skin was fairly uncomplicated when you were young, you may have missed the memo about targeted actives and treatments. For those with skin conditions like acne or rosacea, you likely know full well how to tend to skin with the right ingredients; however, you may not know which ones to use on your skin now that it's changing. No matter your prior relationship to high-tech, ingredient-laden serums, now's the time to look into your product lineup.
"Without estrogen's influence to help produce hyaluronic acid and collagen, fine lines, wrinkles, jowls, and sagging skin become more prominent," says Barr. "Consider adding a skin care product that contains retinol, bakuchiol, or peptides to help boost collagen in your skin. You can also go for products rich in vitamins C and E and ferulic acid, which helps reduce inflammation, build collagen, protect, and strengthen the skin while also simultaneously brightening it to promote a radiant complexion."
Retinols are a derm favorite as they help build collagen, encourage turnover, and aid in keeping your skin cells' life cycle youthful. Vitamin C (and it's friend vitamin E, which helps it perform better) are a vital part of the collagen synthesis process, stabilize the current collagen you have, and can protect your skin from free radical damage.
7. Never skip SPF.
If you've yet to heed this advice, let's start now: "Because collagen production is diminished in menopause, it's even more important to use daily sun protection, because the UV rays will further degrade collagen and increase skin pigmentation," says Barr. Plus there are so many good, safe mineral options that are compatible with all skin tones (find our favorites). So there's no excuse.
8. Tend to menopausal acne (yes, it's a thing).
If you thought your acne days were behind you, we regret to inform you that these hormonal changes can trigger breakouts. But don't reach for the standard acne-fighting products of yore.
"If you're breaking out, you may not be able to tolerate the treatments you used as a teenager because the skin is thinner and drier and the treatments may be too harsh," says Barr. "Avoid acne products that can dry your skin, as that can make acne worse. Taking a look at your diet as well as dairy products and sugar can stimulate the production of sebum."
She recommends using a salicylic acid wash—try to find one buffered with hydrating ingredients, too—as needed. This will tackle the blemishes without fully tackling your face.
9. Enhance gut health.
Gut health and skin health are deeply connected (we know this through copious research if you don't believe us). And it actually becomes even more vital at this period of your life.
"The health and appearance of the skin are also influenced by the health of the gut, efficiency of liver detoxification, insulin sensitivity, and thyroid and adrenal function, which can experience imbalances during this transitional period of menopause and show up on the skin in a myriad of ways," says Barr. "Taking an inside-out as well as outside-in approach to your skin in menopause is the key to a radiant complexion."
10. Opt for more luminous makeup.
Perhaps in youth, we all tend to gravitate toward mattefying foundations and powders (or we just lean into the oil-slick shine and go megawatt). Regardless, when you hit menopause, your skin starts to appear less vibrant. "There is a decrease in skin cell turnover, giving skin a dull appearance, and pigmentation becomes more prominent," says Barr. While all of the above will certainly help bring back its glow, makeup does help in a pinch.