Q: My mother’s skin looks great! It turns out she’s been on estrogen since her hysterectomy. Does estrogen prevent wrinkles?
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A: Quite possibly, yes. There are estrogen receptors everywhere in a woman’s body, including her skin. Studies have shown estrogen increases skin thickness, capillary blood flow, collagen content, certain proteins and water content in post-menopausal women treated with the hormone.
A recent study in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility assessed the severity of wrinkles at 11 facial locations using a new dermatologically developed scale, and the researchers did indeed document that the average wrinkle scores were lower in hormone users than in non-hormone users by about 40 percent.
Many dermatologists and doctors who deal with women as they age have noted that hormone therapy seems to improve the appearance of aging skin. In addition, some studies show that estrogen, when applied in the form of a cream, can penetrate the skin due to its small molecular size. It then increases production of collagen, mucopolysaccharides and hyaluronic acid. (The latter are both important in maintaining skin hydration.)
Any skin cream that contains estrogen must be prescribed by a physician.
Certain over-the-counter creams containing phytoestrogen (a type of estrogen contained in plants) claim to help reduce the “appearance” of fine lines and wrinkles. That claim may be valid, but only because moisturizers alter light reflection from the skin’s surface and create a sort of optical illusion of youthful skin. True changes in collagen production or increased dermal thickness, however, have not been shown to come from these over-the-counter products.
On a personal note, I’ve used an estrogen cream on my face for years and have prescribed such creams to numerous patients. Anecdotally it “would appear” to help, or at least we hope so!
Dr. Reichman’s Bottom Line: New studies suggest that estrogen therapy in earlymenopause helps prevent the plaque deposition that leads to heart attack and stroke. We know it reduces hot flashes and vaginal dryness and decreases bone loss and risk of colon cancer. I’m sure there will be some women who will be even more likely to try it if they know it can also reduce wrinkles.
Dr. Judith Reichman, the “Today” show's medical contributor on women's health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, "Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You," which is now available in paperback. It is published by William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins.