Whether you’re going through menopause, starting perimenopause or you know that these hormonal changes are just around the corner, we all know that menopause is undoubtedly a time of change. From hot flashes to moodiness to sleep disturbances, your body is going through a lot. But did you know that your skin can be just as affected as the rest of your body?
Physician and author Dr. Keira Barr is a dual-board certified integrative dermatologist and an expert in menopause and hormones. She’s here to explain what happens biologically when your skin changes during menopause, along with what your skin needs most from from head to toe.
What happens to skin during menopause?
First of all, Barr says that during menopause, sex hormones directly affect the skin. Estrogen is key for the normal functioning of the skin as well as the blood vessels, hair follicles, oil glands and pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. Estrogen also plays a key role in collagen production, increased skin thickness, improved skin barrier function, maintained skin hydration, reduced sebaceous oil gland activity and improved wound healing.
Apart from estrogen, progesterone — a hormone released by the ovaries — contributes to skin elasticity and pigmentation as well as increased circulation. It’s also involved in sebaceous gland activity.
Barr says that as our hormones decline in menopause, the roles they play to maintain the health and vitality of the skin decline as well, which shows up as a decrease in sebum and immune function and resulting in significant alterations in the skin’s surface. This means that your skin can become very dry, sensitive and susceptible to things like irritation, inflammation and rashes.
She adds that without estrogen’s influence to produce hyaluronic acid, the key molecule for skin moisture, and collagen, the skin’s main structural protein, fine lines, wrinkles, jowls and sagging skin become more prominent. In addition, wound healing is delayed and bruising becomes more common.
Women may also notice that their pores appear larger due to weaker collagen and elastic tissue.
“What’s more is there is also thinning of the skin and atrophy of vaginal tissue, which when combined with increased dryness is a recipe for painful sex, itch and irritation,” Barr noted.
“Skin may also be duller in appearance because of the decrease in skin cell turnover, and pigmentation becomes more prominent.”
What your skin needs during menopause changes
Although these changes don’t exactly sound appealing, there are absolutely ways to combat them: namely, through changing up your products.
Barr says that it’s good to seek out products that contain nourishing, soothing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides. She also says that using gentle, non-foaming, soapless cleansers can be helpful, along with avoiding using products with too many active ingredients. (Too many active ingredients may counteract one another and cause irritation.)
Barr also emphasizes that it’s essential to boost your hydration by regularly drinking water and eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and antioxidants, which are all things that can ease inflammation and irritation.
“As hormones shift and our bodies change, it can feel challenging to love the skin you’re in,” Barr observed. “But I would offer that rather than looking at your skin as ‘letting you down’ or ‘not looking as youthful’ as you might like, that you consider celebrating what your skin is doing for you. It’s keeping you safe. It’s protecting you from toxins, infection and pollutants. So, while your skin may not look or feel like it used to, it will always have your back against environmental stressors and it will always radiate your glow when you treat it — and yourself — with love and compassion.”
Best skin care products for menopause, according to experts
“Using a moisturizer to hydrate the skin and reinforce the skin barrier is important,” Barr said. “Choosing one like this that is rich in emollients in addition to having active ingredients like peptides, amino acids and growth factors is a good choice.”
Barr says that sea buckthorn oil can help minimize dry, irritated and dehydrated skin. Just one drop of this oil can be applied to the skin after cleansing.
Formulated by gynecologist and menopause expert Dr. Anna Cabeca, Barr explained, “This product nourishes the skin of your intimate bits.”
Formulated with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a naturally occurring hormone produced by the adrenal glands, this cream not only improves sexual function and corrects hormonal problems, but it also has the potential to increase bone density and decrease body fat.
Barr adds that between the cream’s ingredients, which include alpine rose stem cells, coconut oil, vitamin E and shea butter, it can help rejuvenate vaginal tissue, restore moisture and improve skin elasticity.
Vitamin C has recently become a cult ingredient, praised for its ability to help the body produce more collagen and to stabilize the collagen you already have. Barr says that this particular serum will bolster your protection against the elements. “The combination of vitamins C, E and [antioxidant] ferulic acid work synergistically to fight free radicals, DNA damage and increase penetration into the skin cells," she said.
Barr says that it’s important to moisturize and soothe menopausal skin with nourishing skin care ingredients. She believes that one of these helpful ingredients is gotu kola, a herb that’s been known to repair veins in the skin and penetrate deep layers. This multi-use balm will cover myriad skin care needs, from your face to your hands and more.
This cream is packed with under-eye skin helpers like caffeine, antioxidants, peptides and methyl estradiol-propanoate, an ingredient that, according to Barr, “ignites the skin’s estrogen-receptor pathway non-hormonally to treat estrogen-deficient skin by tightening, firming and hydrating the skin without the side effects of estrogen.”
Barr says that this cooling product offers relief from hot flashes, soothes the skin and reduces inflammation, all with the help of key ingredients like holy basil and antioxidants. Barr also likes this product because it’s free of not-so-great things for the skin such as parabens, sulfates and mineral oils. The company completed a clinical study of the product, finding that 89 percent of participants felt refreshed immediately.
If you’re looking for a face mask that tightens, hydrates and lifts to soothe and smooth your skin, Barr recommends this one filled with hyaluronic acid. One reviewer said that the firming effects lasted after removal and her forehead looks considerably firmer after just two weeks of use.
Barr says that as estrogen declines, the skin in the vaginal area becomes drier and more vulnerable to irritation. This lotion with coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, safflower seed oil and vitamins E and B3 will moisturize and support the skin barrier.
While a prescription retinoid is considered the “go-to” for promoting skin cell turnover, boosting collagen production and improving fine lines and wrinkles, not everyone can tolerate the dryness, irritation and redness that may accompany its use. The alternative is bakuchiol, a plant-derived retinol that has shown similar efficacy without the irritation, and this effective serum has it.
Made for “reactive skin” as it says on Tata Harper's website, Barr describes this product as “a gentle, creamy cleanser well suited for dry, sensitive or irritated skin, which is not uncommon in menopause.”
For more stories like this, check out:
- What you should know about collagen-boosting creams, according to skin care experts
- How to build the best skin care routine for healthy, glowing skin in your 50s
- Skin care ingredients you shouldn’t be mixing – and ones you should, according to experts