It's safe to say that every woman knows what menopause is. It's the natural process that indicates the end of your menstrual cycle and brings with it quite a few hormonal changes. (Hello, hot flashes!) But what about the awkward stage that precedes it?
If you didn't know, there's a transitional period called perimenopause that can occur when a woman's estrogen levels start to drop. According to Anna Cabeca, DO, OBGYN, FACOG and bestselling author of The Hormone Fix, perimenopause is all the symptomatic ups and downs that precede menopause. "It is a natural process of aging and a decrease in our hormone productions. It can be exacerbated or precipitated by stress, birth control pills, [or] hormone disruption.”
Among other things — like insomnia, brain fog and mood swings — the hormonal stage can also wreak havoc on your skin. Below, we asked Cabeco and aesthetician Amy L. Meier to give us the low-down on how perimenopause can affect the skin as well as products they suggest using to combat the symptoms.
How does perimenopause affect the skin?
In 25 years of giving facials and training other aestheticians, Meier has met thousands of women. Most have no clue perimenopause could be causing the extreme skin changes they start to experience in their early 30s. "Perimenopause is a fluctuation and changes to our hormone levels as we age," says Meier. "Many women are unaware this can start in our early to mid 30s. I wish someone would have told me this and talked to me about all the things that can happen!"
According to Cabeca, as our skin produces less collagen and thins out, we can start to develop wrinkles. "Perimenopause really starts with the decline in DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which is one of our adrenal hormones associated with longevity, bone strength, breast health, memory/brain health and integrity of our skin and collagen production."
The hormonal imbalance that comes with perimenopause also causes acne. "As a skin practitioner, [I] tend to see breakouts around the jaw and neckline. They do tend to be cystic and take longer to heal," explains Meier. She also says that the healing process becomes more difficult as we age, which can include more scarring and post inflammatory spots.
Skin care to use during the perimenopause phase
When it comes to clearing and restoring the skin during perimenopause, Meier looks at the ingredients first before product lines. "Products that contain [vitamins] C and E, ferulic [acid], niacinamide, [and] arbutin can all help with post-inflammatory healing," she explains.
Meier also recommends using an antioxidant serum during the day and a pigment regulator at night to encourage cell turnover in the skin. "If we think about our pigment skin cells as 'little squid,' when they are over stimulated, like an octopus or squid, they ink when they are scared. We want to give them sunglasses during the day (antioxidants) and a chill pill at night (pigment regulators). This will protect against further damage and help repair past damage."
Of course, much like there are topical treatments that help with skin during menopause, there are also topical treatments that help for skin conditions associated with perimenopause. Below, you'll find 11 of Meier's favorite products that are packed with key ingredients to help heal the skin.
Meier swears by nighttime retinol treatments because they speed up cell turnover. In other words, they help shed dead skin that can clog pores. This makes room for new, healthier skin. Meier likes SkinCeuticals' Retinol Refining Night Cream, and she's not alone. The majority of reviewers on Dermstore have given this product a five-star rating.
Meier also suggests using a nighttime moisturizer from Obagi Medcial — the celeb-loved Japanese skin care brand. This Obagi Medical moisturizer is packed with skin-loving ingredients like hydromanil, shea butter and avocado, which lock in moisture so your skin doesn't dry out overnight. On Amazon, it has close to a perfect five-star average rating from more than 2,000 reviewers.
When asked which cleanser is the best for most skin types going through perimenopause, Meier doesn't hesitate. "I always recommend micellar cleansing water, which is gentle on the skin, removes makeup and doubles as a toner." Garnier's SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water, one of Shop TODAY's favorite affordable drugstore products, has a very impressive rating on Amazon from nearly 40,000 reviews.
Sure, you can buy makeup removal wipes, but Meier prefers to buy a big bottle of micellar water and cotton rounds to make her own. It's easy — and it's a lot cheaper. Cliganic's Premium Cotton Rounds are Amazon's No. 1 bestsellers in Cotton Pads & Rounds and a nearly perfect five-star average rating from more than 28,000 reviews.
For skin that's already inflamed, Meier says to lay on the Vitamin C. It's an antioxidant that helps to get rid of unwanted extras like free radicals that can exacerbate inflammation. It's also helpful in increasing collagen production. This TruSkin Vitamin C Serum is Amazon's No. 1 bestseller in Facial Serums and has been tried and loved by Shop TODAY contributors.
Vitamin E is another post-inflammation ingredient Meier recommends. Like Vitamin C, it's a powerful antioxidant. However, it has a thicker consistency and is more effective at fighting signs of aging and sun damage.
"As we age, our skin does not heal as easily and without scarring," notes Meier. "This means there can be more post inflammatory spots that can make it look worse than it is." This particular Vitamin E oil claims to be the most potent on Amazon. It works to moisturize the skin and reduce the appearance of scarring.
This product boasts vitamins as well as another key ingredient Meier uses to help damaged skin heal: ferulic acid. Another antioxidant, it works like a catalyst that makes the vitamin C and vitamin E work even harder and faster. In other words, the results are more noticeable.
Vogue calls it skin care's new powerhouse ingredient. Meier calls it a must. That's because niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, helps with the appearance of enlarged pores. It also helps to create a stronger lipid skin barrier, so any moisturizing products you apply get locked in and last longer. For maximum hydration, stock up on Naturium's niacinamide serum, which also contains hyaluronic acid.
If your goal is to fade sun spots as fast as possible, Meier recommends picking up a product that contains arbutin. Arbutin is an extract of the bearberry plant and can help to brighten the skin. This Alpha Arbutin Serum has a safe level of 2 percent arbutin (too much arbutin can be dangerous), and nearly 70 percent of Amazon users have give it a perfect five-star review.
For many women, perimenopause and hyperpigmentation go hand in hand. Meier recommends Ambi Skincare's Fade Cream, which can help reduce the appearance of discoloration. The formula also includes alpha hydroxy acids and vitamin E to help moistures and rejuvenate the skin.
For an effective retinol, Meier recommends the Image Skincare MD Restoring Retinol Crème. It was actually formulated by a plastic surgeon, who understood the importance of using time-released retinol to prevent wrinkles and fine lines. As a bonus, it also helps to even out skin tone.
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