If you’re a woman you’ve likely heard a thing or two about hormones - how they change throughout various points in the female cycle and how they gradually shift as you get older. What you may not know is that these hormonal changes are gradually impacting your skin as you age, which can alter things like collagen levels, skin-barrier function, and sebum production. Want to learn more about how natural hormone changes are affecting your skin? This blog will help you navigate the female hormonal journey from puberty to postmenopause, and the impact these distinctive stages have on your skin!
Reproductive Hormones and the Skin
Before we explore the evolution of hormones throughout a woman’s life, and their impact on the skin, it’s important to identify the three key reproductive hormones that cause changes to the look and feel of our skin. These three hormones are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Estrogen is essential for regulating the functions of the skin. It helps to stimulate the skin’s production of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. Estrogen also helps to increase skin thickness, maintain hydration, regulate the production of sebum (oil), accelerate wound healing, and improve skin barrier function overall. All around, estrogen is a key player when it comes to helping skin stay healthy and well-regulated.
Progesterone is best known for stimulating the production of sebaceous glands, aka the skin’s oil-producing glands. Sebum naturally mixes with fat molecules (lipids) and forms a protective layer on the surface of the skin. This helps to hydrate skin and protect it from potentially harmful bacteria. However, it is important that sebum is regulated to prevent too much oil from building up - which can cause breakouts to occur.
Androgens, like testosterone, are typically thought of as male hormones. In fact, the female body produces small amounts of these hormones, which help play a role in oil gland production (similar to progesterone). Testosterone is typically produced during menstruation, but women also experience overall elevated levels of androgens during menopause.
Hormonal Life Stages and the Skin
Women generally possess six hormonal life stages, each of which has unique impacts on the skin. These stages are: puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
Female puberty typically begins between the ages of 10-14, at which time a young woman’s reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and androgens) surge. This surge in hormones results in the beginning of the female menstrual cycle, but it also has profound impacts on a young woman’s skin. The heightened levels of testosterone lead to an increase in sebum production. This causes oil to clog pores, resulting in the acne and breakouts commonly seen during puberty. Acne is typically most common during a person’s teenage years, however the level of intensity can depend on genetics, environmental factors, or hormonal imbalances.
Changes in the ratio of estrogen to sebum-producing hormones like progesterone and testosterone are a common cause of acne. Changes in this ratio are common during the beginning of a woman’s menstrual cycle, resulting in excess oil production and breakouts.
Levels of estrogen, progesterone, and a melanin stimulating hormone increase during pregnancy, which can result in a skin condition called melasma. Melasma is the hyperpigmentation of the skin, resulting from an overproduction of melanin by pigment cells. This can lead to discoloration on some parts of the body like the upper lip, cheeks, and forehead. Melasma is typically pregnancy-induced and will likely resolve itself postpartum.
Hormonal imbalances during pregnancy have also been associated with increased acne, however experts advise pregnant women to avoid acne treatments like antibiotics or topical retinoids due to potential harmful impacts on the fetus.
Postpartum, estrogen levels decrease significantly, and this change can be seen and felt in the skin. Some women experience skin dehydration, resulting in cracked skin or fine lines. Others experience an increase in oil production, causing acne. These hormonal imbalances typically resolve when a woman is done breastfeeding and her regular menstrual cycle returns.
Perimenopause is a lesser-known hormonal stage in which the female body is preparing itself for menopause. In this stage, the ovaries gradually produce less estrogen, which can result in visible skin aging. Throughout this period skin loses elasticity, becoming drier and more dull. A gradual reduction in estrogen levels in this stage can also contribute to decreased lymphatic drainage, which can contribute to the formation of cellulite.
Menopause causes a natural reduction in reproductive hormones. Estrogen levels drop, and because estrogen is responsible for functions like collagen production, hydration, and skin barrier maintenance, this contributes to skin dehydration, increased wrinkling, and a general loss in skin elasticity. Skin cellular turnover also declines during menopause, which can lead to slower wound healing and a duller complexion.
Since progesterone and androgen levels also decline during menopause, this reduces the skin’s overall sebum production. Not only does this leave skin drier and more sensitive, it also makes it more prone to inflammation and irritation.
Skin continues to lose elasticity and hydration during the postmenopausal period. Depleted estrogen levels lead to collagen loss, which contributes to steadily thinner and more wrinkled skin over time. The dermis, the thickest layer of skin responsible for its flexibility and strength, becomes thinner, causing a droopy appearance.
Your hormones play a key role in the look and feel of your skin in the different stages of your life. While these changes can vary based on genetic and environmental factors, us women all follow a similar hormonal journey throughout our lifetimes. These gradual changes to your skin are all part of the body’s natural progression of aging, however there are many ways to fend off the undesirable effects of aging. Using sunscreen, practicing healthy lifestyle choices, and just generally keeping your skin nourished and hydrated can help you to hang onto that youthful glow at any stage of your life!
SourcesDr. Zenovia Hormonal Dermatology: How Hormones Affect Your Skin During These 6 Key Life Stages | Hello Clue: Skin and the Cycle - How Hormones Affect Your Skin | Everyday Health: Can ‘Resetting’ Your Hormones Improve Your Skin? | Axia Women’s Health: From Acne to Dryness - How Hormones Affect Your Skin | Medical News Today: What is Sebum?