We’ve Got The Answers About Menopause And Your Skin
Written by Jess Beech
28 Jun 2023
Understanding how to care for your skin during menopause is a bit like trying to placate a toddler through a tantrum.
You’ve probably been looking after your skin for a loooooong time. Long enough to know its likes and dislikes; what makes it tick and what makes it happy. Then along comes the menopause , which sometimes - not always, but sometimes - can turn that once-harmonious relationship with your skin into something a bit less…predictable. So, to help you navigate the highs and lows, and know the signs to look out for, we’ve created this guide to how to care for your skin during menopause.
So, how does your skin change during menopause and why?
Menopause is defined as the time when your periods stop as a result of lower levels of hormones including estrogen. This can have a knock-on effect on your complexion, with the functions of your skin changing in a number of different ways. What happens is this:
Collagen and elastin levels deplete. They’re both important proteins that act as scaffolding in the skin and are responsible for giving it bounce and structure. Our natural supplies start to dwindle from the age of 25 (which is why our skin looks so juicy and plump in photos from our teens), but the rate really accelerates around menopause. In fact, it’s believed that women lose around 30% of their skin’s collagen supplies after menopause.
Our natural supplies start to dwindle from the age of 25 (which is why our skin looks so juicy and plump in photos from our teens), but the rate really accelerates around menopause
A lack of estrogen can increase hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is most commonly caused by a type of molecule called free radicals which are triggered by UV rays. To shield our skin from free radicals (which also come from things like pollution and cigarette smoke) we need antioxidants. Estrogen is not only a hormone, but an antioxidant too, so when it starts to deplete during menopause, our skin has less natural protection.
Our skin has fewer naturally-occurring moisturising factors. Hyaluronic Acid, which hydrates the skin, and ceramides, which help to keep this hydration in, both exist naturally in our complexion. But unfortunately for us, they like to follow the crowd, and when estrogen, collagen, and elastin start to leave the building, they do too. As a result, you might find that your skin feels dehydrated or dry, even if previously it was normal or oily.
Increased stress levels can lead to stressed-out skin. For some, menopause can pass as quietly as somebody walking on tip-toes, whereas, for others, it hurtles through like a freight train and knocks them sideways. The not-so-enjoyable side-effects of menopause, like difficulty nodding off and hot flushes, can increase the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
Cell turnover slows. The surface of your skin is a constantly working conveyor belt that turns over old, redundant skin cells and replaces them with shiny new ones. As you age, the rate at which our skin does this slows down, which means those old cells stick around for longer.
‘Rollercoaster’ hormones can lead to increased sebum production. Spots form when sebum (the scientific name for the oil in our skin) combines with dead skin cells to block a pore. During menopause, our levels of the female hormone estrogen drop, but male hormones like testosterone, also known as androgens, are still present. As they become dominant, they can cause the skin to produce more oil, which in turn means a higher chance of blemishes.
A lack of lipids means the skin becomes thinner. As if there wasn’t already enough going on, the skin also starts to make fewer lipids around the time of menopause. These natural fats include things like Ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, and without them, the skin has less cushioning and is, therefore, more prone to marks and bruising. Think of it like the padding a fresh roll of bubble wrap brings versus a sheet that’s had the bubbles popped. Skin can also become more sensitive too, and you may find it’s less able to tolerate strong ingredients like Retinoids.
And how will it all make your skin look?
It’s fair to say that for some people, your skin can be on quite the wild ride during menopause. But how are these changes reflected in what we see on the outside? Before, during, and after menopause you may spot the following in the mirror:
Fine lines and wrinkles. Without as much collagen to hold it up and elastin to help it spring back, skin can lose a lot of its oomph. You may notice slackening of the skin around the jawline, as well as the appearance of fine and wrinkles.
Dullness. With skin at the back of the proverbial queue for a lot of the good stuff like oxygen and nutrients, and also not turning over quite so quickly, your complexion can start to look a little lacklustre. Plummeting energy levels can also make you more likely to reach for coffee and sugary snacks for fuel, and unfortunately, neither of those are going to reward you with a glow.
Blemishes. Surging testosterone and falling estrogen can trigger menopausal breakouts not unlike the ones experienced by teenagers – even if you managed to dodge them the first time around.
Dehydration. Without a hefty supply of ceramides to hold moisture in the skin or natural Hyaluronic Acid to quench its thirst, the skin can become dehydrated which shows in dullness, amplified fine lines, and a general feeling of tightness.
Hyperpigmentation. They say we reap what we sow, and the time around menopause is normally when sun damage from our youth pops up in the form of darker patches of skin.
Marks. Noticing you bruise like a peach and that spots and cuts are leaving behind little souvenirs on your skin - or at least, taking longer to heal? It could all be down to an increasing lack of lipids.
Inflammation and redness. There’s some science behind the phrase thick-skinned, because when our skin starts to thin it becomes more sensitive and prone to irritation and inflammation.
What ingredients are good for your skin during menopause?
It’s far from all doom and gloom when it comes to menopause and skin. They say forewarned is forearmed and adding these ingredients to your routine will act as a crash mat to help soften the blow of yoyo-ing hormones.
Peptides are little chains of amino acids that form the building blocks of proteins like collagen and elastin and can also encourage the skin to make more of them.
Retinol not only speeds up cell turnover but also helps to kick-start the production of Collagen. It’s considered a gold-standard ingredient for keeping skin youthful.
Ceramides act as the mortar that keeps our skin cells together. If you don’t have enough, cracks start to form. Moisture can escape, and things like pollution can make their way in. Adding extra Ceramides will keep the skin happy and healthy.
Glycolic acid is an exfoliating acid that belongs to a family of ingredients called alpha-hydroxy acids. It works by dissolving the bonds that hold old cells to the surface, leaving skin looking fresher, clearer and brighter.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to shield the skin from damage from things like UV rays, pollution, and cigarette smoke. It’s brilliant at brightening the skin and can help prevent and fade sun spots.
Salicylic acid tackles blemishes by working deep in your pores to remove dead skin cells and other debris that might cause a spot.
Niacinamide is a calming, balancing ingredient that helps restore peace to skin that’s lost the plot.
What is a good skincare routine for menopausal skin?
The best skincare routine for menopausal skin will depend slightly on your key skin concerns, as not everyone’s complexion will react to this hormonal shift in the same way. However, the staples for everyone are a good cleanser and a hardworking moisturiser. Which cleanser and moisturizer you choose will be down to personal preference and the kind of textures and scents you like, but most people will find that they like an oil-based cleanser and thick, comforting moisturiser around this time to counteract the naturally occurring dryness.
With those basics covered, you can then look at expanding the rest of your skincare routine. Regular exfoliation will help to compensate for the fact that cell turnover is slowing, clearing a pathway for the rest of your skincare to penetrate and leaving skin glowing. You can exfoliate with a scrub, or with a liquid exfoliant like an AHA or PHA. Your serum is your opportunity to really target your most pressing complexion bugbear, whether that’s dullness, fine lines, or hyperpigmentation. They contain the highest concentration of active ingredients of any part of your routine and are where you’re going to see the best results.
Finally, and most importantly, is sunscreen, which is a complete non-negotiable. UV exposure leads to accelerated aging and is responsible for things like fine lines, sun spots, and dehydration – as well as more sinister things like sunburn and skin cancer. Make sure you’re protecting your skin all year round with a daily sunscreen with at least SPF 30 protection.
Does HRT improve skin?
The question of whether or not HRT can improve your skin is one that’s asked a lot. As we know, HRT (short for Hormone Replacement Therapy) is a treatment designed to lessen the side effects of menopause by replacing the hormones you naturally lose around this time. While many people benefit from it, it’s not suitable for everyone, so we’d always recommend speaking to your doctor if you’re keen to know more.
As for HRT and skin, menopause is a rollercoaster of hormones, and therefore it makes sense that if you’re being prescribed medication to replace and balance them, then your skin will also be more content and consistent. Not everyone who takes HRT will notice improvement in their skin but some may find that it helps.
Will my skin get better after menopause?
If you’re struggling with hormonal breakouts or finding that your skin has become generally unpredictable, this should settle down after you’ve passed through menopause. However, some of the skin gripes that come with menopause, like a loss of firmness, wrinkles, and dryness won’t necessarily magically disappear a year after your last period. This is partly because they’re associated with age, and also as the estrogen lost during menopause unfortunately isn’t going to make a sudden comeback.
That’s not to say that you won’t experience great skin during and after menopause though. Adapting your routine to suit your skin’s needs, as well as accepting that the same skincare you’ve been using for the past twenty years may no longer be fitting the bill, will help you achieve a healthy, glowing complexion.