Dry Itchy Skin & Menopause What You Need To Know

Aside from the infamous hot flashes and night sweats, an equally important symptom that women have to endure during menopause is dry and itchy skin. Many women ask why “is my skin so dry and easily irritated all the sudden?” The answer is quite straightforward: it’s the sudden change of estrogen and progesterone hormone level in your body (we have covered the topic of estrogen and progesterone in detail here and here). If you are interested in a more in-depth explanation about the function of estrogen and what occurs during menopause, please refer to my other article: “Hormone Therapy: More Trouble Than Its Worth?” Long story short for those who wants the answers right now, estrogen is an essential hormone that is responsible for stimulating collagen and oils production that are necessary to keep the skin plump and moisturized.

At the same time, it plays a crucial role in water retention of the skin cells (that is why we seem bloated and pudgy several days before our periods start when our estrogen level rises to its peak state). As women ages, the estrogen level decreases gradually causing collagen and oils to be produced less than when we were in our puberty and early adult years. And when menopause approaches, the stop of egg production in the ovaries sets a chain reaction in our bodies. First, the estrogen production drops drastically as it is no longer required for the egg production process. This rapid change triggers less creation in collagen and oils, and makes your skin less efficient at water retention. As a result, you get itchy dry skin that begins to wrinkle and sag easily.

Can Estrogen Turn Back the Clock?

As we know, the skin’s elasticity and moisture level are closely linked with collagen production and water content found in the skin cells which are both regulated by the estrogen and progesterone hormones (Raine-Fenning, 2003). So it is an obvious assumption that the decrease of estrogen level is the reason why wrinkling, sagging, and dryness occur. If the theory were true, then menopausal women who have naturally lesser estrogen level would have drier and more wrinkled skin than younger women and menopausal women who have naturally higher estrogen level. However, an on-going clinical study called the Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study (KEEPS) has disproved this theory. After studying the effects of hormone therapy administered to 720 recently menopausal women, scientists found that the only the area around the corner of the mouth is the only facial area related to estrogen levels (Phillips, 2008). Other signs of aging such as skin firmness, water content, wrinkles between the bottom corners of the nose and chin, and neck creases, were all found to be related to increasing age and unhealthy habits such as smoking (Phillips, 2008).

A more recent study has found that estrogen/progesterone replacement therapy can be helpful. However, the replacement therapy is only effective if they are administered early after menopause. Even then, the therapy is only beneficial to intrinsically aged skin (Zouboulis, 2012). At the same time, the researchers have found Vitamin D substitution and antioxidant treatment to be a beneficial treatment to aging skin instead (Zouboulis, 2012).

If You Can’t Eat It, Can You Smear It?

The previous studies of estrogen/progesterone hormone replacement therapies are based on methods of various injections or supplement intakes. Yet you may wonder what about all these estrogen-infused beauty regimen you see on the market? To answer that question, please tread carefully. Yes, it has been found in research studies that estrogen replacement therapy does appear to increase the collagen found in skin and seem to raise the epithelial and dermal thickness after 16 weeks of treatment (Patriarca, 2007). Yes it is helpful in treating wrinkles. But these benefits are quickly eradicated once the skin is exposed to UV light (Rittié, 2008). I am sure that some woman may say, I will just use a heavier dose of estrogen-infused cream or I’ll just use the estrogen cream every day.

Don’t even think about it! As much as the bottles may promise you that it is high in estrogen-potency, it may omit the warning of the horrible side effects due to using estrogen in high potency or for extended amount of time. What will happen is that your skin will develop spotty darkening patches called melasma (often known as the mask of pregnancy) that can be seen in some pregnant women with high estrogen level or women who have been on birth control pill for an extended amount of time. Nothing will make those patches go away until the excess estrogen stored in the skin cells gradually dissipates. Sometimes this process will take a long time. Instead of topical estrogen cream, scientists have found topical progesterone cream to significantly improve wrinkles and firmness of the skin even though it does not have any positive effects against dryness of skin (Holzer, 2005). Even though it is a hopeful promise, much more research is still needed to test whether long-term usage of progesterone may lead to any side effects.

Other Ways You Can Help Your Skin

Although estrogen and progesterone do play significant roles in the signs of aging skin, many scientific studies have found a bigger implication that poor daily habits such as smoking, drinking, excessive coffee-drinking, and sun exposure are sure signs to poor skin quality later in life. So if you want to turn your skin around before it is too late, here are some quick tips you can start following to combat signs of aging skin:

Diet

The saying “you are what you eat” can’t be any more true when it comes to the health of your skin. As the biggest organ of your body, it requires a large amount of nutrient to sustain a healthy state. If your body no longer produce enough essential oils, you can help your skin by eating more food that are enriched in essential fatty acids like the omega-3 found in various kinds of fish, walnuts, soy, and eggs.

These food sources will help replenish the oil source needed to keep your skin hydrated and plump. Aside from omega-3 rich food, foods that are high in Vitamin D as well as full of anti-oxidants are also crucial to keep your skin looking youthful. And since your skin is no longer holding as much water content as before, always make sure you drink more water now more than ever. And when it’s possible, grab a glass of mineral water that will replenish your skin and your body of various beneficial minerals essential to keep your skin glowing.

Beauty Regimen

Halfway through this article, I am sure that you will be thinking much harder about sunscreen. It is the first line defense of fighting against skin damage. And be kind to your skin. As we age, our skin becomes thinner and takes longer to heal. Although a hot shower or bath sounds soothing, it actually strips your skin of its natural oils. Opt for warm water. The beauty products you used to use may no longer be suitable. Instead of choosing products that exfoliates and contains various acidic contents, choose cleaning products that are infused with oils such as argen oil, jojoba oil, or almond oil as they will help diminish the fine lines and replenish your skin with nutrients to fight off the signs of aging.

Exercise

Although it may seem like exercise has nothing to do with your skin health, it actually increases your blood circulation so that oxygen and nutrients gets to your tissues faster. At the same time, it will help your skin rids any impurities both in its tissue cells and in the pores.

Sources:

  • Fletcher SW, Colditz GA, “Failure of Estrogen Plus Progestin Therapy for Prevention”, JAMA 2002; 288(3):366-368.
  • Holzer G, Riegler E, Hönigsmann H, et al., “Effects and side-effects of 2% progesterone cream on the skin of peri- and postmenopausal women: results from a double-blind, vehicle-controlled, randomized study”,  British Journal of Dermatology 2005; 153(3):626–634.
  • Patriarca, MT, et.al., “Effects of topical estradiol on the facial skin collagen of postmenopausal women under oral hormone therapy: A pilot study.” European Journal of Obstetrics Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. 2007; 130(2):202-205.
  • Phillips TJ, Symons J, Menon S, “Does hormone therapy improve age-related skin changes in postmenopausal women? A randomized, double-blind, double-dummy, placebo-controlled multicenter study assessing the effects of norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol in the improvement of mild to moderate age-related skin changes in postmenopausal women.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008; 59(3):397-404.e3. Epub 2008 Jul 14.
  • Raine-Fenning NJ, Brincat MP, Muscat-Baron Y, “Skin Aging and Menopause: Implications for Treatment”, Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003; 4(6):371-8.
  • Rittié L, Kang S, Voorhees JJ, et al., “Induction of Collagen by Estradiol: Difference Between Sun-Protected and Photodamaged Human Skin In Vivo”, Arch Dermatol. 2008; 144(9):1129-1140.
  • Zouboulis, CC, et.al., “Hormonal Therapy of Intrinsic Aging”, Rejuvenation Research. 2012; 15(3):303-312.

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