Skin and Hormones

By Dr Emma Rees

Throughout life, levels of hormones in your body change. In women, this is often due to changes in reproduction. As we go through puberty and then, later in life, menopause. The circulating levels of our hormones will differ and this can have an impact on our skin.

In adolescence, we start to release greater amounts of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. This is all totally normal and contributes towards the menstrual cycle. Progesterone and testosterone both increase the levels of oil (sebum) being produced and an excess of sebum can ultimately lead to breakouts! The important thing is to remember that hormone levels change throughout the month and when oestrogen levels are rising your skin may appear plumper, becoming more oily as your progesterone levels rise later in the month.

Oestrogen is very important for collagen production and as we age and our oestrogen levels fall, the production of collagen is affected. Over time this leads to thinner, dryer skin. We may experience hormonal breakouts as the balance between female hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) and male hormones (testosterone) changes. Whilst levels of both types of hormones reduce as we go through menopause, the reduction in female hormones is greater and male hormones have greater weight than they did before. This can lead to increased oil production (sebum) whilst these changes are happening, and skin breakouts may occur as a result.

There are common questions people have about what is causing their symptoms and how to minimise them. It is really helpful to understand your skin before you try to start any regimes as the symptoms and timing of breakouts that you experience will influence the approach. The next important thing to remember is that chopping and changing your skincare regime frequently will become confusing. Having a simple regime is usually best and easier to stick to. Once you have a diary about your skin symptoms, you are ready to take the next steps. There are 2 main areas to consider:

  • What can I put on my skin?
  • How do I help my skin from within?

What can I put on my skin?

It’s tempting to get involved with complicated, multistep regimes but really, the key point here is whether your skin is dry or oily.  

For any skin type, the best way to clean your skin is with warm water.  Avoid soap as it can dry your skin out- you may note your skin feeling tight after use, we don’t want this to happen.  Likewise steer clear of products containing astringent ingredients or perfumes.  Both can be irritants and also dry your skin.  Try not to rub your skin and cause redness, this can break surface capillaries and lead to the appearance of little red threads.  Once you have washed your skin, gently pat the surface dry. If you use a flannel, make sure it is clean and consider how you wash both flannels and towels.  Harsh laundry chemicals can also irritate your skin.

The next step is moisturiser and sunscreen.  Both are important and you can liberally apply them when you have the right option for you.  The right choice for you comes down to skin type.  A light moisturiser without an oily base is great for adolescent skin and an oily based product works better on dryer and post menopausal skin.  Sunscreen is an absolute essential at any age and once again, remember to avoid oil based products in adolescence and consider them when your skin is dryer.  The key to any skin regime is that less is usually more, fewer steps and less products is generally better. Most skin changes are usually temporary and if you are concerned, it’s worth discussing this with a health professional at an early stage.

How do I help my skin from within?

This is a really crucial part of any approach to skin care. We often see it mentioned in magazines but what does it mean? Well, the simple fact is that if you eat and sleep well, your skin will benefit. There is a lot of attention on diet and we know that diets focusing upon balanced nutrients and a low glycaemic index are better for skin. The Mediterranean diet can fulfil these requirements, so it is definitely worth a shot! There are some diet plans and suggestions in the Femma lifestyle section which can help guide what diet may suit you and your skin needs best. A great resource is the Expert Q & A about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome featuring Ebony Crameri from Project Nutrition.

When considering drinks, the same principles apply. Ideally go for no sugar options, remembering our low glycaemic index advice. Keep your fluids up-skin always dries out when you become dehydrated! In fact doctors will look for signs of skin dryness to identify when people are clinically dehydrated.

Sleep is crucial, when we are tired and stressed, our skin will demonstrate this. During the night, a series of hormones are released that each contribute towards skin repair by promoting repair, oxygenation and production of collagen.

Finally, exercise can be really helpful by increasing the circulation and promoting the delivery of oxygen to tissues such as the skin. If you are new to exercise, start gently and build up gradually-focus upon improving your overall wellbeing in a safe way. This approach is more likely to lead to you being able to make a long term investment in your wellbeing.