In the simplest terms, menopause is a natural bodily process in which a woman ceases her period of fertility and her ovaries no longer secrete estrogen. Culturally, menopause is not viewed as a particularly desirable process for a woman to go through. Hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and discomfort are associated with the process of menopause. Let’s get one thing straight - at Dr. EJ, we don’t believe menopause is anything more than a natural process of being alive & being a woman. You are not any less desirable, beautiful, unique, wonderful…should we go on? We aim to love & understand all bodies at every stage. Menopause does change the way your body works & affects your skin, read on to learn how menopause can change your skin & alter your microbiome.
The Microbiome & Skin Aging
A recent study was conducted to discover the link between your skin's microbial makeup and aging. Scientists studied cheek swabs of various particpants of differing ages but similar skin types. Scientists discovered that bacterial pathways linked to skin aging were related to the production of ceramides, which are lipids that compose the natural skin barrier, as well as fatty acids and pigmentation. The researchers also determined that bacterial enzymes involved in protein glycation were associated with skin aging.
Protein glycation in the skin occurs when sugars link to proteins, such as collagen and elastin. An accumulation of glycation of collagen and elastin end products can result in loss of skin elasticity and sagging. This study barely scratches the surface of the microbiome and the role it plays in aging, but is a fabulous step in decoding our skin barrier. Testing your microbiome is a unique and surefire way to understand the state of your microbiome. If you are someone who is concerned about the effect of aging on your skin, taking a closer look into your microbiome might be a place to start.
What does estrogen have to do with the skin?
Estrogen is vital for women's health and plays a series of essential roles in the development of female body characteristics and fertility. This hormone is also crucial for a strong immune system, balanced metabolism, protection of the heart function and blood vessels, sustaining bone density, mental health, fighting various illnesses, and also skin aspect. Estrogen is benefit for the skin as it:
- prevents dermal collagen decrease, which is essential in skin elasticity and firmness
- maintains a healthy level of hyaluronic acid, which is responsible for retaining water, keeping tissues well hydrated and moist, and preventing dryness
- sustains a healthy skin metabolism, it supports adequate blood circulation and tissue oxygenation
- prevents and reduces dermal damage, post-injury inflammation and skin atrophy
- boosts the immune response and promotes tissue repair after injury.
How do these changes happen?
Once the fertile period is over, estrogen is no longer required and the ovaries stop producing this hormone. The main menopausal changes, including those at skin level, are caused by a sharp decline in estrogen level or estrogen withdrawal and secondary impairment of the previously mentioned processes. Although other cells in the body still produce small amounts of estrogen, it is not sufficient to compensate for the secretory function of the ovaries, which are the primary sights of production.
In most women going into age-related menopause, skin alterations appear gradually. On the other hand, women undergoing surgical menopause, when for various reasons, the ovaries need to be removed, may experience more rapid changes. The skin aspect of each woman may also depend on the genetic background, associated skin issues, immune status, and even daily skincare routine.
The sudden drop in estrogenic hormones that occurs with menopause will cause:
- a decrease in hyaluronic acid and collagen, a further appearance of fine wrinkles, especially around the eyes and accentuated permanent expression lines;
- a reduction in the fat deposits under the skin which may emphasize the flaccid aspect, predominantly on cheekbones, jawline and neck;
- various degrees of skin dryness and even pruritus or itchiness in cases of severe or prolonged dehydration;
- atrophy and significant loss of elasticity, also as a consequence of a decreased dermal collagen content;
- significant alterations in dermal cellular renewal and impaired skin metabolic processes;
- frailty and thus a higher predisposition for trauma, lacerations, bruising, and slow-healing processes.
Decreased collagen content:
Estrogen deprivation is not the only reason why collagen synthesis is reduced and degradation is increased. Dermal collagen content is lowered even further due to a sudden rise in a series of small proteins called cytokines. In pre-menopausal women, these small proteins will help reproductive hormones communicate with specific cells. Their concentration is control by estrogens. After menopause, because estrogen can no longer maintain a healthy level of cytokines, these proteins will increase. A high level of cytokines is damaging to the skin as it contributes to elasticity loss, the appearance of fine wrinkles, thickening, inflammation, lowering of skin immunity and higher predisposition for infections.
Vascular changes in the skin:
In menopause, blood vessels of the entire body, including skin, are no longer protected by estrogens. The velocity of blood flow through the capillaries, or small blood vessels of the skin, is significantly diminished and they become dilated. This phenomenon may be aggravated with hot flashes and cause flushing or noticeable redness of face, neck and chest. Hot flashes appear as a result of a lower threshold in the heat-regulating center or body thermostat, which is located in an area at the base of the brain. During hot flashes, the brain misinterprets the body temperature as too high or too low.
How You Can Mitigate dryness and other changes in your skin that occur in Menopause?
As your skin chemistry shifts as you age, you might find yourself having to relearn what products and routines work best for you. We recommend completing a skin cleanse which will allow you to single out which products are serving you and your skin, and which products could be irritating your skin.
Limit the amount of times you are cleansing your skin daily, and be sure to use a gentle non-fomaing cleanser. This will ensure your skin barrier is not being stripped.
Keeping your skincare routine minimal and microbiome friendly will ensure your skin barrier is as healthy as possible. To learn more about our line of microbiome friendly serums + cleansers see here.