When it comes to menopause symptoms there are a few that we’ve all heard of: Hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety and decreased sex drive. But they’re not the whole story. Did you know that your skin is also affected by the decreasing levels of oestrogen in the perimenopause and menopause years? Yes, menopause and prickly itchy skin is a thing!
READ MORE What are the 34 symptoms of menopause?
Why does my skin itch during menopause?
Itchy skin is also known as pruritus, and the dropping levels of oestrogen during menopause can exacerbate it. The outer layer of our skin (epidermis) is thinning and drying out – no wonder it’s prone to being itchy.
Itchy skin is usually related to the complexion dryness that many women will also experience during this time. But what causes itchy skin (or even prickly itchy skin) exactly and how can you stop it? And why is itchy skin at night a menopause symptom?
We answer all the questions you are ‘itching’ to find out. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)
Can menopause cause prickly itchy skin?
Can menopause and hormone imbalance cause itchy skin? The simple answer is yes. And it’s all because of fluctuating hormones and decreasing levels of oestrogen, explains Dr Penelope Pratsou, a consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson.
Ostrogen plays an important part in maintaining an effective epidermal barrier, skin thickness, collagen and oil production. During perimenopause and menopause, oestrogen levels fall, leading to a decrease in oil secretion and collagen production, and the skin becomes thinner.
“The skin barrier becomes less effective at retaining moisture and fighting off irritants,” explains Dr Pratsou. “All of these changes can therefore result in dry, sensitive skin that is more prone to itching.”
READ MORE How to help dry skin in menopause.
Alongside itching, many women will experience strange crawling sensations on their skin. The technical term is formication – but many us know it as “irritable leg syndrome”. There might also be a sense of prickling or “pins and needles” like numbness (paresthesia), according to our medical advisor, menopause specialist Dr Stephanie Goodwin.
These sensations can occur on any part of the body, although if you’re noticing it particularly on the face and lower legs this is because those are areas more prone to dryness and therefore subsequently itching.
Is itchy skin at night a menopause symptom?
You may have also noticed that the itching becomes more pronounced when you’re in bed. This, Dr Pratsou says, is completely normal.
“Itching of any cause appears to worsen at night, especially in bed, when our body temperature is higher and blood flow increases through dilatation of the blood vessels,” she explains. On top of that, nocturnal fluctuations in hormones and the release of molecules such as cytokines, that moderate our immune responses, can also play a factor.
“Add to that hot flushes and night sweats,” says Dr Pratsou. “These can accentuate the itching sensation and are a recipe for poor sleep!” You’re telling us.
READ MORE: Expert tips to help dry skin in menopause
Because itchy skin isn’t a well known menopause symptom, one concern many women are having at the moment is that it might instead be linked to Covid-19.
So is itchy skin a symptom of Covid? Dr Pratsou says that while itchiness can occur alongside some rashes that are seen with the virus, “it does not tend to be a sole feature in the condition”.
How can I stop itching during menopause?
Since the skin is most likely to be itchy due to dryness, one of the best ways to alleviate it is by using face and body products that target dryness and are suitable for sensitive skin.
Dr Pratsou also recommends avoiding harsh cleansers and soaps that can exacerbate dryness and irritation. Try swapping in a creamy, oil-based cleanser instead. Both former Vogue editor in chief Alexandra Shulman and facialist Annee de Mamiel recommend the de Mamiel Restorative Cleansing balm which is bursting with oils, butters and adaptogens to nourish and repair the skin barrier.
Three creamy cleansers we love
For eco-friendly creaminess: Caudalie Vinoclean Cleansing Almond Milk, £9. Buy it now.
For sensitive skin: Dr Dennis Gross Hyaluronic Marine Meltaway Cleanser, £16. Buy it now.
For stressed and dehydrated skin: Susanne Kaufmann Soothing Cleansing Milk, £35. Buy it now.
READ MORE My Beauty Story: Susanne Kaufmann
When it comes to creams, rich and nourishing moisturisers can be helpful in soothing and hydrating the skin. One watch out. While we are all tempted by luxurious and lovely smelling products, “it is better to stick to bland, fragrance-free emollients for the body if you have generalised itching,” says Dr Pratsou. Showering in warm rather than hot water so your natural oils do not get stripped away can help as well, adds Dr Goodwin.
Look for ingredients such as ceramides (lipids needed by the skin barrier) in moisturisers to reduce dryness. For example, Triple Lipid Restore from Skinceuticals, a brand favoured by dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams.
Three nourishing moisturisers we love
For sensitive skin: Avene Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream, £7.99. Buy it now.
For deep hydration: Medik8 Advanced Night Restore, £45.60. Buy it now.
For nourishing radiance: Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore, £135. Buy it now.
And maybe reconsider your retinols, for the time being at least. “While retinols and retinoids are often recommended for menopausal skin, they can exacerbate itching and should only be introduced if the itching and any dryness have subsided,” says Dr Pratsou.
Look to HRT, SPF and your diet
Aside from making changes to your skincare routine, what are some other solutions? According to Dr Pratsou, HRT can certainly help.
“It improves oestrogen levels and has been shown to increase epidermal hydration, skin thickness and elasticity, with an increase in collagen production,” she explains. “The skin barrier is more effective, retaining moisture and preventing entry to irritants, all of which can help reduce itching.”
READ MORE HRT, is it safe? Everything you need to know.
SPF, on the other hand, is unlikely to help in preventing itching although it is extremely important to wear during menopause.
“Sun protection is very effective in preventing skin ageing, pigmentation and collagen reduction through harmful UVA and UVB rays,” says Dr Pratsou. The one exception to this is when the itching is due to rosacea. Since rosacea is very much exacerbated by sun exposure, sun protection is of “utmost importance” in preventing flare ups.
READ MORE The best SPFs for skin protection during menopause.
When it comes to diet, meanwhile, Dr Pratsou says there is no evidence to suggest menopausal itching is associated with any particular food types. Having said that, moderating intake of alcohol, spicy foods and caffeine may be useful if itching is associated with hot flushes and/or skin conditions like rosacea.
Dr Goodwin recommends increasing your Omega 3 fatty acid intake to keep skin moisturised. You can do this through consumption of foods including salmon, sardines, eggs, flaxseeds, walnuts and soy. Reducing intake of cigarettes will also help premature drying of your skin, and remember to keep levels of uric acid low by drinking more fluids to stay hydrated and reducing your caffeine levels.