Your body goes through a lot of changes during menopause and your skin is not exempt. From dry, sensitive complexions to itching or crawling sensations, there are a whole host of menopause skin disorders that have the potential to crop up as your oestrogen starts to decline.
But what exactly is causing these menopause skin disorders and what can be done to help alleviate them. Does changing your products or diet make a difference? We talked to the experts to find out.
What does menopausal skin look like?
“The hallmark of the menopause is a decline in oestrogen levels,” says Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. Oestrogen has a profound impact on the skin, she explains, which is why we can see a variety of changes around the time of the menopause.
When oestrogen declines, the skin barrier becomes less effective at retaining moisture leading to an increase in dryness and irritability. “There are also studies that show that there is a significant decrease in collagen production during menopause,” dermatologist and dermatological surgeon Dr Dennis Gross says. Since collagen is the protein that keeps our skin plump and smooth, this decline can cause loss of volume as well as thinning and more pronounced lines and wrinkles.
Can menopause cause skin problems?
There are a few different menopause skin disorders that can occur as oestrogen and collagen decline from perimenopause onwards.
“I see a marked increase in skin sensitivity,” says Dr Wedgeworth. “The decline in oestrogen levels impact on the skin barrier, as well as causing a reduction in glycosaminoglycans, the natural water holding molecules of the skin. This can result in flaking, redness and burning of the skin.”
READ MORE How to Help Dry Skin in Menopause
Hormonal changes, either due to menopause itself, or the result of changing HRT regimes, she says, can also mean that women become more prone to blemishes. Yes, adult acne is a thing. When oestrogen decreases, levels of testosterone become high in comparison which can often lead to spots and breakouts.
“Testosterone causes an increase in sebum (oil) production in the skin. This blocks the pores,” explains our medical advisor and menopause expert Dr Stephanie Goodwin. “Plus, with age, skin turnover is less effective resulting in more blockage of the pores, inflammation and infection.”
Is itchy skin part of menopause?
Although not one of the more widely talked about symptoms, menopause and prickly itchy skin is a concern for many women.
As we have learned, when oestrogen levels fall it leads 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 Penelope Pratsou, a consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. “All of these changes can therefore result in dry, sensitive skin that is more prone to itching.”
READ MORE Does Menopause Cause Itchy Skin?
Alongside itching, many women will experience strange crawling sensations on their skin. The technical term is formication – but many of us know it as “irritable leg syndrome”. There might also be a sense of prickling or “pins and needles” like numbness (paresthesia), according to Dr Goodwin.
These sensations can occur on any part of the body, although the face and lower legs are more prone to dryness and therefore can subsequently be more itchy. You also might notice that the itching becomes more pronounced when you’re in bed, this is completely normal Dr Pratsou reassures us.
“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,” says Dr Goodwin. 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.
How can I take care of my skin during menopause?
As we can see there are a variety of skin concerns that can crop up during menopause but what can you do to help alleviate them and protect your skin? Dr Wedgeworth says that skincare should be gentle and supportive, and that sun protection and antioxidant protection are absolutely key. “During this time, the skin is not quite so efficient at protecting against UV and damaging molecules in the environment.”
Meanwhile, to help counter the loss of collagen, active ingredients such as gentle retinoids can help optimise our skin. “Retinol is a great ingredient that increases cell turnover and stimulates collagen production,” says Dr Gross. “It helps fight fine lines and wrinkles, keeps pores clear which prevents breakouts and also diminishes hyperpigmentation.” If retinols are too harsh for your skin, Dr Mary Sommerlad recommends retinaldehydes which are more gentle.
Avoid physical scrubs, alcohol based skincare or harsh AHAs or BHAs that can exacerbate dryness and irritation. Try swapping in a creamy, oil-based cleanser instead and look for rich moisturisers “with ingredients like shea butter and glycerin can help to hydrate skin without clogging pores,” says Dr Wedgeworth. Showering in warm rather than hot water so your natural oils do not get stripped away can help as well, adds Dr Goodwin.
When it comes to diet, there is no evidence to suggest menopausal itching is associated with any particular food types, according to Dr Pratsou. If itchy is associated with hot flushes or skin conditions like rosacea, however, moderating intake of alcohol, spicy foods and caffeine may be useful.
Increasing your Omega 3 fatty acid intake through foods like salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, and walnuts, can help keep skin moisturised, says Dr Goodwin. And remember to keep levels of uric acid low by drinking more fluids to stay hydrated and reducing your caffeine levels.
Diet can also be key in helping to boost postmenopausal collagen. “Look for foods rich in lean protein and vitamin C,” says Dr Sommerlad. “Avoid refined white sugars, smoking and excess sun exposure as all can contribute to the degradation of collagen.”
What is menopause face?
“I tend to avoid terms like this,” says Dr Wedgeworth. “Each of us will experience different skin changes during the menopause periods, so I think it’s hard to generalise.”
Looking for a menopause forum?
Five products to help menopause skin disorders:
Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore, £135
Moisturisers that contain ceramides (lipids needed by the skin barrier) can also help to reduce dryness and alleviate itching. This one from Skinceuticals contains 2% pure ceramides as well as naturally occurring cholesterol and omega fatty acids for natural barrier support in ageing skin.
Shani Darden Skin Care Retinol Reform, £80
Gentle but effective with 2.2% encapsulated retinol, Hollywood dermatologist Shani Darden’s Retinol Reform works to improve skin texture, hyperpigmentation and wrinkles while boosting elasticity and calming inflammation.
Heliocare 360 Oil Free Gel SPF 50, £31
Oil-free sunscreens, like this one from Heliocare, are great if you are suffering from menopausal breakouts. All Heliocare SPFs also contain DNA repair enzymes which work to both repair and prevent damage from the sun.
Equi London Menopause Formula, £55
This supplement from Equi London has been specially created to help women navigate peri-menopause and menopause, including helping keep skin, hair and nails healthy. The blend contains vitamin Cs which, as Dr Sommerlad suggested, can help boost collagen.