Hot flashes. Forgetfulness. Irritability. Weight gain. Without saying much more than that, you’re probably already thinking menopause. These classic signs and symptoms have come to define this life stage for many women. And that’s why many others are taken by surprise when it also brings on less-talked-about changes, like those involving skin and hair. Dryness, thinning strands, acne: These and other beauty concerns are related to hormonal shifts that happen during menopause and in the time leading up to it (called perimenopause), and falling levels of estrogen are largely to blame.
Transitioning to menopause can be an emotional experience. You’re moving from one stage of your life to another, perhaps even struggling to get comfortable not only with what’s going on on the inside, but the outside too. Be kind to yourself and remember that what you experience is unique to you. Tune into your body and focus on what you need to do to feel well and put your best self forward.
What follows may help you better understand what changes to your appearance can come with menopause and what you can do about them.
Your Complexion During Menopause
While aging will naturally have an effect on the appearance of your skin, menopause can accelerate that process and create new issues you may have never had to deal with before. Here’s how your complexion might change:
- Sagging and Wrinkles The two components of skin that help keep it firm, smooth and plump—collagen and elastin—naturally diminish with age. However, declining estrogen levels can speed up that decline, causing sagging skin and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Suggestion: Try a night cream that contains retinol, a derivative of vitamin A that’s been shown to trigger new collagen production and gradually help smooth out fine lines and wrinkles.
- Dryness Blood capillaries under your skin’s surface work to bring oxygen and nutrients to the top, helping to strengthen the barrier function of the skin. Since estrogen partially controls their growth and maintenance, blood flow to the skin is often reduced during menopause, contributing to a thinning and increased water loss through the dermal layer. The result: chapped, flaky, scaly dry skin.
Suggestion: Avoid long, steamy showers (which can dry out your skin even further) and use a facial moisturizer or oil with hydrating ingredients, such as shea butter, coconut or jojoba oil and hyaluronic acid.
- Acne It may feel unfair, but if you experienced acne during puberty, you’re likely to have a recurrence during perimenopause. This is due to the shift in the balance of estrogen and testosterone; breakouts are common on the chin and neck.
Suggestion: Look for cleansers and spot treatments containing either salicylic acid (which helps unclog pores and keep them clear) or benzoyl peroxide (which helps dry up excess oil).
- Oily Skin Higher levels of testosterone may prompt sebaceous glands in the skin to secrete thicker sebum, causing an oilier appearance and even leading to acne, in some cases.
Suggestion: Try a gentle cleanser, avoid over-washing and consider applying a clay mask to especially oily areas to help spot treat.
- Facial Hair The shift in the balance between androgen and estrogen levels can lead to excessive hair growth (called hirsutism)—particularly on the chin, upper lip and cheeks. You might experience growth of single, thick dark hairs on your chin or notice peach fuzz–like hair on your face.
Suggestion: Tweezing, waxing, threading and other hair removal techniques can help you get rid of unwanted facial hair.
- Sun Damage Estrogen regulates the maintenance of melanocytes in the skin. As menopause progresses, these cells—which manufacture melanin, your natural protection from UVA and UVB rays—degenerate, making skin more prone to sun damage.
Suggestion: Though you may already be applying sunscreen daily, you might want to opt for a higher SPF (50 filters up to 98 percent of the sun’s rays)—particularly between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Your Hair During Menopause
Even if you had long, thick locks as a young woman, this transformative time can change the look and feel of your hair and scalp in a dramatic or subtle manner. Here’s what may happen—and what you can do to minimize symptoms:
- Hair Loss and Thinning As your estrogen and progesterone production declines, you may begin to notice hair loss or thinning—a side effect of menopause that about half of women say they experience to some degree before they turn 50.
Suggestion: Use gentle products and styling techniques (avoiding heated tools or tying hair back tightly, for example) and talk to your stylist about a shorter ‘do that can help disguise thinning.
- Dry Scalp Just like the hormonal shift can cause skin to lose moisture, your scalp and hair may also become dry and brittle.
Suggestion: If you’re dealing with dandruff, consider using a shampoo that contains zinc or selenium. You may also want to try a deep conditioner to soften locks, and limit the amount of heat styling you do, putting dryers and curling and straightening irons aside for days at a time.
An Integrative Perspective
Of course, like everything related to your health, these skin and hair issues can be improved by taking a broader approach and looking beyond beauty products and routines.
If you’re experiencing one or more of these skin or hair issues, you may want to think about having your thyroid checked. Levels of thyroid hormone can decrease in menopausal women, and that drop can contribute to dry skin and hair.
Once this has been ruled out, a few simple lifestyle changes can go a long way toward helping your complexion and hair look their best during menopause:
- Quit smoking. Tobacco use has been shown to reduce estrogen levels in a woman’s body. Plus, the act of smoking—pursing your lips, squinting your eyes—contributes to fine lines and wrinkles. Now’s an especially good time to kick the habit; a change that not only will benefit your looks but your overall health.
- Manage stress. While this is certainly easier said than done, there’s a biological reason to relax more: Stress can lower your body’s levels of estrogen and thyroid hormone, contributing to the hormonal imbalance that causes these skin and hair issues. Whether you carve out time to meditate or commit to taking a daily walk, finding ways to decompress can go a long way toward countering the negative effects of your shifting hormones.
- Eat smart. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and increasing the amount of healthy fats you’re eating, such as foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (think salmon, walnuts and hemp seeds). A healthy diet will help boost your skin’s protective barrier, preventing dehydration.
Of course, if any of the changes you’re experiencing are extreme, or if you’re especially worried that they aren’t normal, schedule an appointment with your doctor.