One of the leading causes of low estrogen levels in the skin is perimenopause. When a woman’s reproductive function begins to slow down, her estrogen levels drop, including the estrogen (also referred to as oestrogen) in her skin. Researchers first discovered estrogen’s function as a hormone in 1923, but more recent studies have revealed the role estrogen plays throughout the body, including in the skin.
Estrogen and the Human Body
If you’ve ever cuddled a baby girl, you probably recall her cherubic cheeks, her skin’s healthy glow, and the smooth, almost poreless texture of her skin. Each of those attributes is, in part, related to estrogen. This sex hormone helps skin stay plump and moisturized by producing sebum. It gives skin its elasticity, firmness, and thickness, so it resists wrinkling and sagging, and oestrogen also plays an important role in keeping bones healthy and strong.
Researchers have even discovered that the skin contains estrogen receptors (ERs). To date, they are studying how to use selective ER modulators (SERMs) topically to tell the ERs to protect the skin from photoaging, which is caused by repeated exposure to sunlight and ultraviolet (UV) rays.
How to Spot the Symptoms of Estrogen Deficiency
Before perimenopause, a woman’s ovaries produce estrogen to help facilitate reproduction. However, around menopause, her ovaries produce less and less estrogen, so the body’s peripheral tissues, including the adipose tissue or fat cells, take on the task. In addition to the physical side effects related to estrogen deficiency, like inadequate vaginal lubrication, headaches, mood swings, and fatigue, the telltale signs are also apparent in the skin.
- Dry skin – Most women associate sebum with the hormonal breakouts they experienced in their teens and 20s. While a drop in sebum production may mean fewer blemishes later in life, it also means the skin lacks adequate oil for necessary moisture. Dry skin may feel tight and uncomfortable immediately after cleansing. Although moisturizer helps it feel better, the effects may wear off after just a few hours.
- Thinner skin – Collagen production, like estrogen, also drops during perimenopause. Research indicates that as much as “30% of dermal collagen may be lost in the first five years after menopause.” With less collagen, the skin feels noticeably thinner and less elastic. And estrogen deficiency is often the culprit when skin suddenly starts sagging and stops springing back when touched, particularly on the neck and decolletage area.
Studies show that, “The rate of extracellular matrix deterioration in postmenopausal women correlates more convincingly with estrogen deficiency than with chronologic aging.” So if you thought your skin was changing just because you were getting older, you can rest assured that menopause plays a role as well.
- Less skin elasticity results in wrinkles – When estrogen production is in full swing, it keeps wrinkles at bay. But when oestrogen decreases, the elastin fibers that give skin its underlying support grow weaker. Just like a house’s framework helps hold the roof up, estrogen prevents the skin from sinking into itself and wrinkling.
- Poor wound healing – Finally, the body’s ability to heal properly also diminishes with age. Poor healing wounds, once thought to be just a fact of life for the aging body, can actually be the result of decreased estrogen production. Ordinary scratches or small cuts may take weeks to heal instead of days, and deeper injuries put you at higher risk for infections.
The Causes of Estrogen Deficiency Vary
Although perimenopause often makes the symptoms of estrogen deficiency more obvious, certain exercise habits or dietary changes may bring it on as well. For example, as women transition through menopause, they often gain weight as their metabolism slows down. To counter this effect, many women begin rigorous exercise routines or follow restrictive diets to keep their weight in check. Unfortunately, both of those choices impact hormone levels and can deplete the body’s estrogen.
Women who exhibit signs of early menopause prior to turning 40 may also experience estrogen deficiency as part of a condition called Premature Ovarian Insufficiency. This occurs when the ovaries stop producing eggs as well as estrogen.
Estrogen Helps Skin Fight the Signs of Aging
If you thought estrogen was just a simple sex hormone, think again. In addition to contributing to a woman’s reproductive function, estrogen helps maintain the structural integrity of the skin, preventing it from sagging prematurely. It also has an antioxidant effect. Like the foods in a healthy diet that prevent internal damage, estrogen’s antioxidant properties fight off free radicals by neutralizing them before they can harm the skin.
Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce the Effects of Low Estrogen
Even as your estrogen level drops, you can reduce the negative effects it has on your body and your skin. Begin by reducing your stress by implementing yoga, meditation, or some other form of low impact exercise. A light-to-moderate exercise routine that includes walking will help reduce perimenopausal weight gain, so you won’t need to cut essential calories at mealtime. That knocks two things off your “to do” list in one fell swoop.
If your libido or attention span are suffering, consider adding maca root to your morning coffee or smoothie. To date, research studies have been limited and haven’t fully determined if maca root’s effectiveness is a coincidence or a scientific fact, but anecdotal evidence by long-term users suggests that it may be worth pursuing if you’re having trouble concentrating or have lost that lovin’ feeling.
Finally, plan your outdoor activities to minimize sun exposure and always use broad spectrum sunblock 50+ to prevent photoaging. The sun depletes your skin’s moisture levels, which exacerbates the discomfort of estrogen deficient skin.