You’re prepared for hot flashes. You’re prepared for feelings of irritability and struggling to fit into jeans that have suddenly become snugger. But what you forgot to prepare for, and didn’t quite expect, are the changes to your hair and skin. What happened? Menopause is what happened.
Menopause, the change of life that officially begins one year after a woman’s last menstrual cycle, is quite the change for many women. And some of the changes can and do affect the look and feel of your skin and hair. The blame for this change rests squarely on drastic hormonal shifts, involving the female hormones of estrogen and progesterone and the male hormone, testosterone (yes, women do produce some testosterone). This transition into menopause affects many areas of a woman’s body but hair and skin, which everyone notices first about someone, can be hard to deal with.
Estrogen’s effect on hair and skin
The bodily changes women experience during menopause began many years before. Years leading up to menopause called perimenopause was the beginning of changing levels of hormones, like estrogen, produced by the ovaries. When women are producing sufficient estrogen during their childbearing years, their skin retains more water and plumpness thanks to this hormone, giving a more youthful appearance. As levels of estrogen drop leading up to menopause, you will lose the plumpness and water retention in the skin. Your hair may become more dry and thin.
Not all women may have dramatic skin or hair changes, but there are steps you can take now to reduce the effects.
- Dryness, flakiness, and itching
The best way to deal with these skin changes is to have a good homecare routine. Gently cleanse your skin each day, even if dry, to remove makeup and dirt. For sensitivity, it’s best to use non-foaming gentle cleansers. Use a moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid keeping skin supple as it holds in water. To fight off free radicals and signs of aging, use products with antioxidants like vitamin C. Choose skin products free of fragrance, colors, and alcohol and take warm showers or baths, avoiding hot water which can strip natural oils from the skin. After towel drying, immediately moisturize your legs, arms, and neck since damp skin will absorb the ingredients better.
- Age spots
All those years of sunbathing or neglecting to put on sunscreen faithfully will begin to show as sun-damaged skin around menopause, if not earlier. The best way to reduce age spots appearance is to avoid sunbathing and always wear sunscreen outdoors. There are over-the-counter creams that claim to lessen age spots but they have to be applied faithfully every day for months to see much of a change. The better but more costly option is to consider a prescription-strength retinoid from a dermatologist or see a skin esthetician trained in performing in-office facial peels or laser treatments to fade spots helping enhance overall brightness and a more youthful skin tone and texture.
- Unwanted facial hair
Blame it on the shifting in the balance between androgen and estrogen levels for excessive hair growth on the face. These pesky hairs either in the form of noticeable peach fuzz or sometimes thicker, dark hairs, typically appear on the chin, upper lip, and cheeks. Fortunately, there are several hair removal techniques to use including tweezing, waxing, threading, or laser treatments. But the best and pricier option is electrolysis. It likely will take several appointments but this form of permanent hair removal kills the hair follicles preventing them from growing back.
- Sagging skin and wrinkles
There are two components within the skin that keep it looking plump and youthful – collagen and elastin. Aging along with loss of estrogen causes both to diminish, especially after menopause leading to sagging skin and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Ideally, years before menopause, begin using a night cream containing retinol, a derivative of vitamin A. Retinol helps trigger collagen production smoothing fine lines and wrinkles. Also, working with a skin esthetician or a dermatologist recommending various products or procedures to slow the signs of aging, helps.
- Thinning hair
A side effect of menopause affecting up to 50% of women is hair loss and thinning of hair. Normally when women are producing sufficient estrogen, it’s this hormone that promotes hair growth and fullness. Once levels of estrogen drop, women may notice hair looking less full or shedding more. Work with your hairstylist on learning which hair products are gentle on aging hair and styling techniques avoiding using heated tools that can dry out and damage hair. Sometimes wearing hair in a shorter cut helps hide thinning. Prevent sun-damaged hair and dryness by wearing a wide-brim hat when outdoors. If women notice bald spots on the scalp, hair coming out in clumps, or hair loss occurring with itching, burning, or pain, they should see a dermatologist.
- Dry hair
The loss of collagen and falling levels of estrogen can lead to lackluster, limp, dry locks. For some women, their hair may also feel brittle to the touch with high breakage. Work with your hairstylist to find hairstyles that require little need for heat damaging tools. This along with using thickening shampoos and conditioners help improve the appearance of your hair. Diet plays a key role in maintaining healthy hair. Every day eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and avocados, and consume at least 8 glasses of water daily for good hydration.