Our skin is very much ruled by our hormones. There are those time-of-the-month breakouts, and then there's the pigmentation (known as melasma) that can rear its head when you're pregnant. The thing is our hormone levels change as we age, rising when we're children, peaking in our late teens (the horror) and declining in our 30s. "One of the most obvious indicators of these hormonal changes is our skin, which is the first thing we see when we look in the mirror," says Dr. Daniel Glass from The Dermatology Clinic London on Harley Street. "It can be difficult to combat a hormone-induced skin problem, but it is certainly not impossible," he adds.
So before you start to panic, Dr. Glass discusses below some of the changes you may experience at key points in your life and how to manage them effectively.
The Hormone Situation: Adolescence is defined by the transitional stage of physical maturation and psychosocial development, generally occurring from puberty to adulthood. Prior to your teenage years, acne is uncommon. However, during puberty, your hormones surge with rises in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which in turn can cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum (grease), which can lead to acne. Acne will affect almost every teenager to some extent, however, the level of acne varies enormously, but so too does the way in which people cope with it.
The Solution: Research shows that the risk of developing acne increases in those adolescents with a higher BMI. Linked closely to high fat and sugary foods, the stereotypical teenage diet of sugary drinks and junk food can create a surge in cell signaling, which stimulates grease production in the skin, as well as inflammation, ultimately leading to acne. Ensuring you consume a healthy, balanced diet is essential in keeping your body in top shape from the inside out.
There is also some evidence pointing towards lifestyle factors such as stress aggravating the condition. To try to alleviate stress-related acne, ensure regular daily exercise, a healthy diet, and some downtime.
It is still very important to keep moisturizing, but make sure you opt for a non-comedogenic moisturizer as this will not cause you to get more spots.
There are many over-the-counter acne treatments, such as creams containing benzoyl peroxide, which, when used sparingly, can provide relief for some. If you are still struggling to manage your acne, make sure you consult a dermatologist who can develop a bespoke treatment plan for you.
The Hormone Situation: Many pregnant women notice an increase in their skin pigmentation, which is more marked in women with darker skin types. This darkening of the skin is often one of the first signs of pregnancy and is related to increased levels of estrogen, progesterone and other hormones that stimulate pigment cells. Women suffering from this condition will notice that areas that are already pigmented such as the nipples and abdomen will become darker during their pregnancy, but this will generally settle down after delivery.
Up to 70% of women will suffer from dark areas of skin on their face during pregnancy because of melasma, especially those with dark complexions. These dark spots will commonly appear on your forehead and cheeks, due to increased hormone-related pigmentation.
There are also some epidemiological studies that suggest acne is brought on by pregnancy and some that show the reverse. It's not uncommon that I see patients who say their acne is worse during and following pregnancy.
The Solution: To minimize symptoms, try to avoid the sun as it can cause the patches to darken further, and ensure you wear a high-protection sun cream if exposed to sunlight. These areas often fade once your hormone levels have returned to normal after pregnancy but occasionally persist and need treatment.
If spots are your issue, the treatment would be similar to that for acne generally, with certain restrictions if breastfeeding.
The Hormone Situation: Menopause is defined as the day a woman has been diagnosed as not having a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. There are a number of structural and functional changes that occur in the skin as our hormone levels decline with age, especially during menopause. These include dryness, due to decreased oil production (sebum synthesis), and lower water content in the skin. This dryness can lead to itching and even eczema. Our skin will also begin to lose its firmness as we age, as the levels of fibroblasts and collagen decrease. This can also lead to a loss of skin thickness, resulting in wrinkles and easy bruising. Lastly, as your skin ages, there are changes in the immune function, which can lead to delayed wound healing and an increased risk of skin cancer.
The Solution: As your skin changes with age, it's important to realize that it is doing so and start to compensate for the loss of moisture and dryness with daily use of a moisturizer, especially in the winter [Ed note: Look for ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid]. Be more vigilant for skin infections including fungal infections like athlete’s foot. If you are taking HRT then a useful side effect is that it will also improve the quality of your skin.
For further advice on skin aging, contact The Dermatology Clinic London.
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