For all your hormones do for you, they’re still shrouded in mystery — you can’t see them. Hormones are chemical messengers secreted by glands that direct the function of various processes in your body, such as growth and development, metabolism, sexual function and reproduction, and mood. Several hormones of note: thyroid, insulin, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
Hormones Affect Skin Health
Your hormones don’t just control how you feel — they can impact the health of your skin, too. Hormones play a key role in skin health. We know this because certain hormonal disorders manifest themselves in the skin and hair.
Hormone levels largely go unnoticed unless there’s something off. For instance, having low levels of thyroid hormones, called hypothyroidism, can contribute to weight gain, low mood, constipation, and even dry skin. Excess androgen — considered typical male hormones, which females also have — can stimulate sebaceous glands in the skin to pump out oil, one factor that contributes to the development of acne.
Another big hormonal player in skin health is estrogen. Even before menopause, as we age, estrogen levels can start to decline. Estrogen helps to stimulate the right amount of oil production to keep it supple, smooth, and plump. But as estrogen decreases, the skin is drier and itchier.
In fact, regular visits to a dermatologist can be critical for your hormonal health. One of the most amazing things about dermatology is that the skin can serve as a window into the health of the body. Many endocrine and other internal disorders are diagnosed by dermatologists. A dermatologist can suspect whether a certain hormonal system is off-balance, and then lab tests can confirm whether this is the case.
Should you try to ‘reset your hormones’ for better skin health?
With a quick Google search, you’ll find many so-called health experts promising that a “hormone reset” (via things like diet changes or supplements) will improve your skin health. But most often these aren’t healthcare professionals, and their claims are largely unfounded.
Still, don’t feel bad if you were taken by the promise of better health, including for your skin. What is true is that if you’re experiencing symptoms such as a specific skin problem, a doctor may consider a hormonal condition. For instance, if a woman has irregular periods, acne along her jawline, and excess hair on her lip and chin, a doctor may evaluate you for polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.
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Excess levels of “male hormones” called androgens, as well as high insulin (another hormone) may play a role in the cause of PCOS. In this case, treatment via weight reduction or prescription medication, like birth control pills or spironolactone, may help regulate hormones.
Hormones and Skin Condition Throughout the Years
A doctor may grow suspicious that other hormonal factors are at play if your skin is not responding to tried-and-true treatments. Acne largely caused by a hormonal imbalance would not likely improve significantly with a topical antibacterial wash. If your skin is not responding to treatment, a doctor may request lab testing.
Puberty Can Trigger Hormonal Acne
Puberty was probably the first time you noticed how fluctuating hormones affect your skin. During puberty — when a woman’s ovaries “turn on” — there’s a rise in estrogen as well as testosterone (it’s not a male-exclusive hormone).
Receptors in the skin are sensitive to testosterone, pumping out sebum as a result, which can lead to acne. Since men make more testosterone, they tend to get worse acne. For women, hormonal birth control pills are an option, as they “put the ovaries asleep” and as a result, shut down testosterone production.
Pregnancy Hormonal Changes – Linked With Melasma
During pregnancy, skin changes vary widely among women. One notable skin change is melasma, a condition characterized by dark discolorations on your face. Pregnancy is a state of high estrogen, making skin more sensitive to the sun.
HRT for Women and Their Younger Skin
And let’s not forget about perimenopause and menopause. Due to the loss of estrogen, menopause is associated with dryness everywhere, including the vagina and skin. The skin may also feel itchy and uncomfortable at this time.
If you’re experiencing perimenopause, you may be considering hormone therapy (HT), also called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This is a medication that contains female hormones, either estrogen alone or estrogen, and progestin together, to replace the ones the body is no longer making.
Some people take bioidentical hormones (BHT), which have the same chemical and molecular structure as the hormones the body makes. Sometimes this is compounded BHT, which is a mix of hormones that is custom-made at a pharmacy.
Along with reduced skin hydration, a lack of estrogen is also involved in breaking down collagen and elastin, the proteins that give skin its structure. The combination of dryness and loss of collagen leads to more prominent wrinkles.
Past research has suggested that women on HT and BHT have younger-looking skin with fewer wrinkles and sagging.
HT delivery methods include systemic therapy like pills, patches, gels, creams, or sprays. Local vaginal estrogen therapies will only address vaginal symptoms and won’t impact your general skin health.
If you’re battling skin dryness, it’s also likely you’ll have vaginal dryness too, and possibly other symptoms, like hot flashes. Systemic estrogen therapy will provide a double benefit for skin and other menopause symptoms.
Diet and Lifestyle Habits to Optimize Your Skin Health
You can improve your skin health by getting plenty of sleep, having a balanced diet, exercising regularly, reducing alcohol consumption, and avoiding smoking. This is good, clean living. Skip severe diets and prolonged cleanses, as these can lead to a hormonal imbalance if they put too much stress on your body.
Speaking of stress, managing it is one way to boost the health of your hormonal system and potentially improve your skin health. By a lesser-known mechanism, stress can affect cortisol levels, which can lead to flares of acne, psoriasis, eczema, and other autoimmune conditions with stress.
If a doctor has assessed you for a hormonal condition, and your blood work or medical evaluation checks out, ask yourself: Is the underlying issue stress? In that case, lifestyle measures to manage that stress (reading, walking outside, spending time with friends laughing up a storm) can indirectly help calm and clear your skin.
Hormones affect every function our body has, which includes the development or worsening of skin diseases, and they’re important in keeping skin in balance.
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