Because the skin is our “visible” part, it gets more than its share of notice as we age, from others and from ourselves. What many may not realize is that, on top of changes that are directly due to aging, hormonal changes cause additional problems. The skin ageing process increases rapidly after age 50, especially in women.
As if the effects of intrinsic aging, photo-aging, and environmental aging weren’t enough, onset of menopause accelerates changes through reductions in the production of estrogen.
Estrogen is very involved in the normal function of the skin, It influences several skin functions including elasticity, water holding capacity, pigmentation and vascularity It also has direct effects on key cells such as fibroblasts (produces collagen and elastin), keratinocytes (closely involved in skin protection) and melanocytes (involved in evenness of skin color, etc.). It helps regulate hair follicle function (hair production) as well as sebaceous gland activity (producing skin oils). It influences skin thickness,
Cells in the skin have specific receptors that respond to the signals estrogen provides. When estrogen begins to disappear, these messages become less powerful.
- Increased loss of collagen –the support structure in the skin
- Decrease in the glycosaminoglycans (GAG’s) that provide ‘plumpness’ to skin
- Decrease in dermal thickness
- Decrease in skin elasticity
- Dry skin
- Fine wrinkling
- Poor healing, increased susceptibility to trauma
- Increase in unwanted facial hair
- Decrease in scalp hair
- Decrease in skin strength
What If the Estrogen is Replaced?
If you suspect that replacing the body’s lost estrogen would limit these effects, you are correct. Multiple studies confirm that hormone therapy (HT) can reverse these effects to a large degree. For example, Korean women using HT were shown to have a significantly lower risk for the development of facial wrinkling.
However, the issue of HT is a complex one and dermatologists do not recommend their use ONLY to treat just the skin. They are cautiously optimistic that research currently being done on selective estrogen receptor modulators may provide a solution by targeting effects on the skin, but this research is still ongoing. Topical application of estrogen-containing cream (estradiol) has been shown to significantly increase the amount of collagen in the treated skin.
Effects of Topical Application of Estrogen (Estradiol) Gel on Skin Collagen
A study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology looked at the effects of topical estrogen gel on sixteen postmenopausal women who had never received hormone replacement. Skin biopsies of the abdomen and thigh at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months demonstrated significant increase in collagen content but found response also related to the original amount present. A leveling off effect suggests that the effect was present until and “optimum” skin collagen level had been reached.
What about Other Topical Therapies?
A study in Climacteric in 2007 found that preliminary data on the topical use of phytoestrogens and selective estrogen receptor modulators showed efficacy in benefiting aging skin in postmenopausal women but that additional study was necessary before conclusive recommendations could be made.
Phystoestrogens are plant derived compounds that mimic estrogen effects and are common in oil seeds, nuts, soy, flax and other botanical sources. One class of phytoestrogens are the isoflavones which are derived from soy beans. Soy isoflavones have demonstrated efficacy in replacing estrogenic effect in skin when applied topically with beneficial effect on stimulation of fibroblast proliferation, reduction of collagen breakdown, and inhibition of 5α-reductase. The prevalent isoflavone in soy is the glycoside genistin. Its aglycone (the molecular form without sugar residues), genistein, is a well-known inhibitor of protein tyrosine kinase, critical enzymes involved in the molecular mechanisms that link UV exposure to photoaging. Soy derived isoflavones are helpful organic and natural topical “replacements” for declining estrogen levels.
Concerns about Skin Cancer Risks with Hormone Replacement Therapy
A large placebo controlled study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at the incidence of non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer in postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 who received either oral estrogen only, estrogen plus progesterone or placebo. No difference was noted over a period of up to 7 years indicating the incidence of skin cancers is not affected by oral hormone replacement therapy.
Beating the clock of aging is a life-long battle that pays dividends in the short, medium, and long term. Looking and feeling one’s best starts with healthy lifestyles based on nutrition, physical activity and the steps one takes to minimize risks and damage. The payoff is improved quality of life over the long haul.
A great deal of looking and feeling “old” is thinking old. As we age, we all change. We have to but “beauty” can last a lifetime with a little effort. There’s nothing wrong with aging beautifully and trying to be your best along the journey.Consider the alternative.