How our skin looks and feels at each stage of life is a reflection of many factors - but there’s one in particular that is consistently part of our lives but often goes unnoticed: hormones. Our hormones are just as dynamic as our skin, and have a hand in so many incredible and profound moments in our lives. As we grow, our hormones change, which in turn can positively and negatively impact our skin.
Understanding how our hormones impact our skin at every age helps understand the reasons for sudden breakouts, irritability or wrinkles and helps prepare you for when those changes arrive. In this post, we’ll uncover each of the different phases where hormones play a significant role in our skin health and how to adjust your routines accordingly.
1. Childhood & Puberty
Our hormones begin to rise during our childhood and peak in our pre-teen to teen years. During childhood, the common phrase “baby skin” applies where acne is very uncommon and your skin is undamaged.
During adolescence is when we go through the transitions of physical and psychological developments and you’ll notice the most visible changes in your skin. During puberty, your hormones, especially your sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone increase which causes your sebaceous glands in your face to produce a lot of an oily substance called sebum. This clogs your pores, makes your skin oily and causes your skin to break out.
To make matters worse, a common diet during adolescence includes high fats and along with processed and sugary foods causes inflammation and skin sensitivity to increase. Although you cannot directly control your hormones, diet regulation can help minimize these undesirable impacts on your skin.
Breakouts can be frustrating, and it might confuse you when a bright pimple pops up seemingly out of nowhere. One of the main culprits for breakouts in women are hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle. During your period, your skin is most likely to swell, show redness and breakout. This is due to your body creating excess androgens which produces a lot of pore-clogging sebum. When you have your period, you should make sure to cleanse and gently exfoliate, especially the oily areas of your face such as your T-zone. You may also notice blackheads, whiteheads and cysts during this time. Try to avoid heavy makeup to reduce clogging and maintain great hygiene to prevent infections.
Cutting down on sugar and carbs, no matter how strong your period-time cravings are, will also help, as explained in our Skin & Diet blog. Replacing it with an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant rich diet will keep your skin glowing and healthy.
If your skin shows prolonged acne, or severe sensitivity, please consult a dermatologist and find the right plan for you. Hormone conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) further increase the severity of hormonal fluctuations leading to more sensitive and breakout-prone skin.
Mid-way through your cycle, you might notice an opposite trend in your skin, with dryness and flakiness appearing. Your primary skin focus should then be to hydrate. You can do this by drinking plenty of water and using moisturizers, hydrating serums, like ELSI's Let's Start Over Serum and masks.
A common aggressor to your skin at all ages is stress. Hormones called catecholamines are made by your adrenal glands when you’re physically or emotionally stressed. As explained in “Acne and Stress” by V. Borrel et al, these hormones that include dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine, can interact with bacteria in your gut leading to a cascade of chemical reactions that causes inflammation and breakouts.
During this period, our hormones make our body feel as if it’s under attack, causing our skin to become more sensitive and irritable. Stress also increases adrenaline and cortisol causing the sweat glands in our skin to activate and turn our skin dry. The key to prevent the negative impacts of stress hormones is stress management. Incorporating healthy lifestyle changes to your daily routine (such as yoga, meditation, exercise, or whatever works best for you) can help keep stress levels low and hormones in check.
4. Pre & Post Menopause
Menopause begins one year after your periods end. Even then, your hormones will continue to have an effect on your skin. You may see noticeable changes to your hair and skin. Some changes include your skin feeling dry and thin due to your hormone levels dropping.
When going through menopause, your estrogen levels drop causing your skin elasticity to decrease and your body to stop making as much collagen. This makes your skin thinner and more likely to wrinkle and sag. Your skin also loses its ability to retain a lot of water, which leads to dryness, especially when the air is dry and humidity is low.
To combat these effects, extra moisture is key. Since your oil glands don’t produce as much sebum anymore either, avoid steamy, hot showers and wear thick creams and hydrating serums. Wash your face with a mild alcohol-free cleanser instead of a bar of soap as those can be drying as well.
Though it might feel daunting to realize how much your hormones impact your skin, simply noticing when changes arise and using that mindful attention to make small changes can make all the difference. Creating space for these micro changes to positively impact your lifestyle, will help you realize just how intelligent and responsive our bodies are, and how beautiful of a thing that really is.
“Caring for Your Skin in Menopause.” Caring for Your Skin in Menopause, www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/anti-aging/skin-care-during-menopause.
Shah, M G, and H I Maibach. “Estrogen and Skin. An Overview.” American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2001, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11705091.
“Treatment of Acne.” NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/acne/treatment/.
Borrel, et al. “Acne and Stress: Impact of Catecholamines on Cutibacterium Acnes.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 21 June 2019, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2019.00155/full.
Rzepecki, Alexandra K, et al. “Estrogen-Deficient Skin: The Role of Topical Therapy.” International Journal of Women's Dermatology, Elsevier, 15 Mar. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30997378.