Over the last decade we’ve discovered that your skin may play an unexpected, and quite profound, role in health and immunity.
Your skin is no longer looked upon as simply the barrier that protects your internal organs, bones and muscles from the outside world. It’s now believed to be a kind of go-between, mediating the relationship your inner body has with its outer environment – and your hormones are at the centre of it all.
How old is your skin?
When ageing, skin loses its tone and looks thinner because of lowered water levels in the tissues. The skin of older (or fast ageing) people becomes papery thin and loses its firm texture.
There is published medical research that proves that the skin cannot function without hormones. Your skin reflects your metabolism. In fact, so much hormonal activity occurs in skin that it can be described as another, and the largest, endocrine gland.
Your skin has its own immune system, and specialised enzymes that no other part of the body has. In fact, it has been proposed that faulty skin immunity can affect the body’s entire immune system. Sunlight can penetrate deep into skin and alter immunity directly as well as affecting hormones. Sunlight decreases melatonin, norepinephrine and acetylcholine, it also increases cortisol, serotonin, GABA and dopamine. The anti-stress hormone DHEA and the sleep hormone Melatonin, are also both found in our skin.
Oestrogen and the skin
It seems that oestrogen may increase the activity of skin fibroblasts – the cells that produce collagen. Collagen is the connective tissue that adds ‘plumpness’ to skin, giving it structure and tone. It helps keep moisture in the skin by insuring the production of hyaluronic acid, a substance that keeps water in your tissues. The skin collagen content of women who take oestrogen replacement has been shown to be considerably higher than that of women who do not.
Scientific studies have shown that oestrogen replacement can:
- Decrease wrinkle depth and pore size from 61 to 100%.
- Markedly improve skin hydration Increase skin thickness from 7 to 15%.
- Increase skin lipid sebum production by 35%
Oestrogen also plays a role in the way that fat is distributed under the skin. Loss of this layer of fat can make skin look older than it should, by contributing to sagging and loss of fullness.
The skin-enhancing effects of oestrogen are well known. It stimulates collagen production and a moisture factor known as hyaluronic acid. Ageing decreases oestrogens and collagen, as well as enzymes that convert DHEA to oestrogens.
From our mid-twenties, the rate of cell renewal in the body slows down, moisture levels drop and collagen production is reduced, causing loss of elasticity.
Around the age of 40, we enter the zone of ‘skin maintenance’. As a woman’s hormones begin to fluctuate during perimenopause, skin changes are often what she notices first. Wrinkles, dryness and loss of lustre and elasticity can all result from declining sex steroid hormone levels.
During both perimenopause and menopause when a woman’s hormones are shifting and declining, an imbalance in testosterone can often be the cause of skin changes. For example, perimenopause is a time when many women experience a resurgence of acne. However, thin, dry skin can also be result of an imbalance in testosterone. Too little testosterone can mean not enough sebum which helps moisturise the outer layer of skin.
How hormones can affect your skin
- Drooping eyelids – Lack of androgens
- Hollow cheeks, lack of fat – Low cortisol
- Thighs too soft, fat above knees – Low oestrogen
- Thin skin, transparent – Low oestrogen
- Falling breasts – Low oestrogen
- Crumpled upper lip – Low oestrogen and androgen
So what can you do?
Anyone worried about their hormonal health, or with symptoms such as those described in this article, should consider having a hormone consultation.
A blood test and simple assessment of results can be done by a GP, but for an in-depth assessment that includes how your hormones may be affecting your appearance, you need a consultation with a specialist such as myself. I offer a bespoke service that will include nutritional, exercise and lifestyle advice, as well as prescriptions for bio-identical hormones if necessary.
I look forward to hearing from you.