IN THIS ARTICLE
- What is menopause?
- How does menopause change your skin?
- Why does menopausal acne occur?
- How do you take care of menopausal acne?
You know what I mean. That specific time in your adult life when sudden changes in your hormone levels affect literally everything about your body. Hot flashes. Mood swings. Libido loss. Some (not so pretty) changes in skin, hair and body. Yeah, I’m talking about that change.
And in case you’re one of the lucky ones who have no idea what the hell I’m going on about, I’m talking about menopause. As someone who’s been involved with the skincare industry for over two decades, I learned very early in my career that acne is highly influenced by estrogen levels. Sadly, many women do not fully realize this.
So today, I’ll give you a rundown of everything you need to know about menopausal acne and the lifestyle changes that can help address it.
What is menopause?
Basically, menopause is a natural biological process that most women will experience. Think of it as an indicator that your menstrual cycle has officially ended. In a more clinical setting, it’s diagnosed when menstruation has been absent for at least 12 months. For most women, this will occur in their 40s or 50s, with variations.
Menopause is caused by the natural decline of your reproductive hormones. What happens is your ovaries slowly, but surely, start making less of the menstruation-regulating hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and your fertility starts declining. This decline in hormones continues until your ovaries stop releasing eggs and you no longer have periods.
Okay, that might sound like good news to some of us, but the bodily changes and symptoms are anything but.
How does menopause change your skin?
Changes to your skin are very common with menopause. Typically, there are two major skin changes: collagen loss and hydration loss. During the first five years of menopause, your skin may lose about 30% of its collagen. For the following years, collagen will decrease by about 2% every year. And as you know, collagen is the substance in our skin that keeps it supple, smooth and youthful. In addition, your skin barrier function weakens, meaning your skin won’t be able to hold on to hydration and Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL) will increase. Collagen and hydration loss leave your skin dry and flaky with visible fine lines and wrinkles.
As if that’s not enough, bam! Menopausal acne can also occur.
Why does menopausal acne occur?
Did you suffer from acne during your teenage years? And everyone said it would go away when puberty was over?
Yeah, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not the whole truth.
Acne, being a complex issue with multiple causes and factors, such as genetics, diet, improper skincare regimens and environmental aggravators, can largely be caused by hormonal changes. This is why in your teenage years, with all your fluctuating hormones, you may have experienced acne in all its glory.
And yes, the same thing can happen during menopause as well.
As your estrogen and progesterone hormones diminish, their functions also weaken. Simply put, expect to see a change in sweat, sebum and immune functions. These factors combined lead to alterations in your skin regarding its pH level, lipid composition, sebum secretion, acid mantle, microbiome and barrier function.
And as you may know, these are all important factors that play a role in your skin health. A sudden and massive change will directly impact your skin’s appearance.
How do you take care of menopausal acne?
Menopausal acne is one of those issues that require a holistic, inside-out approach.
Unfortunately, dealing with menopausal acne is trickier than you might think. This isn’t like the occasional blemish or pimple that you’re used to dealing with.
Essentially, you have to make a plethora of lifestyle changes in order to effectively deal with menopausal acne. It can be very overwhelming, but that’s what I’m here for! I’ll walk you through specific steps to address this.
1. Dietary change
The relationship between diet and skin is a bit of a controversial topic, believe it or not. Some professionals may deny the correlation, while others fully believe that a link exists.
Personally, drawing from my past as a vegan chef, I believe that what you eat has a direct impact on your body as a whole, including your skin microbiome. And so, it’s not too far-fetched to think that the foods you eat also affect your acne as well.
Here are a few things I recommend:
Stop consuming dairy: You may be unaware of this, but milk can actually affect the hormone receptors in your skin, particularly testosterone and other androgens, which directly influence your acne. Particularly, skim milk has been documented to affect your acne at a consumption rate of three portions a week or more. Also, other dairy-based foods, such as cheese and ice cream, might be linked to the formation of acne. Although complete removal of these foods might be impossible for most of us, I still recommend limiting your intake as much as possible.
Decrease intake of foods with a high Glycemic Index (GI): These are the types of foods that are high in starch and increase your blood sugar level, such as white rice, bread, potatoes, chips and cakes. Particularly, foods with a GI above 60 are associated with increased acne.
Drink more tea: Tea is well-known for its many health benefits. For one, tea (especially matcha) is a rich source of antioxidants, which help your body to combat skin-damaging free radical molecules that contribute to a decline in skin health. It’s also been observed that drinking tea can reduce blood levels of circulating androgens. This, in turn, helps to regulate your hormone levels and keep your acne in check. However, stick to a maximum of two cups per day.
Consume more phytoestrogens: Phytoestrogens are compounds that naturally occur in plants and have both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic effects, helping to regulate your estrogen levels. You can find them in a wide range of plant-based foods, such as fruits, veggies, legumes and some grains.
Cut down on sugar: This may sound painful to you, but someone has to say it: Eating sugar, particularly the processed kind, leads to inflammation, which leads to breakouts. Plus, it directly contributes to a process called glycation, which breaks down your collagen and elastin even further. So try to limit your intake of sweets and desserts as much as possible.
Consider taking supplements: As it becomes harder for your body to absorb nutrients from your diet, you may also want to consider taking supplements. I personally take vitamins B, C, D, and Omega-3s.
Aside from these dietary changes, try to live a holistic, healthy lifestyle. Sleep more. Regulate your stress. Quit smoking. Drink more water. These are all habits that you can start today! When in doubt, I always recommend consulting with a healthcare professional to ensure that everything you’re doing is giving you the results you desire.
2. Skincare routine change
For obvious reasons, your skincare routine should also change with menopause. However, I have to say that your regimen should be an extension of your overall lifestyle change, and you shouldn’t solely rely on it to bring about any dramatic results.
Since we know that menopausal skin is prone to dryness, collagen loss and a weakened skin barrier function, your focus should be on increasing your skin’s hydration, helping your skin to synthesize more collagen and strengthening your skin barrier function. Once you set all of these foundations, you can then start to address breakouts with acne-targeting products.
If you’re looking for more specific guidelines, here’s some advice:
Cleanser: A good cleansing system is the foundation of any skincare routine. I recommend that you start with a gentle cleanser, no matter what your skin type is. The reason is that since your skin is thinner and more prone to dryness, you don’t want to aggravate it further by stripping off all the moisture.
You can use a cream cleanser or gel cleanser that’s formulated to calm down irritation while keeping your moisture intact. For this, I recommend our Aloe Milk Cleanser, formulated with ingredients like aloe vera, black tea, and niacinamide. It’s super gentle on the skin, yet still effective at removing impurities. And if you wear makeup, I recommend adding a second cleanser, such as Face Foam, to form a double cleansing system. This cleanser, formulated with natural BHA, bamboo extract, and azelaic acid, can help to re-texturize your skin and unclog your pores.
Here’s another tip: As you get older (and wiser), your skin cell turnover rate also decreases. This means that it needs some extra help to slough off those dead skin cells. To do this, simply exfoliate your skin once or twice per week. However, the key is to do it gently. I recommend using our Bamboo Charcoal Sponge for the job, as it’s effective at removing dead skin cells and other impurities while being gentle enough for regular use.
Serum: Now, more than ever, your serums need to do a good job at offering healthy-aging benefits (AKA: diminishing the appearance of pores, fine lines and wrinkles). To do so, look for ingredients such as retinoids, that can help to speed up your skin cell turnover rate and aid in the collagen synthesis process. Also, your serums should have the function of increasing the water content in your skin, which keeps it moisturized and healthy.
I recommend using our Fullmoon Serum, formulated with botanical retinol from moth bean extract and vegan hyaluronic acid from senna. These ingredients help your skin to feel hydrated, lifted and revitalized for a more radiant-looking complexion. Another reason why this serum is a great option is that not only is it effective, it’s also gentle and won’t cause your skin to “freak out,” like some traditional retinol products might.
Another skin issue that you could run into during menopause is inflammation. As your skin barrier is weakened, your skin becomes prone to redness and irritation as it can no longer do a good job at protecting you from environmental stressors. For this, use an anti-inflammatory product, such as our Superfood Serum. It’s formulated with turmeric and oat kernel oil to offer intense relief from inflammation and irritation.
For best results, I recommend mixing both of these serums to create our Serum Luxe skin smoothie!
Moisturizer: Your creams or lotions, aside from hydrating your skin and locking in all the moisture, also need to help strengthen your skin barrier function. In a delicate period such as menopause, a strengthened skin barrier function is more important than ever.
Your skin is largely made up of ceramides. And just like with other skin substances like collagen and elastin, ceramides also decrease with age. I recommend using Skin Stuff Face + Eye Cream, which is formulated with ceramide NP to reinforce your skin and make up for its natural loss in ceramides. I also recommend using Berry Rich Face + Eye Cream, which is a probiotic-rich cream that can help nourish your skin microbiome. And as you may know, a happy microbiome equals healthy, radiant skin!
For the best results, I recommend using both of these creams for double the moisture!
Acne treatments: Of course, since this is the core of the problem, you need to use a targeted treatment to solve this issue. The key is to avoid products that can dry your skin, which can exacerbate the problem.
I recommend using spot treatments with clinically-proven ingredients such as salicylic acid, sulfur, or benzoyl peroxide. The thing is, these ingredients do have a tendency to dry out your skin, which isn’t ideal. And so, you may have to search around for options that work well with your skin needs and budget. On the plus side, your moisturizer can help to alleviate the dryness that these products may cause.
Another thing you can look into is pimple patches. Basically, they are small hydrocolloid bandages designed to stick to your acne spots and trap in moisture. They can absorb excess fluids like pus, oil and other impurities, keeping your pimples sterilized and helping them heal faster. Some pimple patches are even infused with acne-fighting ingredients, like salicylic acid, to offer a concentrated attack on the acne itself.
3. Medical intervention
Typically, menopausal acne is temporary and should go away once your body has adapted to the new changes. However, in more severe cases, in which you’ve already tried the two approaches above and haven't seen results, I recommend visiting a dermatologist. Since no two people have the same skin, this is a particularly great option if you do have the means for it. This way, you’ll gain insight from a skin professional as well as a personalized treatment plan.
Some options a dermatologist might recommend are:
Topical treatments: Depending on your skin needs, your dermatologist might present you with different options. However, the most common options are tretinoin, a vitamin A derivative that is known as the king of skincare ingredients. Tretinoin transforms your skin by speeding up your skin cell turnover and increasing your collagen synthesis. Another popular treatment is an antimicrobial gel-like Benzamycin that can combat acne-causing bacteria. Your dermatologist might even suggest a prescription-strength azelaic acid.
Oral medications: In addition to topical treatments, your dermatologist might also recommend oral medications for a more holistic treatment approach.
Hormone therapy: Since menopausal acne is largely caused by hormonal changes, your dermatologist might also recommend Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). This treatment may help your skin to retain its suppleness and elasticity and keep your acne under control. You may also be placed on anti-androgen medications or contraceptive pills to prevent both acne and excess facial hair growth. However, these options are a more extreme approach and the risks may outweigh the rewards. So again, your healthcare provider will work with you to identify the best course of action.
It’s important to note that not all dermatologists and physicians operate the same. Each person may have their own professional opinions and biases. Therefore, you may have to visit different professionals before finding one that works for you and your particular situation.
Final words on menopausal acne
There are no clear answers when it comes to menopausal acne, since each person’s body is unique with their hormonal changes. Therefore, you need to approach this on an individual basis, starting with your diet, lifestyle habits, topical regimen and maybe even medical interventions (if necessary).
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