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Image of a woman looking down representing hormones and skin

Hormones and skin – what’s the impact?

Written by
Lucy Foster

It’s easy to assign problematic hormones to the teenage years and the menopause but, the truth is, hormones are just as likely to cause issues at any stage of our adult lives. From the ups and downs of a woman’s menstrual cycle to more serious conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), from autoimmune diseases to the fallout of chronic stress, hormones can play havoc with our sleep patterns, moods, and appearance.

Upset skin is often the first sign that something isn’t right; in fact, dermatologists can often detect deeper-lying issues by signs on a patient’s skin, be it acne, hair growth or loss, uneven texture, tone, and even dark circles. So, what hormones are responsible for problem skin and what can we do to treat hormone imbalances ourselves?

What are hormones?

First, we should get familiar with what hormones are: chemical messengers produced by glands in our bodies that control the function of bodily processes such as mood, metabolism, reproduction and growth and development. They work with each other inside the body but can also be affected by environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle as they need regular nutrients, provided by the food we eat, to work efficiently. The human body secretes around 50 different hormones to keep our bodies working well but there are five ones to watch when it comes to common skin issues.

Oestrogen

Oestrogen is effectively the gatekeeper for sebum production so when it’s in balance with androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone), it can keep the skin supple and smooth. If it tails off – as it does just before a period during the menstrual cycle – testosterone gets the upper hand and oil production can go into overdrive, hence those pesky monthly breakouts. But oestrogen levels also decline as women age, meaning that skin is naturally drier and therefore can lose plumpness and be prone to lines. Oestrogen is also guilty of overstimulating the body’s production of melanin, which can lead to dark spots appearing on the skin during pregnancy or while taking birth control.

Oestrogen concerns: acne, oily skin, dry skin, wrinkles, loss of facial volume, hyperpigmentation.

Treatments to combat it: vitamin C, exfoliating acids, retinol, lasers, microneedling, dermal fillers, Botox.

Testosterone

Testosterone is often thought of as being primarily a male hormone, but women produce a small amount of it too that, combined with oestrogen, is vital for bone and muscle mass and the maintenance and repair of female reproductive tissues. However, too much testosterone can lead to excess sebum production, resulting in oily skin and acne, and coarse hair growing over the body – particularly on the face. Doctors can prescribe medications that can counteract excessive testosterone levels but lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet rich in polyunsaturated fats (nuts) and omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed) can help along with regular exercise. Treating the symptoms can also be a positive way to manage spikes in testosterone.

Testosterone concerns: acne, excess body hair.

Treatments to combat it: microneedling, chemical peels, steroid injections, LED, laser hair removal, electrolysis.

Cortisol

Cortisol is your body’s main stress hormone and floods the body when you are presented with a fight or flight situation – and to get the body ready to react, it shuts down certain functions, such as your digestive system, immune system and even your reproductive system. Cortisol levels should then return to normal once your brain perceives the threat has gone. However, in today’s world of 24/7 emails, non-stop social media and 70-hour working weeks, sometimes it’s hard to turn the body’s alarm bell off. This can impact us in many ways: difficulty in conceiving, digestion issues, anxiety and depression and weight gain, to name but a few. It also shows in our skin. Depending on your skin type, too much cortisol can lead to excess sebum production, resulting in acne. It can also exacerbate existing conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. Dark under-eye circles can also be attributed to an excess of cortisol.

Cortisol concerns: acne, dry skin conditions, rosacea, under-eye circles.

Treatments to combat it: laser resurfacing, retinol, microneedling, LED, Profhilo.

Thyroid

The thyroid is a gland that sits deep in your neck and helps regulate your heartbeat, breathing and body temperature, among other functions. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) slows down your metabolism, contributing to weight gain, low mood, irregular heartbeat, sore joints, and dry skin. An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can cause weight loss, anxiety, fatigue, and mood swings. Thyroid conditions can often first show themselves in your skin, hair and nails and it is important to look out for these, as untreated thyroid disease can become very serious.

Doctors will prescribe drugs to balance thyroid oversupply or deficit but the symptoms such as flushed skin and thinning scalp hair (hyperthyroidism) or dry, flaky skin (hypothyroidism) can be treated externally too.

Thyroid concerns: flushed skin, thinning hair, dry, flaky skin.

Treatments to combat it: retinol, LED, Profhilo.

Progesterone

Progesterone is a hormone released by the ovaries and helps maintain women’s menstrual cycles. Like testosterone, it stimulates oil production in your skin so too much can lead to breakouts and, like oestrogen, it can mess with the body’s production of melanin. However, if it’s working well, it can promote clear skin and compress the look of pores. Progesterone supply can be suppressed if there is too much cortisol in the body so managing stress is key to keeping progesterone levels balanced. Diet can help too so foods rich in zinc and vitamin B and collagen-boosting vitamin C are good choices.

Progesterone concerns: oily skin, acne, hyperpigmentation.

Treatments: microneedling, retinol, laser skin resurfacing, chemical peels.

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