Menopause and Dry Skin: The Hormone Connection
Dealing with dry, itchy skin at menopause? Find out why -- and get simple tips for smoother skin.
Sharon Horesh Bergquist, MD
Every woman in menopause knows about the infamous hot flashes. Most are familiar with the night sweats. But dry skin at menopause, too? How did that happen?
The answer is simple: Hormones, specifically estrogen. It turns out that the same hormone behind so many of your body's changes may be responsible for dry skin problems at menopause, too.
What's Happening: Dry Skin and Menopause
Somewhere between the ages of 40 and 58 most women enter menopause. This is when the ovaries stop releasing eggs, periods come to an end, and the production of estrogen begins to decline.
Estrogen is a powerhouse hormone. It stimulates maturation of a girl's body at puberty. It helps keep a woman's bones strong.
Another thing estrogen does is stimulate the formation of skin-smoothing collagen and oils. That's why, as menopause approaches and estrogen production diminishes, dry, itchy skin becomes very common, says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.
That reduction of estrogen, and the changing ratios of hormones in your body, don't just slow down your body's oil production, they also reduce your body's ability to retain moisture.
While a parched t-zone or flakey elbows may be the first places you notice the changes, "it really is a whole-body phenomenon," says Tanzi, with dry skin appearing just about anywhere, from the oil-gland-dense face, back, and chest, to elbows, legs, genitals -- even nails.
The changes to your skin can start as early as perimenopause, and they're permanent, Tanzi says. Fortunately, easing the itch and combating the dry skin associated with menopause is largely in your hands.
5 Tips for Dry Skin Care During Menopause
To help turn dry, problem skin into smoother, fresher skin, experts offer these quick tips for women in menopause.
Focus on smart fats: Essential fatty acids -- like the omega-3s found in salmon, walnuts, fortified eggs, or algae oils -- help produce your skin's oil barrier, vital in keeping skin hydrated. A diet short of these body-boosting fats can leave skin dry, itchy, and prone to acne. Most of us have a diet low in omega-3s, which are also found in sardines, soy, safflower oil, and flax.
Smooth on that sunscreen: Keep skin healthy with "a broad spectrum sunblock with an SPF of 15 or higher," says Andrea Cambio, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Cape Coral, Fla.
Dry skin, wrinkles, moles, and skin cancers can all result from too much sun, so add a sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection to your line of defense. Aim for about an ounce to cover all sun-exposed skin.
And if you think an overcast day means you don't need sunscreen, think again. Skin-damaging ultraviolet light can penetrate clouds, fog, even snow.
Stop those steamy showers: Piping-hot baths and showers may feel fabulous, but "hot water ... can be very harsh to the skin and dry it out miserably," Cambio tells WebMD. Stop stripping your skin of its natural oils. Take shorter showers and use warm water.