It’s well known that estrogen, the key female hormone, keeps the female reproductive system healthy and functioning throughout a woman’s reproductive years. Also, estrogen plays a key role in anti-aging by keeping skin soft, firm and supple by encouraging the production of collagen, the elastic fibers that provide skin with its structural support. At menopause, estrogen levels drop sharply–and women see and feel some drastic skin changes. Fortunately, there now are many scientifically tested ingredients that can both reduce the appearance of wrinkles and restore the skin’s luster and softness to its pre-menopausal, youthful look and feel.
The fountain of youth
Estrogen is a powerhouse within the female body. It brings on puberty, regulates the menstrual cycle, preserves bone density, keeps hair full and healthy, maintains body temperature and helps regulate cholesterol levels. It also helps the skin produce collagen.
Signs of hormonal aging in the skin usually starts around 50. During this period, estrogen production slows down, causing the skin to generate less collagen. With less collagen, skin becomes fragile, thin and rough. The skin’s thickness declines by about one percent per year, and the cell turnover rate falls, leaving more dead skin cells on the surface. Skin also loses its elasticity, leading to more wrinkling and sagging.
Testosterone, a male hormone that’s also produced in small quantities in women’s bodies, helps regulate the production of sebum, the oil that skin naturally produces to coat and protect the skin’s outer layer. Another change occurs with dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an anti-stress hormone. With menopause, the enzymes that convert DHEA also decline. The result of these hormonal shifts is dry, scaly skin.
Many products claim to fight the effects of aging, but some ingredients are more beneficial than others. While most on the market contain one or two anti-aging ingredients, the best and most effective ones contain three or more potent cosmeceuticals that combine for a wide range of benefits, from exfoliation to wrinkle reduction to rehydration. There are several ingredients to look for.
Plant estrogens. Certain plants contain phytochemicals, compounds that behave very much like human estrogen when eaten or applied topically to the skin. The most well-known is soy, which studies have shown can reduce the severity of hot flashes in menopausal women by acting as a fill-in for estrogen.
Vitamin E. This well-known antioxidant vitamin protects the body’s tissues against the harmful effects of free radicals. It also strengthens the immune system and even may help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and prevent coronary artery disease. When applied topically, vitamin E scavenges free radicals to keep them from destroying skin at the cellular level. Vitamin E also guards against the harmful effects of the sun by spiking the levels of skin enzymes that protect against ultraviolet (UV) damage.
Polyphenols. Another type of phytochemical, recently discovered polyphenols, are plant compounds with outstanding antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and skin remodeling capabilities. Among the newest, most effective polyphenol ingredients for hormonally aged skin are: ioprotectyl, emoduline and iris iso.
Heat shock protein stimulators. Also known as stress proteins, heat shock proteins (HSPs) preserve the cells’ viability in times when the skin is facing stress, such as from pollution and UV rays. As women age, there is a decreased ability in the body to respond to these types of stress. Tex-OE, a new, patented ingredient that is derived from the prickly pear cactus plant, stimulates the HSPs into action so that skin is protected against physiologic aggressions.
Matrixyl. This is a synthetic lipo-peptid that a recent Asian study showed could significantly increase the amount of collagen in the skin with regular use. With this boost in collagen, skin appears smoother and firmer.
Alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs). AHAs and BHAs that are derived from fruits, milk and sugars effectively exfoliate the top dead layer of cells to allow new, plump skin to reveal itself. With regular use, AHAs and BHAs increase skin’s moisturization and even reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C encourages the production of collagen to give back to the skin its previous elasticity and healthy glow. In skin care products, the type of vitamin C to look for is vitamin C ester that easily is absorbed into the skin.
Co-enzyme Q10. Working as an antioxidant, co-enzyme Q10 activates the skin’s defense mechanisms, boosting its immunity and protecting against free radicals in the process.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA). Another powerful antioxidant, ALA reduces skin inflammation and increases cell metabolism, improving skin’s ability to heal.
Nature-based moisturizers. To keep skin soft and moist naturally, look for moisturizing ingredients such as sesame, sweet almond, avocado, corn germ and olive oils, or nut-based hydrators such as shea or almond butter.
A healthy lifestyle, new anti-aging ingredients and an understanding of how estrogen levels effect the skin, now make it possible to maintain healthy skin throughout pre- and post-menopause.