Aging into later life is a complicated business for anyone. For women, menopause can be particularly difficult. The biochemical changes are numerous, and profound, and sometimes they can be worrying.
One of the areas of change is in the skin. Many women are quite sensitive to this.
What are those changes? And is there anything to be done about them?
For women approaching or passing through menopause, here is a list, along with some tips that can help.
One of the classic signs of aging skin is ‘sun spots’, harmless little proliferations of melanocytes in response to UV light exposure. Sometimes they’re called ‘liver spots’, though they have nothing to do with your liver. Formally, they’re spoken of as solar lentigos, or sometimes lentigines. If you’ve spent a lot of time outside, you may well see these appear on your face, hands, neck, arms, or chest.
If you start using sunscreen, with SPF 30 or higher, they may fade; new ones will be less likely to form.
A word about these sun spots, however. They can be hard to distinguish from sun-induced skin cancers. And as you age, your likelihood of developing a skin cancer does increase. It’s a good idea to have a dermatologist look you over, just to see if there is any trouble brewing, and to be in a position to spot menacing changes, should they occur.
When estrogen levels drop, women’s skin thins. That makes it bruise easily.
There are ways of slowing this natural thinning. For some people, a topical retinoid cream helps. Your dermatologist can advise you on this. And generally, believe it or not, sunscreen seems to be beneficial. Best practice is to use it every day, even in winter.
Older women’s skin loses some of its ability to retain moisture. It can be uncomfortable in dry climates.
The best counsel for this is to moisturize a lot. Moisturizers that contain glycerine seem to work best, or ones with hyaluronic acid. Consider changing from soap to milder, less drying, cleansers, as well. It might be time to give up deodorant bars, too. Some of them can really irritate.
Resist the urge to exfoliate, or go in for dermabrasion. Or at least talk with your dermatologist first. Your skin is thinning, and this might actually cause more trouble than it cures.
Some women get little whiskers along the chin, or above the upper lip.
The usual hair-removal techniques, such as waxing, may be hard on older skin. There are ways your dermatologist can help. Laser hair-removal is one. Carefully chosen hair-removal creams are another.
Do go to a dermatologist for these, though, particularly if lasers are involved. Laser treatment looks simple, but it’s actually not. The more the practitioner knows about medicine, the better the results are likely to be.
Receding hairline is another classic of normal aging.
It’s a good idea to get to this early, if it’s happening. If it is because of menopause, your dermatologist is likely to recommend a drug called minoxidil, and possibly laser treatment. Hair transplants are also an option, if hair loss has been great.
Slack skin is about collagen loss. Women lose about 30% in the first five years of menopause. The decline after that is slower, but it continues.
You can slow it down with careful sun protection. You might also ask your dermatologist about topical treatments that contain retinol or ‘peptides’. There is good evidence lately that these can increase the collagen levels in your skin.
Falling estrogen is associated with acne.
If you start seeing pimples, don’t treat them the way you did as a kid. That’s too harsh for your skin these days. Just wash gently. Dermatologists recommend a cleanser that contains salicylic acid. Be patient with it. If your acne doesn’t clear, your dermatologist may need to have a look.
Your skin irritates more easily after about 50. That’s generally because of a natural change in pH. Existing conditions like eczema or rosacea can flare easily.
You may need a dermatologist to help manage this. Switch to non-soap cleansers in the meantime, and moisturizers that are fragrance-free. The strategy, as always, is to be very gentle.
Know also that as your natural hormone levels drop, any injuries you get will take longer to heal. You’ll also have a slightly elevated risk of infection at the injury site. It’s not a very dramatic difference, but you may notice it.
Menopause – the big picture
None of these features of menopausal skin is necessarily dramatic. Nor do all of them happen to everyone in the same way. The way you age is unique to you. Just be aware of the changes that can happen. Know that they’re all quite natural. And tell your dermatologist if you need a little help along the way.
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