They don’t call menopause “the change” for nothing. This time of life, which begins 12 months after a woman’s last period, triggers changes throughout her body. You may welcome some of these changes — no more PMS! — but others may not be as enjoyable.
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Take, for instance, the way skin and hair may change after menopause. Dermatologist Kiyanna Williams, MD, discusses how your skin and hair might look different after your periods are done — and what you can do about it.
How estrogen affects hair and skin
If you’re seeing changes in your hair and skin post-menopause, you can usually blame rapidly declining levels of the hormone estrogen.
“Estrogen promotes water retention and plumpness in the skin,” Dr. Williams says. “When estrogen drops, you lose some of the molecules that help keep the skin moisturized. Estrogen also contributes to hair growth and fullness. Without it, your hair may become thinner.”
Common menopause skin and hair changes
These are the most common changes people can expect in their skin and hair post-menopause.
Sagging and loss of plumpness
Collagen is a protein that holds the body’s tissues together. And when estrogen drops, your skin’s collagen production decreases, too. Loss of collagen means the skin loses its youthful volume and tightness.
To combat this problem, many people take collagen supplements or eat high-collagen foods like bone broth. But the jury is still out on this strategy. “We don’t have enough controlled studies to prove that consuming collagen will help post-menopausal skin,” Dr. Williams says.
Don’t give up, though. You can help fight collagen loss at home with a simple facial massage. Dr. Williams recommends taking your favorite moisturizer or facial oil and giving yourself a facial rubdown each night. “The massaging motion stimulates your skin’s collagen production,” she says.
Dryness, flakiness and itching
You can usually manage post-menopause skin dryness with a good home care routine. Dr. Williams recommends:
- Cleanse skin gently: Even if your skin is dry, cleanse your skin each day to remove makeup and daily grime. But don’t use a foaming cleanser unless your face is oily. “Use a non-foaming, gentle cleanser designed for sensitive skin,” says Dr. Williams.
- Moisturize daily: After menopause, many women need to up their moisture game. “Moisturizers that contain hyaluronic acid help hold in water, keeping skin supple,” Dr. Williams says. Serums and creams with antioxidants may also help. “Antioxidants like vitamin C fight off free radicals that contribute to aging.”
- Avoid irritating ingredients: You don’t want to make skin troubles worse with ingredients that aggravate your skin. Avoid products with fragrance, colors and alcohol (usually listed as SD alcohol or denatured alcohol). “If it smells or looks pretty, it’s probably not good for sensitive skin,” says Dr. Williams. “Go for bland, colorless products with little to no scent.”
- Take warm, not hot, showers: Keep showers short and not too hot. Hot showers strip your skin of its natural oils, leaving it parched. And moisturize immediately after you towel off. Skin can absorb ingredients better when it’s still damp.
Those pesky dark marks, sometimes called age spots, often appear after menopause and they’re hard to treat at home.
“Dark spots may not always respond to over-the-counter creams,” says Dr. Williams. “There are several prescription creams that can help such as tretinoin which is a prescription-strength retinoid. If that’s not enough, in-office facial peels or laser treatments can fade individual spots and enhance the overall brightness and youthful appearance of the skin. Ask your dermatologist about these options.”
Unwanted facial hair
As hormones shift, you may notice hair on the upper lip or chin. If you want it gone, the tried-and-true methods of tweezing, waxing, hair removal creams and threading will get rid of it — until it grows back.
Electrolysis is a permanent hair removal solution. It destroys the growth cells in hair follicles, so they can’t grow back. Most people need several appointments to get results. If you decide to go this route, choose a licensed electrologist or ask your doctor for a recommendation.
Laser hair removal can get rid of unwanted facial hair — but there’s a caveat. “The laser targets melanin, which gives hair and skin its color,” says Dr. Williams. “Laser treatment only works on dark hair. If your unwanted hair is light, the laser won’t work.”
Post-menopause acne breakouts
Unfortunately, menopause doesn’t mean the end of pimples. Some women get acne throughout their lives while others get more acne when estrogen levels drop after menopause.
If you notice post-menopause breakouts, don’t slam them with the strongest acne product you can find. Many of the acne products on store shelves are too harsh and drying for adults. Try a gentle cleanser that contains salicylic acid. If over-the-counter products aren’t working, see your dermatologist for a prescription solution.
Hair loss and thinning
Estrogen promotes hair growth, density and fullness. During menopause, people may notice their hair is thinning, less full or shedding more.
“Treat your scalp like fertilizer that you want to optimize for hair growth,” says Dr. Williams. “If your scalp is dry, use gentle, moisturizing shampoos and wash it less frequently. If your scalp is oily, however, you may want to shampoo every day. This varies from person to person.”
And older adults are more likely to experience androgenic alopecia, often called male or female-pattern baldness. It can cause overall thinning or bald spots. Over-the-counter products with the ingredient minoxidil can help.
Finally, if you notice any of these signs, see your dermatologist:
- Distinct circle-shaped bald spots on the scalp.
- Hair loss that occurs with itching, burning or pain.
- Pimple-like bumps on the hairline.
- Hair coming out in clumps.
Sun protection is a must
No matter what your skin challenges are, sunscreen is your friend. Slather it on every day, all year round. Sun protection can ward off signs of aging and prevent skin cancer.
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher. Choose one you like so you’ll be more likely to apply it every morning. If you’re going to be outside, reapply every two hours or after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
“The sun’s rays age your skin and increase the risk of skin cancer,” Dr. Williams says. “Even in the winter, UV rays penetrate the clouds.”
Take care of you
We may not like what time and hormone changes do to our skin and hair. But you have the power to maximize your well-being. Eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, don’t smoke and see your doctor regularly. If you make good health a priority, you’ll feel — and look — your best.