• Anna Solana, science journalist

    Menopause: maturity is skin deep

    11 Feb Menopause: maturity is skin deep




    The menopause receives bad press. Many women associate it with a loss of attractiveness, because it marks the end of a life stage and is the source of discomfort and changes. Less well known, perhaps, are how it causes changes in the skin that do not affect all women equally, but largely depend on skin type and lifestyle. But – is there a solution?


    Menopause marks the end of the reproductive stage and involves significant changes for women. But there are ways to cope. According to the Spanish Association for Menopause Studies (AEEM), menopause occurs at 51.4 years on average, once the body stops producing oestrogen and progesterone; it ends ovarian functioning and, therefore, the menstrual period. Hormonal changes are to blame for hot flushes, insomnia, mood swings and vaginal atrophy, and also ageing of the skin, in other words, dryness, wrinkles and sagging.


    Collagen loss

    Oestrogen plays a pivotal role in skin thickness, elasticity, pigmentation and hydration. In fact, reduced oestrogen levels lead to a significant loss of collagen, a protein consisting of chains of amino acids that make tissues strong and flexible. Up to 30% of collagen can be lost in the first five years of menopause and 2% per year in post-menopausal women.


    Hormone therapy

    Some doctors point to the benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to relieve these skin problems. However, it should be borne in mind that use of HRT remains controversial.


    In the 1970s HRT was associated with the risk of endometrial cancer, but according to the Spanish Ministry of Health, current treatment regimes reduce this risk. Even so, HRT is still associated with breast cancer and, in this case, doubts remain regarding incidence. For these reasons you should consult your doctor about whether or not to use HRT. In fact, skin ageing is not a sufficient reason in itself to prescribe this treatment.


    Natural alternatives

    In the USA, some studies indicate that oestrogen applied topically in the form of patches or creams reduces the risk associated with oral drugs. But, again the evidence is insufficient. In the market, natural alternatives are available, for instance, phytooestrogens, which are plant compounds with less oestrogenic activity and, consequently, fewer side effects.


    There are some 30 phytooestrogens available, but the best known ones are the isoflavones, which are to be found, for instance, in soy. Many anti-ageing creams indicate that soy is included in their formula; however, no studies confirm that using such ingredients mitigates the changes that occur in the skin during menopause.


    The same goes for food supplements with cocktails of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are claimed to promote tissue terseness. The reality is that no cosmetic can replace hormones. So it makes sense to maintain a lifestyle that benefits the skin, in other words:


    • Eat a healthy diet
    • Do not smoke
    • Use sunscreen
    • Do exercise
    • Shower with warm water
    • Use gentle, neutral gels
    • Moisturize the skin often


    Beyond creams

    Those simple tips should be enough to keep mature skin healthy and attractive. However, most menopausal women use creams and other cosmetic treatments to slow the passage of time. According to a survey conducted by the health multinational Allergan in 2011 in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, 76% of Europeans over 50 use anti-ageing creams.


    In addition, one in five has used or is considering using injectable treatments to improve the appearance of their skin, whether hyaluronic acid or collagen injections to alleviate dehydration and sagging or botulinum toxin (botox) to remove wrinkles.


    Needless to say, none of these solutions is permanent. In fact, botox only lets you forget wrinkles and expression lines for approximately three to six months. After this time, you either have to consider renewing the treatment or simply accept the passage of time.