For many women, the menopause heralds the start of hot flushes, night sweats, and a host of other debilitating symptoms. It also signifies the end of our child bearing years, and this lack of hormones means that our skin looks older, wrinkles become more defined and we lose our youthful features.
It is at this stage in our lives that the majority of women turn to hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. HRT is usually taken in the form of a pill or a patch worn against the skin. It delivers a dose of the declining oestrogen in our bodies and menopausal symptoms are reduced.
What happens to our skin during the Menopause?
Studies have found that it is this declining level of oestrogen in our bodies that is most responsible for the ageing condition of our skin. Experts have found that our skin tends to deteriorate faster after we start the menopause than at any other time in our lives. This is due to declining levels of oestrogen.
Oestrogen helps to promote the production of collagen in the body. Collagen is an essential part of skin renewal, as it helps to provide skin with its strength and elasticity.
Around 30 per cent of collagen is estimated to be lost in the first five years after the menopause. This loss continues, albeit more slowly, when the menopause is over. Studies on post-menopausal women’s skin has shown the top layer to be much thinner, with deeper wrinkles and larger pores.
Dr Tracy Mountford, a cosmetic and medical director at The Cosmetic Skin Clinic in Buckinghamshire, explains: “When your body stops producing youthful amounts of oestrogen, levels of collagen in your skin fall.
“Skin becomes thinner. It has fewer natural “sponges” called glycos-aminoglycans, made of substances such hyaluronic acid, which hold water in the deeper layers of the skin, making it feel less hydrated.
“Skin becomes more fragile and more vulnerable to sun damage.”
How does HRT help our skin during the Menopause?
However, HRT does appear to help with these anti-ageing symptoms. Studies have also shown that women who take HRT supplements appear to have fewer wrinkles and plumper looking skin than those who do not. And those women who applied a topical HRT cream saw a massive 48 per cent increase in collagen, as opposed to women who took a pill.
Moreover, the International Journal of Dermatology published a study that found using a topical HRT cream actually firmed up skin, and decreased pore size and wrinkles by between 61 and up to 100 per cent.
Dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe, director of the Cranley Dermatology Clinic in London, says: “There is some convincing data that hormones in the form of creams can help, particularly with wrinkling and thickening fragile skin, and with protecting skin from sun damage.”
How are HRT Creams different to HRT tablets?
The oestrogens used in these topical creams are not from a human source, nor are they artificially manufactured. They are plant oestrogens called phytoestrogens, and are extracted from such organic sources as soya, wheatgerm and flaxseed. They naturally mimic human oestrogen and trick the skin into believing it is getting the real thing.
One of the main phytoestrogens used is called genistein, which has been found to stimulate the production of collagen and protect the skin against harmful UV rays. In tests, it increased the density of skin by approximately 12 per cent, which is similar to the effects of oral HRT.
Phytoestrogens can also reduce wrinkles and hydrate dry skin, in the same way as HRT does. One such cream called Pause Hydra, which includes genistein, was found to reduce wrinkles by 15.6 per cent after one month and 96 per cent of testers said they found it effective.
But HRT has been linked to an increased risk of developing breast, womb and ovarian cancer. Is it any more likely that using a topical cream could put women at a greater risk?
Cosmetic doctor Dr Mervyn Patterson doesn’t think we have anything to worry about: “It seems unlikely sufficient hormones could be absorbed through topical application to the face to affect breast cells,” he says.
He did advise that anti-ageing skincare should contain many ingredient however: “But good skincare depends on more than one ingredient,’ he said:
“Look for antioxidants and moisturisers plus daily sun protection to give yourself the best chance of more youthful skin.”
Pause Hydra Crème – £128
Murad Intensive Age-Diffusing Serum £68
Nurture Replenish day cream SPF15 – £12.95
Nivea Vital With Soy Anti-Age Night Cream Mature Skin – £12.99
Clarins Super Restorative Decollete and Neck Concentrate – £49.25