How Skin Changes During Perimenopause
Aging is a gift and with it, comes change and opportunity. Yet, even as 1 billion women will experience menopause by 2025, it has long been a taboo topic.
That’s all changing as skincare and wellness products that cater to peri-and menopausal women are on the rise and for good reason: women’s needs are different at this time. More importantly, there’s a lot more education around taking care of ourselves and what to expect during this time of change.
Still, even as education around perimenopause becomes more accessible, many women still don’t know what to expect or what the symptoms are.
Perimenopause is the phase when a woman is pre-menopausal. For some women, this can start in their late 30s, and for others, in their mid-40s. On average, this phase can last from four to eight years, the final point is when menopause starts and periods completely cease. Both are a natural part of aging, but the timing, symptoms, and severity of symptoms all come down to the individual woman.
What happens in the body during perimenopause?
As we age, our ovaries release fewer hormones and this disrupts the balance of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, causing a cascade of whole body symptoms.
The fall in estrogen causes some subtle and some not-so subtle changes in the body as it struggles to rebalance. Falling estrogen affects everything: wellbeing, mood, sleep, digestion, sex drive, energy, memory and, of course, the skin.
Some common symptoms of perimenopause include:
mood changes, changes in sexual desire, trouble concentrating, brain fog, headaches, night sweats, vaginal dryness, trouble sleeping, joint and muscle aches, having to pee more, PMS-like symptoms, and more.
If you are having trouble with any of these, talk to a medical professional.
What happens to the skin during perimenopause?
In addition to the physical transition during perimenopause, the skin also undergoes some major changes.
Estrogen plays a critical role in keeping skin bouncy, youthful and line free. It’s absolutely key for collagen production, elasticity, thickness, and moisture levels. As estrogen levels fall, the skin becomes prone to thinning, sagging, and wrinkles. Estrogen also offers some degree of protection against photoaging.
We lose collagen at a rate of 3% a year after age 30, but this accelerates in menopause. Reduced skin elasticity also becomes a problem as we begin to lose elastin.
Hormonal changes affect the skin barrier. It becomes fragile and easily compromised, making the skin more susceptible to inflammation, irritation, and slower wound healing. For more on how inflammation impacts aging, read this.
The results of perimenopause may not be totally apparent during the first few years of perimenopause, but falling estrogen levels will make the skin thinner and less resilient.
Changes in hormone levels also lead to water imbalances in the body, which can result in water retention, swollen eyes and puffiness. Yet even as we retain more water, our skin has a harder time holding onto it due to a thinning dermis and less resilient skin barrier. This results in dry skin that has a hard time staying hydrated and moisturized.
The skin also gets dryer because our oil glands become less active and we end up producing less of the lipids that keep our skin healthy and glowing (this is where facial oils can really help perimenopausal and menopausal skin). Fewer natural lipids in the skin can also lead to increased sensitivity.
As we age and after the age of around 50, the pH level of our skin gets higher than the level needed for optimal functioning of the skin’s microbiome and defensive cells. When pH levels rise, the skin becomes more sensitive and prone to rashes, irritation, and inflammation because those cells can’t defend the skin as well.
Better skin during perimenopause: less is more
It’s clear that the skincare products and routines that worked in our 30s may need a rethink in perimenopause.
Here’s a secret: you can have healthy, glowing, and youthful skin in your 40s, 50s, and beyond; but, you’re probably going to need to baby your skin a lot more.
High-performance actives all have a place in perimenopausal skincare, but not at the expense of a healthy skin barrier.
A healthy skin barrier is key to retaining moisture and water. It’s crucial that your skin is well hydrated and moisturized, so that it can function properly, regenerate itself, combat inflammation, and stay less susceptible to irritation.
A resilient skin barrier helps keep skin looking youthful and radiant, while preventing a number of the issues seen with perimenopausal skin. Read more about how to maintain a healthy skin barrier here.
Common skin problems in perimenopausal skin
The issue: Sun damage
During perimenopause and menopause the skin will show all of its sun damage. Many of us spent our teenage years sunbathing (I know I did). Unfortunately, we will now see the effects of that damage with the accelerated loss of collagen and elastin. No matter your age, sun damage is the number one cause of aging.
Don’t shun the sun, be smart about it. You can prevent further damage with the correct sun protection. During perimenopause, the skin is less able to repair sun damage, so you’ll need to wear sunscreen every day (even in the winter) and cover up with hats and the right clothes to further protect yourself.
It’s important to note that SPF is not just for lighter-skinned women. Women with darker skin need to be just as diligent with sun protection in order to prevent damage from UV rays as well as hyperpigmentation.
The issue: dryness
Dryness is a sign that your skin’s barrier isn’t functioning optimally. During perimenopause, the skin’s barrier thins and has a harder time holding onto water. Oil glands become less active and the skin becomes less moisturized. You might feel that no matter what you put on your skin, it feels dry.
The first step is to stop stripping your skin of its natural protective oils. Use a mild oil-based or gel cleanser. Oil cleaners can be incredibly useful here, because they remove all the makeup, grime and sunscreen without compromising your barrier. For more on how to repair your skin barrier, read this. For repairing the skin barrier, we recommend the use of our Phytonutrient Recovery Face Oil as a night repair treatment for dry skin and a disrupted barrier.
For gentle oil cleaning that removes makeup, grime, and SPF without disrupting your skin barrier, we recommend our Eight Flowers Enzyme Cleansing Oil.
Humectants are also very important, because they help hold water to the skin. Looks for products that contain game-changing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, aloe, and glycerin.
The issue: dullness
Aging causes skin cells to turn over at a lower rate, this can often make skin look dull and lackluster.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and fruit enzymes from hibiscus, papaya, and pineapple can be really useful here, because they help to slough off dead skin cells to reveal brighter and luminous skin.
For those with sensitive skin who can’t tolerate AHAs, fruit enzymes are a gentle alternative. For more on the benefits of fruit enzymes in skincare, read this.
A gentle, at-home peel a couple times a week, can also help to remove dead skin cells and allow products to penetrate the skin more easily.
The issue: fine lines and wrinkles
Fine lines and wrinkles are caused by a breakdown of collagen and elastin. As these fibers break down, skin loses its strength and elasticity.
The solution here is two-fold: treatment and prevention. Start with prevention, it's always easier to prevent rather than treat! SPF is the first line of defense, because UV light breaks collagen down at a faster rate than normal aging. Antioxidants like vitamin C, E, CoQ10 and many phytonutrients are also important in protecting skin cells and preventing the breakdown of collagen. Use antioxidant serums during the day. For daily anti-oxidant protection, we recommend our award-winning Botanical Vitamin C Serum.
Topical retinoids (vitamin A) are the gold standard ingredient for stimulating collagen.
Once vitamin A gets into the skin, it interacts with an enzyme that creates transretinoic acid, which then binds with about 52-57 different types of DNA, repairing skin and stimulating collagen production. There is no single best retinoid product, so you have to experiment with concentrations and formulas. Retinoids can be drying to the skin, so make sure that skin well hydrated. Use retinoids at night and always use them with SPF during the day.
The issue: sagging
Just as collagen depletes with age, so does elastin, the protein that keeps skin taut.
To prevent sagging, sunscreen and antioxidants are essential. Estrogen protects against photoaging, so preventing sun damage is especially important as estrogen declines.
Treating sagging at home is tough, so look for clinical treatment that can help tighten skin.
The issue: acne
Due to declining estrogen levels, the ratio of female-to-male hormones changes and male hormones (androgens) go up and are one of the main causes of acne.
The regular use of retinoids. The regular use of omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oils, flax and hemp seeds, and an anti-inflammatory diet can also help.
Better perimenopause through lifestyle
We are so fortunate to live in a time of more information around perimenopause. We can identify the symptoms better and adjust our lifestyle and diet so we can feel our best. It’s important to remember that perimenopause affects women differently and what may work for one woman, may not work for another. However, there are common lifestyle and dietary choices that can helps ease symptoms
Regular exercise can’t reduce the symptoms of menopause, but it have a huge impact on how you feel, your quality of life and how you age.
Exercise can improve energy levels, sleep, and mental health. Strength training helps maintain muscle mass and bone density, which lowers the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Muscle mass is really important as we get older, because falling muscle mass decreases the rate at which our bodies use calories, making it harder to keep weight off.
Abdominal weight gain is common among perimenopausal women, it's also a risk factor for cancer, type 2 diabetes, abnormal cholesterol, and heart disease. Exercise can help keep the weight off and can lower your risk for a number of aging-related diseases.
What to eat during perimenopause
Eating a whole foods, anti-inflammatory diet is a cornerstone of a better perimenopause. A Mediterranean diet, which focuses on vegetables, quality fats, fruit, fish, and lean meat is a good place to start.
As women age, they experience larger blood sugar spikes after meals. High blood sugar can contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. Choose your carbohydrates wisely and look for foods that are high in fiber. The more fiber your food has, the less of a blood sugar spike you will experience during meals.
Fiber is an overlooked part of the diet, but it’s so important for gut health. It provides food for your good gut bacteria and it has a number of health benefits. Studies show a high fiber diet can lower the risk of ovarian cancer, reduce the symptoms of depression, and improve cholesterol levels.
Some key vegetables to focus on during perimenopause are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and brussel sprouts. They all contain sulfur compounds which support the body’s metabolic pathways in the liver. These pathways metabolize estrogen and they help to lower inflammation in the body. Liver support is really important during perimenopause, because the liver plays a role in regulating estrogen. Try to eat some of these vegetables every day and aim to eat a wide variety of all vegetables.
During perimenopause, women will see a decline in lean muscle mass and an increase in body fat. A lot of women may struggle with weight gain, so the key is to eat protein with every meal, it will keep you full for longer and will provide your body with the key amino acids for staying healthy.
Protein-rich food such as lean meat, sustainable fish (mackerel, sardines, anchovies), eggs, tofu, tempeh, lentils, and beans are all good sources of protein. Eating enough quality protein with every meal, will help manage appetite, reduce body fat and maintain lean muscle mass.
Healthy fats in the form of omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of a healthy diet and have an important role in supporting the nervous system and brain, promoting heart health, and supporting healthy, glowing skin. Oily fish, hemp seeds, flax seeds, small amounts of nuts and seeds, and avocados are good sources of healthy fats.
Emotional health and perimenopause
The physical changes during perimenopause can make women feel unlike themselves and this can be overwhelming and can shake a woman's confidence.
Taking care of our emotional and mental wellbeing through daily affirmations, self-care rituals, and talking to someone can all help boost confidence. Attitudes and resources around perimenopause in the workplace are slowly changing and can help women get the help they need.
Aging is both deeply personal and very public as everyone seems to have an opinion on how women should age.
There are so many other tools to help women navigate perimenopause and it's important to remember that what works for one, may not work for another.
It's important to stay educated and proactive about recognizing the symptoms of perimenopause, finding good sources for education, and getting the right care from health professionals.