How do your sex hormones affect your skin?


Felicity Mann
Skin Health Advisor
@AVogelUK
Ask Felicity


23 May 2018

What is a hormonal imbalance?

Throughout your life you will experience multiple hormonal fluctuations, from puberty to periods to menopause – your sex hormones are in a constant state of activity! Now, if your hormones are in balance you shouldn’t experience too many problems during these times, however, thanks to our increasingly hectic lifestyles, imbalances are becoming increasingly common.

A hormonal imbalance can occur when you have too much or too little of a particular hormone, such as oestrogen, progesterone or testosterone. This may sound simple, but you also have to consider that your hormones themselves exist in a delicate balance with other hormones and can have a knock-on effect – too little oestrogen, for example, can sometimes throw your levels of progesterone out of balance, particularly during your menstrual cycle.  

If you want to learn more about this, I suggest you check out our Women’s Health Advisor Emma’s excellent blog on the subject, entitled, ‘Understanding your periods and a hormone imbalance.’ Now, a hormonal imbalance can come with any number of unpleasant symptoms and side-effects but today I’m here to focus on how your hormones affect your skin and therefore how an imbalance can upset your complexion.

Oestrogen

Oestrogen is the main female sex hormone, produced in your ovaries it plays a very big role in your menstrual cycle, with rising oestrogen levels helping to trigger ovulation. However, this hormone also has a lesser known role when it comes to your skin as it can have a huge influence on your production of collagen, a key structural protein, and hyaluronic acid, a compound that helps your skin to retain moisture.1  

Later on in life, during menopause, your oestrogen levels will naturally start to decline, which can lead to irritation and itchiness and, in those who have previously sufferer from a condition such as eczema, you may become more prone to flare-ups!  However, too much oestrogen can also cause problems too, stimulating PMS symptoms such as moods swings and period cramps which can upset your sleep pattern, elevate your stress levels and sometimes interfere with your digestion – all issues that can have a knock-on effect on your skin!

What can you do to support your oestrogen levels? 

There are a variety of natural ways to support your levels of oestrogen. Firstly, if you are menopausal you could consider incorporating more phytoestrogens into your diet. These plant-based compounds are usually found in foods such as kidney beans, wholegrains, sunflower seeds and soy beans that can help to gently balance your oestrogen levels. That’s why our Menopause Support remedy contains extracts of soy isoflavones! 

It’s also important that you pay close attention to your skincare routine during this time too! Make sure you’re using a high-quality moisturiser that’s full of skin-boosting ingredients such as rosehip oil, hyaluronic acid and coconut oil rather than harmful parabens and harsh chemicals. The fewer ingredients the better! That’s why I often recommend going natural when it comes to skincare and cosmetics! 

If your skin is especially sensitive and dry, our Comfrey Cream may be of use here. Comfrey has been prized for its soothing, healing properties for centuries and this cream utilises the plant alongside extracts of Shea butter to help reinvigorate and hydrate dry, ageing skin that’s lost its lustre! 

However, if you’re not menopausal but do suffer from high oestrogen levels around the time of your menstrual cycle, it may still help to look at your diet. Magnesium is an important mineral when it comes to easing menstrual pain as well as improving your mood which, in turn, can help to counteract stress. Try to avoid binging on unhealthy snacks that are full of sugar as this will upset your skin and your digestive system – instead check out our Women’s Health Advisor’s blog about the foods you should and shouldn’t be eating around the time of your period.

Finally, if you feel as though oestrogen dominant symptoms are having a noticeable impact on your day to day life, you could try our Agnus castus remedy which has been specifically formulated for oestrogen dominant PMS symptoms. 

Progesterone

Progesterone is another important sex hormone that often works alongside oestrogen to maintain your menstrual cycle. Similar to oestrogen, it is also produced in your ovaries and you may notice that your levels of this hormone start to decline around the time of menopause. When it comes to your skin, progesterone can help to promote clear skin and work against outbreaks, as well as maintaining healthy thyroid function and blood sugar levels.2  

Just like oestrogen though, too much progesterone also comes with its problems, triggering symptoms such as weepiness, low confidence and fatigue, as well as skin problems such as spots or even acne flare-ups! It’s also worth noting that progesterone based hormonal contraceptives such as the progesterone only pill (POP) are often associated with skin problems.  

What can you do to support your progesterone levels?

If you’re looking to support your progesterone levels naturally, you really need to take a look at your stress levels. Stress can affect progesterone in two ways – it can raise your levels of progesterone or it can drastically lower them. 

How does it have this effect? Well, your adrenal glands, which are often over-stimulated in instances of chronic stress, also produce small amounts of progesterone – the more they are stimulated, the more progesterone is released. However, your adrenal glands also help to produce cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol and progesterone often compete with one another and often progesterone cannot keep up with this stress hormone. Cortisol starts to dominate progesterone and this is when low levels occur. 

Working to ease any sources of stress in your life can go a long way towards achieving a healthy balance, not to mention preventing the generally horrendous effect that stress can have on your skin!  Your diet can also play a valuable role here too – nutrients such as zinc, collagen-boosting vitamin C and B vitamins can support your progesterone levels3, so focusing on more nutrient-rich foods can help. Think fresh fruit, pumpkin seeds, leafy green and wholegrains!

Androgens

Androgens refer to a group of hormones that include testosterone, DHT and DHEA. Although androgens are considered to be male hormones, women also produce them in small amounts, usually in their ovaries, fat cells and adrenal glands. In fact, you need androgens to synthesise oestrogen and they also help to support your bone mass and energy levels!

However, if you suffer from acne, you probably hear the word ‘androgens’ and shudder. This is because high levels of androgens such as testosterone or DHEA can encourage your sebaceous glands to secrete more sebum oil, leading to oilier skin, clogged pores and an inevitable breakout. High levels of androgens have also been linked to a hormonal imbalance known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS which may affect your fertility.

What can you do to support your androgen levels?

Since high levels of androgens are more common than low levels, most of us tend to look at how we can lower our level of androgens and reduce symptoms such as oily skin and acne. In this case diet and lifestyle must once again come to the forefront. 

Research has linked weight gain with excess androgens such as testosterone and one study even found that moderate intensity exercise and weight loss could lower your levels of androgens.4  Exercising regularly should then become a priority, you don’t have to do anything too drastic – 20 minutes of brisk walking can do a world of good when it comes to your fitness.  You could check out our Get Active Advisor’s blog ’10 top tips on staying fit when you’re super busy!’ if you’re worried about squeezing exercise into your busy routine!

Acne, which often arises as a result of excess androgens such as testosterone circulating in your system, is sometimes known as ‘skin diabetes.’ It’s intrinsically linked to a high intake of sugar which can upset your blood sugar levels, even leading to insulin resistance. Unsurprisingly, a diet full of sugar and refined carbs has also been connected with high levels of testosterone, as your insulin can encourage your ovaries to release more testosterone.5 

I’m not saying you should deny yourself the odd treat but keep things in moderation – indulging in a chocolaty dessert when you’re having a meal out is fine but don’t keep munching on banoffee pie every day of the week. Include plenty of foods that are rich in fibre, vitamin C and omega 3 fatty acids to help support your skin and keep your blood sugar levels balanced.

Finally, if you do suspect you have unusually high levels of androgens, please speak to your doctor. Imbalances such as PCOS will require further treatment which your doctor will be able to discuss with you and advise you on the best course of action.

1http://www.dermalinstitute.com/uk/library/76_article_Hormones_and_Your_Skin.html

2https://www.womensinternational.com/portfolio-items/insulin/

3https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/low-progesterone#treatment

4http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/13/7/1099.long

5http://paleoforwomen.com/causes-of-high-testosterone-in-women/

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