Janet came to see me, as most women do, with a range of uncomfortable symptoms. The one that confused her the most was the way her skin was changing.
She knew that hot flashes, irritability, and weight gain could be a sign of hormonal shifts – and she was approaching the average age of menopause – so those symptoms hadn’t caught her off guard.
But when she suddenly began to experience acne on her face that rivaled her teen years, while at the same time developing rough, itchy patches on her arms and hands, she worried that it may be an indication of a serious problem.
She asked whether she might have an autoimmune disease. I wasn’t surprised that that’s where her thoughts went. The increase in diagnosed autoimmune conditions in recent years is startling, and it seems as though everyone’s talking about autoimmune issues and what to do about them.
There are skin conditions that result from autoimmune diseases, but Janet was surprised to hear that hormonal imbalance may be triggering the issues she was having.
When I treat women, I look at the whole picture, which is why I recommend a lot of testing. But my first course of action is to address the possibility of underlying GI or hormonal imbalances to see if symptoms subside. Natural solutions are always my preference over prescriptions.
Let’s take a look at the connection between hormones and skin conditions, some common skin problems that could be a result of imbalanced hormones, and some natural solutions for balancing hormones and keeping your skin smooth and radiant.
The connection between hormones and skin
Some women are very familiar with skin changes that occur regularly around their monthly cycle, such as an increase in acne (sometimes known as hormonal acne).
Fluctuating hormones are normal throughout the month. Estrogen levels dip to their lowest point just before your period begins, then rise slowly to their peak mid-cycle, dropping again in the second half of your cycle. Progesterone follows an opposite schedule, with low levels in the first half of the cycle, reaching its highest point a week before your period with a rapid drop just before menstruation begins.
Your epidermis and dermis contain both estrogen and progesterone receptors, which means these changes in hormone levels can have a large impact on your skin, including moisture levels, elasticity and texture.
The sebaceous glands underneath the skin produce sebum, a natural oil that is secreted through your pores. When androgens are out of balance, these glands produce too much sebum, which can lead to inflammation of the skin and acne.
Estrogen impacts collagen production, hydration, and texture of the skin. When levels are low, sensitive skin and visible changes like fine lines, dry skin, and wrinkles may result.
Another important hormone, DHEA, has been shown to increase collagen production, helping keep skin healthy. When DHEA levels are low, skin problems can result.
Both thyroid hormones and cortisol can also impact the skin’s appearance. Cortisol boosts production of oils in the glands, which can result in clogged pores and increased acne. The connection between imbalanced thyroid hormones and skin problems is well established, if not entirely understood.
Common Skin Problems Triggered by Imbalanced Hormones
The range of skin conditions that can be prompted by underlying hormonal imbalances is vast. Of course, there are many other conditions that can lead to skin issues, but understanding that hormones may play a role is an important first step. Here are some specific issues that may be a result of imbalanced hormone levels.
Acne is the direct result of excess sebum production which then clogs the pores, leading to formation of a pimple. Testosterone (which is present in both males and females) has been shown to be a significant factor in the development of acne. One study found that 72 percent of 207 women with acne who participated also had excess levels of androgens, including testosterone.
In addition to the role of testosterone, other hormones can impact acne as well. For instance, research has shown that women nearing menopause who have acne outbreaks have normal androgen levels but decreased estrogen.
Psoriasis is a disease in which skin regenerates faster than normal, causing a range of uncomfortable symptoms, most commonly red, itchy, scaly patches on the skin.
The consensus is that it’s an immune response gone wrong, and hormones just might play a role. Flare ups are common during puberty, after pregnancy and during menopause, and many women find that symptoms subside during pregnancy.
Chronic urticaria (commonly known as hives) occurs much more frequently in women. Flare ups are common during hormonal fluctuations resulting from the menstrual cycle. Research has shown that estrogen seems to trigger histamine production by mast cells, which can increase the occurrence of hives.
Are people constantly asking you if you’re tired due to the shadows underneath your eyes? It’s common knowledge that lack of sleep will produce this effect on the sensitive skin around your eyes, as will food sensitivities.
And that lack of sleep can be directly attributed to hormonal imbalance, specifically high levels of cortisol. Chronically high cortisol wreaks havoc on your sleep cycle, leaving you with visible evidence of chronic sleep deprivation.
Skin tags are very small lesions that occur most commonly on the neck or in the armpits. They can also form in other areas, including the eyelids and under female breasts. Research has shown an association between skin tags and insulin resistance. When insulin levels are out of balance a decrease in estrogen can result. Poor elasticity in the skin allows skin layers to overlap one another, resulting in skin tags.
Dry skin is a common issue, and can sometimes be related to hormonal imbalances. When sex hormone levels drop, oil production decreases and skin dries out. Thyroid hormones can also impact sebum production and blood circulation, leading to dry skin.
Balance hormones naturally to avoid skin problems
Ensuring that your hormones are well balanced can help clear up skin problems when nothing else has helped. There are many ways to keep hormones properly balanced and skin looking good without a prescription.
I have a lot of suggestions in my article “Holistic Skin Care – Healthy Skin from the Inside Out” in addition to the tips below.
Finding small changes that can make a big difference is the best first step towards balanced hormones, clear skin, and a healthier life!
Avoid beauty products that are hormone disruptors
The FDA doesn’t regulate additives in cosmetics despite the fact that they’ve been proven to interfere in the metabolism of sex hormones. Counter to the claims that they promote youthful appearance, many of the chemicals the beauty industry uses can cause inflammation, leading to older looking skin and blemishes.
Read the labels on your beauty products and avoid any that contain synthetic chemicals. There are a number of companies that are committed to providing natural alternatives. Check the Environmental Working Group’s database of skin care and beauty products to find options that are safe and natural.
Consume a “hormone-friendly” diet
A healthy, natural diet filled with organic whole foods is the best option when trying to keep your hormones balanced.
Processed foods and sugar-laden products will cause blood sugar spikes and lead to insulin resistance. Protein is crucial for regulating hormonal balance. Healthy fats are important as well. Avoid alcohol as much as possible, and pay attention to potential food sensitivities (gluten, dairy, etc.)
If you’re eating in unhealthy ways, don’t try to change everything all at the same time; that approach is destined to fail. Try adding one extra serving of vegetables to your plate and reduce your carb-heavy sides by half. If you phase out the less healthy choices slowly, you might not even miss them!
Did you know that your sex hormones have an impact on hydration? When estrogen and progesterone are in flux, you might need even more water to keep your body properly hydrated. Dehydration can lead to dry, itchy, dull looking skin and an uneven complexion.
Make quality sleep top priority
Your body needs an adequate amount of sleep to carry out the tasks of removing toxins, repairing tissue, and producing hormones, among other things. Just one sleepless night can disrupt hormonal balance, so make it your goal to sleep well every night.
Be sure your environment is conducive to restful sleep. A cool, dark, electronics free room is best. Having a routine that you follow every night can also help.
If you wake up during the night and don’t fall back asleep easily, don’t reach for electronics. Sip a cup of herbal tea, practice meditation, read a book, or write in a journal until you feel sleepy again.
Boost your nutrients
It would be fantastic if we could get all the essential nutrients we need from the food we eat, but industrial farming and depleted soil has made that nearly impossible. Sometimes, your body may need a little help.
Keep calm and move on
Okay, that’s not exactly how the phrase goes, but finding ways to de-stress and stay physically active will both boost hormonal balance and help keep your skin looking it’s best.
Exercise is just one great way to reduce stress, and keeping stress levels low keeps cortisol low as well. Exercise can also reduce inflammation and help your body naturally detoxify.
Other stress relief practices such as meditation, gratitude, deep breathing or mindfulness can also keep hormones stable. Or just find an activity you love and do it every day.
Find your healthy glow
Healthy skin is a good indication that the rest of your body is healthy too! Skin problems can start small, but become a major issue if you let them go too long. And issues with your skin can be an important clue that something larger is going on inside.
Keeping your hormones balanced can help keep you looking (and feeling) great, inside AND out.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD