Are you “hormonal” or is your body just trying to tell you something?
Hormones affect your skin and health as you age more than you may realize.
Hormones are biochemical messengers that influence your metabolism, mental focus, memory, cognition, aging, sleep, and even sex drive. They also play a role in cardiovascular health, bone growth, and blood sugar regulation.
Think of your body as a symphony and your hormones as the instruments. Those instruments must play together in sync. When even one is off balance, you begin developing problems, including skin issues such as dryness, acne, fine lines, wrinkles, and rosacea.
Your body goes through constant changes, including your hormones. As you age, production of certain hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, changes, affecting your skin. Don’t worry though. You can take steps to counteract these changes naturally.
How to Support Hormonal Balance in Your Body
There are several things you can do to support the hormone balance in your body: manage stress; eat a nutritious, whole foods-based diet; get enough quality sleep; and exercise regularly.
A clean nourishing diet helps with both hormone production and metabolism. A healthful diet supports your liver’s detoxification pathways, improving its ability to break down hormones. This, in turn, helps you maintain hormonal balance.
Foods that help boost liver detoxification include cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), onions, and garlic.
The two-week program in my book Clean Skin From Within and the online program, demonstrates which foods you need to add and the lifestyle changes you can implement to help improve detoxification. At the same time, you improve skin health and overall health.
Which Hormones Have the Greatest Affect on Skin and Health?
There are four hormones that have the most profound effect on skin and health as you age. These are estrogen, testosterone, thyroid hormones, and cortisol.
HOW ESTROGEN HORMONES AFFECT YOUR SKIN
As we age, estrogen levels decline, creating significant changes in how the skin looks and feels. Specifically, skin becomes dry, less elastic, and more fragile. For women over the age of 40, declining estrogen levels is the leading cause of dry, sagging skin. Skin appears thin and sallow, with fine lines turning into deep creases. The areas around the eyes and lips may droop slightly and lose firmness due to reduced blood flow and circulation, and skin starts to appear less vibrant.
If you’re over 40 and have any of the symptoms of declining estrogen, such as bone loss, hot flashes, insomnia, mood changes, night sweats, or vaginal dryness, you may need additional estrogen support.
Phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) are compounds found naturally in plant foods. One you may have heard of is flaxseed. Although it’s known as a natural estrogen mimicker, eating flaxseed actually helps estrogen metabolism, improving the breakdown and removal of estrogen to help avoid excess levels in your body. Too high levels of estrogen can cause other problems which we will get to.
Various herbs and botanicals such as maca, black cohosh, and hops have also been shown to help address symptoms of low estrogen. In some cases, women may benefit from bioidentical hormone therapy (BHT), which requires the support of a well-trained hormone specialist.
Having estrogen levels that are too high is not good either, as it may trigger melasma, a condition that occurs in many pregnant women. Melasma causes hyperpigmentation of the skin and can worsen PMS. And, if estrogens aren’t properly metabolized, it may increase your risk for certain types of cancer (such as breast cancer). Eating seaweed and cruciferous veggies (broccoli and kale), seasoning foods with turmeric, and taking supplements such as DIM (diindolylmethane, found in cruciferous vegetables) can help boost the way your body metabolizes estrogen, which helps lower hormone levels naturally.
HOW TESTOSTERONE HORMONES AFFECT YOUR SKIN
Another important hormone involved in skin health is testosterone. Testosterone stimulates the sebum-producing glands, which are important for protecting skin with natural oils, but overproduction can lead to acne.
Testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone are hormones needed to help your body maintain the delicate balance known as homeostasis. Age-related hormonal changes, such as experienced during puberty and menopause, may cause shifts in testosterone and metabolism. This can make your skin more oily or prone to breakouts. You may even experience acne as an adult when you never had a problem as a teen!
One way to help curb extra sebum production is to avoid dairy. Dairy products are made with the milk of pregnant and recently pregnant cows, which means it contains hormones that can potentially throw your own hormones out of balance. In addition, for many people, eating dairy products triggers inflammation in the body.
Additionally, I recommend getting your omega-3s (in fish and supplements) and zinc. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means we have to get them in the foods we eat or supplements we take. A diet short of these nourishing fats can leave your skin dry, itchy, and prone to acne, so make sure you get enough. You can get zinc in a supplement or by eating green beans, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
If you still have trouble with excess sebum and breakouts, taking a saw palmetto supplement may help, but check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement. You could have a negative reaction if you take too much of something or you could have an interaction with medications you’re taking. Also if you’re supplementing with testosterone or DHEA (a hormone that converts to testosterone), it could increase the size and secretion of sebaceous glands. If your doctor has prescribed these for you and you have acne, double check to make sure you are on the right treatment regimen.
HOW THYROID HORMONES AFFECT YOUR SKIN
Thyroid is another hormone that influences your skin’s appearance. An overactive thyroid can cause warm, sweaty, and flushed skin, while an underactive thyroid can lead to dry, coarse skin with a reduced ability to perspire.
If you suffer from any of these skin problems and have weight, digestion (constipation or diarrhea), or energy issues (fatigue or feeling overly stimulated), talk with your doctor about thyroid testing.
If your thyroid is low, high, or you have antibodies, you’ll want your treatment tailored specifically to the problem. TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), Free T3, Free T4, thyroid antibodies, and reverse T3 are the blood tests to ask your doctor to run. When the results come back, ensure they’re within optimal ranges, rather than the broad “normal” range. To help achieve optimal thyroid function, consider working with a licensed naturopathic physician or functional medicine practitioner.
HOW CORTISOL HORMONES AFFECT YOUR SKIN
Cortisol is your stress hormone. Your adrenal glands release cortisol and surges of this hormone may cause increased sebum production, an acne trigger. Excess cortisol also amps up inflammation, which can make almost any skin condition worse. Chronically high levels of cortisol also lead to sugar cravings, and we know that excess sugar increases both skinflammation and breakouts.
Not all stress is bad, and your body is well equipped to handle it. This physical response helps us react quickly when faced with a dangerous situation. However, balance is key. Problems occur when we are exposed to repeated or continuous stress. This is when your body has a hard time maintaining homeostasis, triggering physical reactions and eventually overwhelming your systems.
Chronic stress can worsen conditions including acne, eczema, rosacea, and vitiligo. Practicing relaxation techniques such as breath work, moderate exercise, and meditation can help manage stress effectively, especially when you make them a daily practice. In my two-week program, I cover specific, powerful stress-busting techniques.
Imbalanced cortisol levels (also known as adrenal fatigue) often leave you feeling “tired but wired.” Have you noticed weight gain around the midsection? Are you experiencing fatigue, insomnia, or sugar cravings? If so, you need extra support for your adrenals to balance your cortisol levels. Adaptogenic herbs such as Rhodiola, ashwagandha, astragalus, and ginseng may help.
An easy saliva test of your cortisol level determines what your levels are, so talk to your healthcare provider for more information about testing. If you do suffer from imbalances in cortisol, the recommendations I give in my book help support adrenal function.
You can also support your skin externally with skincare products containing adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) root extract. Ginseng is a powerful adaptogen herb that increases your overall resistance to all types of stress and helps rejuvenate and invigorate tired-looking skin.
There are many other hormones that play a role in skin health, but these are the four major contributors for most people’s skin types.
Hormone Disruptors and Your Skin
Are you throwing your hormones out of balance with the personal care products you use? It’s highly likely.
Many skincare products contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs are a problem because they interfere with your hormone function. Remember, skin is your largest organ, and even though you may think what you apply on your skin simply stays there, the chemicals in these products are actually absorbed into the bloodstream, potentially wreaking havoc on your endocrine system.
According to the Endocrine Society, a research and advocacy group focused on hormones and endocrinology, EDCs are associated with fertility issues, breast development, breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid disease, neuroendocrine problems, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. In a 2009 study published in its journal, Endocrine Reviews, the Endocrine Society described EDCs as “a significant concern to public health.”
One important step for reducing exposure to EDCs is to look more carefully at what you put on your skin. For example, try to avoid ingredients such as oxybenzone (found in most sunscreens), parabens, and fragrance because research has linked these and other chemicals in personal care products to hormone-disrupting effects.
Hormones affect your skin and health as you age in so many ways. They are the masters of your metabolism and so much more. Keeping them balanced and functioning properly helps you look and feel your best. Eating nourishing and cleansing foods, managing stress, and avoiding personal care products containing EDCs is a great place to start.
Not sure how hormones are affecting your skin? Take The Skin Quiz and find out
What about you, which hormones are affecting your skin and health right now? And what are you doing to keep them in balance? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know.