Hyper-Targeted Menopause Products for All Your WTF Symptoms
I've always been reasonably healthy, but when I hit my mid-40s, a surreal pileup of symptoms arrived out of nowhere: burning tongue. Hair loss. Strange, unrecognizable BO. Flaky nails. Seemingly overnight, my neck assumed a jerky-like texture.
Yet I had no clue I was perimenopausal until I ﬁnally sorted it out with my doctor.
That's because perimenopause and menopause — when hormones leave your body in a process some doctors call reverse puberty — are still a depressingly taboo topic, despite affecting half the population.
The average age of menopause, when a woman has not had her period for a full year, is 52, according to the National Institutes of Health. But perimenopause, which begins most often in a woman's mid to late 40s, lasts an average of four years — and, per the NIH, can stretch up to eight.
And like me, women often experience a range of symptoms beyond the expected hot ﬂashes. I ask Heather Hirsch, director of the Menopause Clinic at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, if the rumor that there are at least 34 symptoms is true. "I've never counted them up, but yeah, that tracks," she says. "It's so distressing for my patients. The most common thing they say is, 'I don't feel like myself anymore.' "
Estrogen keeps skin supple, so when levels drop, says New York City dermatologist Rosemarie Ingleton, "your skin becomes drier and thinner as it loses collagen."
A staggering 30% of collagen ebbs away in the first five years of menopause, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, so cell turnover dramatically slows — meaning your go-to moisturizer suddenly sits on the surface of your skin and ceases to work as efficiently as it did before. Vaginal tissues (also part of your skin) become dry and irritated. Hair can shed and get thinner, and nails may become brittle.
The good news is that not only can many of these symptoms be managed, but the market for perimenopausal and menopausal skin, hair, and intimate care is exploding with new high-end and accessible products.
Their chic, thoughtful packaging is a deliberate signal that they're not to be stashed in a drawer but proudly displayed. The roseate jar housing Honor: Everyday Balm ($90; rosewoman.com) a plant-based vulva moisturizer for menopausal dryness from Rosebud Woman, would nicely adorn a bedside table; the gossamer-textured serum from Emepelle ($175; biopelle.com), a luxe line for estrogen-deﬁcient skin, is dispensed from a white bottle with rose gold accents.
Almost all the brands began when the founders looked around for products that didn't exist. Beauty industry vet Rochelle Weitzner started Pause Well-Aging after her first hot flash. Everything in the collection, including an ingenious Detox Serum ($85; pausewellaging.com) to handle both fine lines and perimenopausal breakouts, contains the Pause Complex, a proprietary blend of vitamins, peptides, and antioxidants that helps spark stalled collagen production. Results are so transformative that Weitzner regularly receives teary thank-you notes. "Working at other beauty brands, the usual emails we'd get would be complaints," she says.
She coined "well-aging" as a rebuke of the term "anti-aging," which rankles her when it's used for menopausal skin products."That suggests that aging is bad," she says. "What's there to be against? I just don't agree with that."
Longtime beauty executives Lorrie King and Celeste Lee, founders of Caire Beauty, enlisted two scientist partners to develop a serum that could penetrate the dry outer barrier of menopausal skin and burrow down to the dermis. The result: a triple blend of hyaluronic acid with the tiniest molecules."It's the lowest [molecular] weight on the market, custom-made for us," says Lee.
Brands like the new SeeMe are seeking out hyper-targeted ingredients like artichoke leaf extract, which the company's science team found actually works better to reduce inflammation in estrogen-depleted skin than it does on younger skin.
Changing hair is another menopausal challenge — one that entrepreneur Sonsoles Gonzalez took up after noting with alarm her dwindling, straw-like ponytail.
Having worked at the big hair-care brands, she knew already that there was nothing out there for her. "They only developed products for women aged 18 to 44," she recalls. "I'd joke in meetings, like, 'Um, OK, what happens to women after 45? Do they just disappear?' "
So she launched Better Not Younger, a line that includes gentle cleansers, scientiﬁcally formulated growth serums for hair and brows (yes, they thin too), and a fortifying supplement for skin, hair, and nails called Significant Other ($25; better-notyounger.com), with vitamins, minerals, and biotin. (For strengthening hair and nails, Dr. Ingleton routinely recommends supplemental biotin; cysteine, an amino acid that builds keratin; and B vitamins.)
Microneedling the scalp may also be effective. A 2018 study review in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology found it "shows promise" in improving hair growth. Madison Hair Care, a new Black-owned brand that addresses thinning hair due to hormones and other issues, is earning raves for its trademarked ProRoller microneedling scalp rejuvenation tool and Mad ReGrowth Serum with apigenin, a plant-based bioactive compound.
If menopause still isn't fully part of the conversation, one of its most common symptoms, bladder leakage (medically known as "urinary incontinence"), is rarely spoken of above a whisper. Count on Bea Dixon, forthright founder of the Honey Pot Company, a line "for humans with vaginas," to go there.
She just launched an incontinence line of organic cotton liners and overnight pads that are available both unscented and infused with lavender, rose, and mint. "If people say to me, 'I don't necessarily want to have a conversation about incontinence,' well, I'm not the person to talk to if you don't want to talk about real shit," she says. She urges all women to do the same. "A lot of times we feel like we're the only person going through this, when we're all going through it."
As brands continue to expand now that marketers have woken up to the formidable buying power of this group, the variety of products is also growing increasingly specialized. This is a win all around for women dragged by dozens of symptoms.
Suki Era's Reviving Cooling Spray ($40; sukiskincare.com) tames hot ﬂashes. The Let's Neck ($25; womaness.com) serum from vegan line Womaness, delivered via a cooling roller applicator, banished my neck jerky with seven types of sodium hyaluronate, a turbo-moisturizing hyaluronic acid derivative. The wellness brand Ritual just rolled out Essential Protein 50+ ($40; ritual.com), a vanilla powder scientifically formulated to maintain lean muscle in those over 50, a group routinely, and maddeningly, passed over in this category. State Of's CBD body oil ($38; stateofmenopause.com) tackles menopausal joint pain; K-Beauty brand Touch In Sol's multiuse godsend Icy Sherbet Primer ($20; ulta.com), a silky cooling gel, handles hot ﬂashes, hydrates, and preps skin for makeup.
I'll probably never be able to manage all my symptoms — brain fog, for instance, still plagues me (although maybe that's the fuzzy remnants of Quarantine Brain, when I once took a shower still wearing pajamas). But with these new offerings, I can at least dial down some of the weirdness. Now when I look in the mirror, I see someone I recognize.
For more stories like this, pick up the September issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Aug. 13th.