Is Estrogen the Key to "Good" Skin?

Here's how the hormone effects your complexion as you age.

Is Topical Estrogen the Answer to Youthful Skin?
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Anyone who experiences a monthly menstrual cycle is well aware of how shifting hormones effect the skin. Around ovulation, your skin peaks: it's clear and naturally radiant. The days leading up to the start of your period are your skin's flop area: it's dull, oily, and maybe a few zits have popped up on your skin.

This downgrade in appearance is due to the dip in estrogen that occurs at the tail end of your cycle, but a similar shift in the hormone (along with progesterone) happens as you enter preimenopause and menopause. The body naturally begins to produce less estrogen, which can make the skin appear dull, saggy, and dry. You can also experience breakouts as these changes happen, too.

It's impossible to prevent the hormone shifts that come with this stage of life, so unsurprisingly people have taken to Google to find out if estrogen can be applied to the skin topically for a quick fix. According to Spate, searches for "estrogen face cream" are up 102.8%.

You won't find estrogen in moisturizers at Sephora, but there are ingredients that mimic its skincare benefits. Ahead, dermatologists explain the role estrogen has on the skin, how to make up for the loss of estrogen with the products in your skincare routine, and more.

What Role Does Estrogen Have on Skin Health?

Estrogen is a hormone that's important to many bodily functions — including maintaining what's considered youthful skin. "Estrogen aids in the prevention of skin aging when at appropriate levels and it's for this reason that the features of aging skin appear as we get older and, most prominently, during peri- and post-menopause when estrogen levels decline dramatically," says Dr. Rachel Westbay, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical. "Estrogen prevents a decrease in skin collagen and elastin, so it helps maintain skin thickness and elasticity."

It also helps keep skin moisturized, which is why post-menopausal skin is typically drier than it was before. "Estrogen increases dermal matrix proteins, like mucopolysaccharides and hyaluronic acid," Dr. Westbay explains. "It has also been shown to play a role in possibly maintaining the integrity and function of the skin's outer protective barrier, called the stratum corneum. As evidenced by findings that sebum (oil) levels are higher in postmenopausal women receiving hormone replacement therapy, estrogen (along with progesterone) likely contributes to oil gland activity."

While the biggest dip in estrogen occurs during menopause, the body gradually produces less collagen as we get older. "Estrogen plays a large role with collagen production, along with the other functions," says Dr. Mamina Turegano, a triple board-certified dermatologist. "Collagen production steadily declines — starting in our 30s. But by the time we're in our 40s, the signs of collagen loss are more visibly apparent. If menopause occurs, women can lose about 30% of collagen in the first five years of menopause."

For a clearer picture on the significant impact estrogen plays in the skin's appearance, a study of elderly males and females found that administration of topical estrogen increases keratinocyte proliferation and epidermal thickness after only two weeks of use.

How to Mimic The Effects of Estrogen in Your Skincare Routine

Estrogen isn't in over-the-counter skincare products, but brands have developed synthetic ingredients that can mimic the benefits the hormone has on the skin.

"Methyl Estraodiolpropanoate (MEP Technology) is made by Emepelle, which is specially designed to safely and effectively replenish the vitality of the skin due to loss of estrogen,' Dr. Turgegano shares. "MEP is a synthetic estrogenic sterol ester, which has estrogen effects and stimulates the estrogen receptor pathway, but it gets metabolized to an inactive compound, thus avoiding estrogenic side effects." In short, the technology can provide visible improvements in skin dryness, laxity, atrophy, dullness, thickness, fine lines, and erythema (redness).

Additionally, there are a handful of tried-and-true skincare ingredients that offer similar benefits.

"There are a number of topical ingredients that replicate estrogen's ability to synthesize collagen and elastin," Dr. Westbay confirms. "The principal ingredient that does this with greatest efficacy is retinol, which has long been famous for its ability to stimulate collagen." Vitamin C and peptides are two other collagen-building ingredients.

Incorporating AHAs and BHAs can also help minimize the impact a dip in estrogen has on the skin. "These acids help to dissolve the intracellular glue that holds skin cells together on the skin's surface," Dr. Westbay explains. "Using them regularly gradually helps the skin become better at producing collagen on its own as they cause skin cells to think the skin is damaged, activating an intrinsic cellular mechanism to trigger collagen synthesis as a wound healing response."

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As for dealing with dryness, look for serums or moisturizers with humectants. Dr. Westbay says there are two types of humectants: synthetic and natural. "Synthetic humectants (which include ingredients such aspropylene glycol, urea, glycerin, and lactic acid in low concentrations) are excellent and commonly found in personal care products, however, they can be a little tricky. This is because, when used in excess, they can actually interfere with the body's own mechanisms of self-hydration and carry the potential to dry skin out over the long term. Natural humectants, on the other hand, draw moisture from the bottom skin layers to the surface, while also enhancing the skin's own hydrating abilities. Hyaluronic acid is the gold standard natural humectant.

The dermatologist recommends MMSkincare MMRevive Serum as it also contains matrixyl, a neurotransmitter-inhibiting peptide that prevents muscle contraction, so it mimics Botox.

What Treatments Can Be Done to Make Up for the Lack of Estrogen?

In-office, dermatologists may suggest collagen-boosting treatments in conjunction with an at-home skincare regimen. "These procedures include, but are not necessarily limited to, ablative and non-ablative resurfacing lasers, microneedling with and without radiofrequency, and chemical peels of varying depths," Dr. Westbay says. "Skin tightening devices like Thermage, ThermiTight, and Ultherapy are also available.

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