Hormones are a generic term for the body’s chemical messengers. They’re large, complex molecules produced in specialized glands, and they travel through the bloodstream to regulate the body’s tissues and organs. One well-known example is insulin, secreted by the pancreas to control sugar metabolism.
So how do hormones affect your skin? Fluctuations of hormone levels, which could be caused by stress, a poor diet, or other unhealthy lifestyle habits, can adversely damage your skin. For example, if thyroid hormone is deficient, the skin can become coarse and scaly. Conversely, too much cortisol can cause pink or purple stretch marks. But in the anti-aging skincare arena, when most people talk about hormones, they are referring to the female hormone estrogen.
A generation ago, estrogen—which drops dramatically during menopause—was often prescribed as hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. Estrogen was widely touted as a pharmacologic way to reverse the dermatologic effects of aging, such as the loss of skin collagen, suppleness, elasticity, and wrinkles. Thus, estrogen was administered in mega-doses in many aging women, usually in injection or pill form, under the guise of “feminine forever.” Unfortunately, the regimens used led to uterine cancer in some patients. Moreover, in 2002, the landmark Women’s Health Initiative study linked some forms of HRT to an increased breast cancer risk. Subsequently, estrogen prescribing dramatically decreased. Today, the only FDA-approved indication for estrogen use is for the short-term relief of menopausal symptoms.
While there is some evidence that HRT may help the skin remain youthful, research in this area is scant and controversial. Countless topical estrogens are currently available for “off label” use, purporting the beneficial effects of these creams, gels, and sprays on aging skin. Caution is indicated. For the aesthetic client considering using these products, it is wise to thoroughly discuss the risks and benefits of such preparations with your health care provider before embarking on treatment.
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