THE stereotype of the menopausal woman — sweating, having hot flushes, suffering wild mood swings — has been played out time and again in movies and on TV.
Yet in reality, the symptoms that accompany the so-called ‘change of life’ can be far more varied and, unfortunately, many women feel uninformed about what to expect.
According to a poll of 1,000 women who are either going through or have finished the menopause, conducted to mark Menopause Awareness Month by skincare brand Emepelle, 49% of woman are unaware that when their periods end - which usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55 - it can have a considerable impact on the condition of their skin.
Of those surveyed, 46% felt the detrimental changes to their skin was affecting their confidence, and 92% said they said they couldn’t seek advice from a health professional. Clearly, there’s a knowledge gap when it comes to the lesser-known symptoms of this natural part of ageing.
Here, experts talk us through six ways the menopause can affect your skin - and how to deal with the changes.
According to the Emepelle study, 47% of menopausal women noticed an increase in dry skin.
“As we age, our oestrogen levels decline, but it’s not just collagen that’s affected, we lose the fatty lipid layer that sits on the skin barrier and protects it too,” says Dr Naomi Potter from Harley Street Emporium.
“Because it’s compromised, we lose more water via the skin. The skin feels dry, looks dull and may be flaky.”
While you may think exfoliation is the best solution for flaky skin, Dr Potter says that it’s better to use a good emollient, especially one that contains ceramides - the fatty acids that help protect the skin.
She also says to avoid long, hot showers or baths: “Try to reduce the temperature of your showers or baths, as hot water strips the natural oils, and look for soap-free and fragrance-free products.”
The drop in oestrogen and depletion of lipids are also responsible for another unpleasant skin symptom, Dr Potter says: “Some women say it feels like they have ants crawling on their skin and they can’t stop scratching. The scalp and calves are the areas they mention most.”
Keeping showers shorter and cooler can also help soothe itchy skin, and using gentle moisturising products:
“Apply a fragrance-free emollient after bathing and go soap-free. Consider oatmeal or coal tar-based shampoos and soaps - you may not love the smell initially, but they can really help reduce the itching.”
Collagen, one of the key building blocks of skin, starts to decline around the age of 30, when those tell-tale signs of ageing begin.
“Immediately after the menopause, the skin’s collagen levels decrease rapidly and then decrease more gradually,” says Janette Ryan, Education Manager at Vichy. “Around a 30% collagen loss can be observed in the five years following the menopause.”
This can lead to a noticeable loss of firmness and elasticity. Dr Potter recommends retinol “for boosting collagen - it also helps with pigmentation and encouraging cell turnover”.
Skin tone can be affected in one of two ways, Ryan says: “Dull skin due to high sensitivity to oxidative damage at peri-menopause,” meaning the beginning of the menopause, “and dark spots due to stimulated melanin production afterwards.”
Therefore, it’s important to “incorporate daily SPF into your skincare routine 365 days a year”, she says, and look for high-factor (SPF 30 and above) sunscreens that also provide antioxidant protection.
“An increase in allergies or new onset allergies is quite common,” says Dr Potter. “I see a lot of women with itchy rashes, and if they have rosacea, they’ll often say it gets worse.”
It’s believed this is due to the interaction between the hormone oestrogen and histamine, she says: “Fluctuating hormone levels may interfere with the way we get rid of the histamines that are produced from the foods we eat.
“Getting to the bottom of this can be a long road, as it involves looking closely at the diet to identify possible triggers. It’s best to see a dietician for this. Topical antihistamines can give some relief, but always follow the instructions and see a doctor if things don’t resolve.”
Just as spots plague teenagers when they go through puberty, hormone changes can cause acne breakouts during peri-menopause.
“Due to an over-production of sebum [oil], breakouts can be induced when there is an excess in progesterone,” Ryan says. “Look for ingredients such as salicylic acid, to help keep pores clear, and help prevent and reduce breakouts.”