How Do Menopause and Stress Affect Your Skin?

Marygrace Taylor

Written by Marygrace Taylor

It's no secret that stress can take a toll on your emotional wellbeing. But it can also directly impact your skin, particularly during menopause.

Research shows that skin can both perceive surges in stress hormones while being a target for our body's stress responses.1 And during menopause, when you're already more prone to mood changes and skin disturbances due to volatile hormonal fluctuations, chronic stressors piled on top can make problems like excessive dryness, itchiness or irritation, and breakouts, even worse.

Fortunately, there are ways to counteract these changes and bring your skin back into balance. Incorporating simple changes into your skincare routine, while taking steps to support your mental health, can alleviate the effects of stress on your body, while helping you feel your best during menopause and beyond.

Stress and Menopause: What's the Connection?

Major life transitions can be stressful, and that includes menopause. In fact, up to 68% of perimenopausal women may experience elevated rates of depression, compared to just 31% of their premenopausal counterparts.2

These mood changes have a biochemical component. Hormonal fluctuations including declines in estrogen and progesterone, can influence neurotransmitters in the brain and increase feelings of anxiety and depression.3 But there's more to it. The period surrounding menopause often occurs when women are navigating other major stressors too – everything from caring for aging parents, to having grown children leave home (or come back), to changes in relationships.4 When you add everything together, it can be a recipe for feeling tense and overtaxed.

The Effects of Stress and Menopause on Skin

If you've ever noticed that breakouts, dryness, or rashes seem to flourish whenever you're feeling frazzled, you've likely experienced the effects of stress on your skin. The stress hormone cortisol can directly impact skin health by ramping up inflammation, increasing the production of acne-causing oils, like sebum, inhibiting the production of collagen,5 and disturbing the skin's community of friendly bacteria.6

These changes can affect skin's health and appearance at any age. For some, the result might be skin that becomes more oily and more prone to acne. For others, skin can become drier and more prone to irritation, leaving their complexion sallow or dull. Some people are even more likely to experience itching or rashes during stressful periods.7,8

But menopause further complicates the situation. A decline in estrogen during menopause can make it harder for the skin to retain water, causing skin to lose moisture and plumpness.9 At the same time, it can trigger acne that you may not have experienced since you were a teenager.10 

Skin changes in other ways, too. During the first five years of menopause, production of the skin-smoothing hormone collagen, drops by as much as 30%, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Our skin's pH tends to shift as well, which can set the stage for further dryness and irritation.11

Caring for Menopausal Skin

It's normal for some skin changes to occur during menopause. What's more, these changes can be exacerbated by the chronic life stressors many women experience during this transitional phase of life.    

There's good news, though. Making adjustments to both your skin – and self-care routines can help your skin look (and feel) its best - and in fact, these shifts can also help support your health and wellbeing, overall.

Find Stress Management Strategies That Work for You

Prioritize activities that give you an opportunity to loosen up and unwind. Take regular walks in nature, attend a weekly yoga class, take up a creative outlet, like painting or gardening, or dedicate some time to journaling. When things start to feel crazy, you can also consider opening up to your partner, friends or someone else that you trust about how you feel.

Adjust Your Skincare Products as Needed

Menopausal skin is more sensitive and prone to dryness, even if you're also experiencing acne and breakouts. To reduce the chance for irritation, wash your face with a mild, cleanser-free soap; consider avoiding cleansers that contain harsh soaps, added fragrances, or colors. Also consider looking for products containing salicylic acid if you're acne prone. After washing, apply a moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid or glycerin to lock in hydration, which is recommended by the AAD.

If you're looking to minimize the appearance of fine lines or wrinkles, try a serum or cream containing retinol or peptides. These products work to boost the production of collagen, which can help skin appear smoother and plump.

Try a Facial Massage

Using clean fingertips and a moisturizer or facial oil, apply gentle pressure to the skin on your face for a few minutes each night before going to bed. Gentle facial massage can stimulate the production of collagen.12 Facial massagers and toner devices have become very popular as of late as well! Plus, having a calming nightly ritual can encourage feelings of relaxation. 

Be (Even More) Vigilant About Sun Protection and Avoiding Environmental Stressors

The sun's UV rays, air pollution, and cigarette smoke can stress skin and exacerbate signs of aging.13,14 Consider the application of a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 regularly throughout the day and try to avoid direct sun exposure during the hours when the sun's rays are strongest. Steer clear of secondhand smoke, and if you yourself smoke, talk with your healthcare provider about strategies that can help you quit.  

Eat a Healthy Diet

Wholesome, minimally processed foods will help you feel your best, both physically and emotionally. For extra skin support, seek out fare rich in healthy fats and antioxidants – these may help fight inflammation and oxidative damage caused by stressors. Think fatty fish like salmon or sardines, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, almonds, colorful fruits and vegetables, green tea, and dark chocolate (at least 60% to 70% cocoa).15  Maintaining adequate hydration is also important.

Stay Active

Get into the habit of moving daily. Exercise boosts the body's production of feel-good endorphins to improve your mood and counteract stress.16 Being active also increases the flow of blood and oxygen to your skin, delivering nutrients to support the health of your skin cells. Just be sure to wear sunscreen if you're exercising outdoors and to cleanse your skin post-workout to get rid of excess oil, sweat, and grime that can trigger a breakout.17

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/
  2. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/jwh.2018.27099.mensocrec 
  3. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-menopause-causing-your-mood-swings-depression-or-anxiety/
  4. https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/menopause-symptoms-and-treatments/going-mad-in-perimenopause-signs-and-solutions
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/
  6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stress-may-be-getting-to-your-skin-but-its-not-a-one-way-street-2021041422334
  7. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stress-may-be-getting-to-your-skin-but-its-not-a-one-way-street-2021041422334
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/
  9. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/heres-how-menopause-affects-your-skin-and-hair/
  10. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/anti-aging/skin-care-during-menopause
  11. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/anti-aging/skin-care-during-menopause
  12. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/heres-how-menopause-affects-your-skin-and-hair/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/
  14. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/anti-aging/skin-care-during-menopause

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