Those habitual breakouts you get right about the same time you get your period? It turns out that’s not the only time your hormones influence the appearance of your skin. To help us understand our hormones better, we talked to Rebecca Booth, M.D., board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and co-founder of VENeffect Anti-Aging Skin Care. Here, Dr. Booth outlined how our hormones impact our skin and overall health, how our lifestyle choices affect our hormones, and what we can do to keep them under control and help keep hormonal acne and aging at bay.
1. Your skin is also on a 28-day cycle.
Dr. Booth: Hormones affect virtually every organ in the human body, and most certainly our skin. Much like our reproductive cycle, our skin is also on a twenty-eight-day cycle, regenerating and renewing itself as the body’s largest organ.
Before menopause a surge in estrogen during the fertile window, what I call the “Venus Week,” contributes to a healthy glow by increasing collagen, elastin, and other elements of beautiful, supple skin. At the same time this effect, coupled with peaking testosterone just before ovulation, results in increased lubricity, augmenting a glow that is clearly designed by Nature to optimize our appearance when we are most fertile. Estrogen keeps a “check” on testosterone by increasing binding proteins in the bloodstream. After ovulation, estrogen and testosterone drop a bit, and even later in the cycle, during the typical PMS days, estrogen takes a steep dive down, prompting a slight surge in testosterone causing unchecked oiliness, enlarged pores, and resultant acne breakouts.
2. Testosterone is mainly responsible for hormonal acne.
Almost all instances of acne are aggravated by testosterone, or an imbalance in the ratio of testosterone and estrogen. Testosterone increases both pore size and sebum (the oil of skin) production. Estrogen keeps testosterone in check during the fertile days of the cycle, but when estrogen falls the week before the period, testosterone gets an advantage, setting the stage for blemish. The trick is to establish balance by offsetting the ebbs and flows with nutritional, beauty, and lifestyle regimens that stabilize hormonal effects on skin.
3. Insulin plays a part in acne too.
Another hormone that aggravates acne is insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or to store glucose for future use. Insulin acts like a growth hormone on the testosterone producing cells in the ovary. When these cells are overloaded by insulin, as with a high carbohydrate lifestyle, the result is an imbalance that aggravates acne, as well as unwanted facial hair and facial ruddiness. Estrogen-based birth control pills help suppress acne because estrogen reduces pore size and suppresses excess testosterone. However, if one’s diet is sugar laden, even “the pill” will not work for acne.
4. Hormonal imbalance can be caused by a lot of things—including diet.
Many factors influence hormonal balance that can aggravate acne. The most common is simply a dramatic hormonal change, such as puberty, when the effects of surges of testosterone begin to change the nature of maturing skin. Pregnancy presents a dramatic hormonal change that can sometimes aggravate breakouts, as does postpartum hormonal change. Many women experience “adult acne” with perimenopause and menopause.
Diet can play a huge role. Carbohydrate-heavy diets, stress, sleeplessness and inflammatory foods can cause surges of insulin that wreck the delicate balance of testosterone and estrogen. The result can be acne, rosacea, ruddiness, excessive sweating and unwanted facial hair.
Heredity (your genes) can contribute, as some of us inherit a tendency to produce more sebum or have larger pores that can result in blemish when hormones fluctuate. Thyroid imbalances and some vitamin deficiencies (especially low vitamin D) can aggravate hormonal imbalances, aggravating “hormonal” acne.
5. Estrogen (or the lack of it) is directly associated with skin aging.
Estrogen’s positive effect on skin is well documented scientifically: improving elasticity, increasing water content, collagen, and even encouraging healing. For women these effects peak with peak fertility in the mid-twenties. Not only does the ebb and flow of estrogen affect our skin within each cycle, but the loss of estrogen as a woman approaches menopause is directly associated with the aging of facial skin. Estrogen’s decline with perimenopause and menopause results in a dramatic impact on skin, accelerating loss of elasticity and formation of wrinkles. A study on the decrease of skin collagen in postmenopausal women found a decrease of 2.1 percent per year in the first fifteen years post-menopause. Thus, on average, from age fifty to sixty-five more than 30 percent of collagen will be lost due to the cessation of estrogen. Loss of collagen, skin’s source of strength and elasticity, aggravates sagging, wrinkling, and thinning of skin.
6. Tweaking just a little bit of your lifestyle can help clear your skin and prevent premature aging.
As women, our hormones are designed to change throughout our lifetime. Stabilizing the positive effects of estrogen with safe mimics from the plant world known as phytoestrogens, can help dramatically, both from the inside out and the outside in. Lifestyle changes that reduce hormone interrupters such as excess insulin and stress hormones help optimize our skin.
Start your day with phytoestrogen-packed foods
Phytoestrogens found in plants—such as flax and sunflower seeds, nuts and nut butters, soybeans and chickpeas (hummus)—are all good sources of the magic phytoestrogen molecules and are not just good for skin and collagen, but also help with metabolism and reduce insulin surges, especially in the morning. No time for breakfast? Grab a spoonful of roasted almond butter as you head out the door – your skin, body and your brain will thank you for it.
Get sugar out of your diet
Surges in blood sugar from processed carbohydrates and sugar cause insulin surges. Insulin is the most common hormone wrecker, and not only promotes acne and enlarged pores, but also belly fat storage. A good approach is to reduce sugar and simple carbohydrates and instead consume more plant protein.
We all know that stress has negative effects on our appearance, but elevated cortisol due to stress also causes insulin surges, throwing off hormone balance and resulting in uneven skin tone, adult acne and enlarged pores. Meditation, yoga or simple deep breathing exercises will help you and your skin.
Mild dehydration results from too much caffeine, stress and many medications such as some blood pressure medications. Skin needs water to maintain elasticity, so drink up and avoid excess caffeine.
Supplement your skin’s hormonal balance
Vitamin D, 1000 IU a day – Vitamin D is vital for healthy collagen and connective tissue. Vitamin D also positively affects mood and metabolism.
Omega 3 oils, 1000 to 2000mg a day – Whether from fish or from vegetarian sources like flax seeds, theses mighty molecules act as natural lubricants for the skin, joints and eyes. Not only do they help you have that youthful glow, they are great mood stabilizers and help improve your cholesterol profile.
Vitamin C, 100mg a day – Vitamin C is vital for collagen health, and while very few of us are deficient, it is a good habit to make sure that you take it daily to maximize healthy skin.
Biotin, 600mcg a day – Biotin is important for cell growth and improves the health of epidermal extensions like hair and nails.
Folic acid, 400 to 800 mcg a day – While many experts question the value of a multivitamin, most agree that folic acid, a B vitamin, is vital for good metabolism: the key to hormone balance and good collagen health.
Foods rich in iodine at least twice a week – Foods such as kelp (the green wrap for sushi), and shellfish packed with iodine can help maintain good thyroid health; critical for hair, nails and skin
7. Topical estrogens work too.
Given how strongly linked hormonal changes are to skin care issues – from blemish to aging – I began to study the efficacy of phytoestrogens topically for skin. The data show that phytoestrogens are highly effective at offsetting the challenges we experience with hormonal variation on skin. These molecules act as “keys” on the estrogen receptor itself and, unlike many other types of skin care additives, the small molecular size of phytoestrogens allow them to pass readily into skin. Phytoestrogens have been shown to increase hyaluronic acid content (the dewy substance that gives us that “glow”), increase collagen production, and improve elasticity, that bounce-back to skin. Studies also indicate that topical phytoestrogens offer photo-protection to skin, reduce unwanted hair, accelerate healing, and are natural anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants that suppress blemish. These amazing positive effects help to balance out hormones right in the epidermis and dermis for perfect balance and gorgeous, glowing, clear skin.
I created VENeffect Skin Care to help address the effects of hormonal variation within the month and as we age as women. We searched the world for the most potent forms of phytoestrogens and formulated our skin care products for high-efficacy to bring about balance and luminosity to skin. VENeffect is our brand name for the “Venus Effect” that glowing skin that represents peak hormonal vitality.