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Hair and skin changes: perimenopause and menopause

Perimenopause and menopause can cause worrisome changes to your hair and skin. Here’s the science behind why, and ways to explore prevention.

Created by Clue with financial support from Vichy Laboratoires and L'Oréal

The amount of changes that come with perimenopause and menopause can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to hair loss and aging skin. While these shifts are a universal experience of aging, there are many ways to decrease the stress that these transitions may cause.

The years leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause, are marked by fluctuating levels of estrogen, testosterone, DHEA and androstenedione. Menopause, when the period stops completely for at least 12 months, is when estrogen (including estradiol andestrone) levels are typically at their lowest. As a result of these hormonal changes, one’s life is impacted in unique ways; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Some of these effects include surprising changes to your hair and skin.

Here’s the latest research on how the hormonal shifts of these life stages may impact your hair and skin, and what you can do to help ease such symptoms. 

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Hair and skin changes during perimenopause

During perimenopause, your ovaries produce unpredictable amounts of estrogen (including estradiol andestrone), testosterone, DHEA, and androstenedione (1, 2). This shift, in particular, leads to some of the main changes of perimenopause, including noticeable hair and skin changes. 

The initial signs of perimenopause usually begin with menstrual cycle changes. Somewhere between two to eight years before menopause, women and people with periods may experience aging-related fluctuations in hormones. Some people might notice much longer cycles and heavier periods, while others might notice cycles that are shorter than usual (1). 

Most people experience the first signs of perimenopause in their 40’s, but it’s also possible to experience some of these changes sooner (1), though it is rare. Here’s what to expect and a few ways to decrease the effect of such changes. 

Hair changes

  • As a person ages and estrogen production decreases, hair fibers become thinner and more prone to breakage (3). 

  • You can combat hair thinning and hair brittleness by maintaining a healthy lifestyle such as by not smoking, eating a wide variety of fresh foods, and staying active (3). 

Skin changes

  • As a person ages and estrogen production decreases, skin becomes less plump which can lead to wrinkles. Hydration also decreases with age (4). Some signs of skin aging can be noted as early as age 30 (4).

  • Decreased amounts of estrogen are associated with a decrease in collagen, resulting in skin that is less elastic and thinner, and prone to wrinkles (5). 

  • Prevention rather than treatment is the best tactic for wrinkles and thinning skin. Reduce your skin’s wrinkle production by using sunscreen and avoiding smoking 

  • Eating a healthy diet, using sun protection, topical antioxidants, retinols, and polyphenols may defend against sun damage and aging (3,6).

Hair and skin changes during menopause

Menopause is the experience of no longer having a period—it is diagnosed once you haven’t had a period for 12 months. This officially marks the end of  the natural ability to conceive using one’s own eggs or gametes (1). Hormone levels post-menopause are distinct from other reproductive stages; estrogen levels are extremely low which contributes to your hair and skin changes. Here’s what to expect and how you might plan to ease these symptoms. 

Hair changes

  • Estrogen influences hair growth in many ways, affecting hair’s density, growth rate, and the amount of hairs in the “growing” stage (6). Very low estrogen levels after menopause can lead to decreased hair density and more hair in the “shedding” phase, and eventually to scalp hair loss (3, 6). 

  • With shifting hormones, some women might also notice an increase in facial hair growth and a decrease in the amount of body and pubic hair as estrogen declines (5). While researchers know that estrogen plays a big role in hair changes, they still don’t completely understand why these changes happen (6).  

  • Hair loss can be particularly distressing for women (6). Some health conditions like anemia and thyroid dysfunction can contribute to hair loss, and identifying any underlying causes of hair loss is important for successful treatment (6). There are various approaches to managing menopausal hair loss through dietary supplements and optimizing thyroid function. Speak to your healthcare provider about what options for treatment might be right for you. 

  • While many products claim to increase hair growth or reduce hair loss, topical minoxidil has the most scientific data proving its effectiveness in the management of general hair loss (6). Additional products or medications may be effective, depending on the type and root cause of hair loss (6). Other tactics for prevention include avoiding harsh hair treatments, like perms and bleach, and regular use of conditioner to keep hair moisturized (6).   

Skin changes

  • During menopause, collagen decreases rapidly, resulting in thinner skin and a decrease in the skin’s elasticity. These changes are most noticeable in the first 15 years after the onset of menopause—many women experience up to a 30% decrease in collagen in their first five years following their transition to menopause (5). Lower levels of collagen make skin less elastic and thinner, resulting in more wrinkles. 

  • Skin dryness becomes more pronounced after menopause because of very low levels of estrogen (7). Staying well-hydrated and the use of topical moisturizers can help to improve skin hydration. (7).

  • Eating a healthy diet, using sun protection, topical antioxidants, retinols, and polyphenols may defend against sun damage and aging (6,7).  

  • Prevention rather than treatment is the best tactic for wrinkles and thinning skin. Reduce your skin’s wrinkle production by using sunscreen and avoiding smoking (8).

Most women live about a third of their lives in menopause, so learning about ways to address worrisome symptoms can greatly improve your quality of life (9). Having a candid conversation with your healthcare provider and other people with similar experiences can be empowering. No matter the phase you’re in, your body is uniquely beautiful. And remember, you don’t have to accept changes that cause stress as a “part of getting older.” Your healthcare provider can help address any health and bodily concerns you might have throughout all stages of life. 

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