Caring for Your Skin and Hair

If you have had no other signs of the passing years, you're likely to see some changes reflected in your hair and skin. As skin ages it loses elasticity and becomes thinner, drier, and more prone to itching and sagging. Your hair becomes thinner, too; it breaks more easily and grows in more slowly.

Some of these changes are due to the body's diminishing levels of estrogen. Estrogen helps keep healthy tissues well nourished and moisturized; without it, both skin and hair lose strength and elasticity and grow thinner.

Other changes are the result of age; as you grow older, your body slows in its production of new cells, and collagen production slows. Collagen is the basic bridgework, or support system, for all the fibrous tissue of your body, of which skin is only one component. Normal collagen helps keep the skin plump and resilient, providing part of the skin's support structure. Taking estrogen helps maintain the proper collagen content in tissues throughout your body.

Exposure to the sun is another culprit in the deterioration of your skin's elasticity and moisture. The ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun begin damaging the skin of young children; as sun exposure builds over the years, the damage becomes increasingly severe and apparent.

Proper use of sunscreen with enough UV protection (SPF 15 or higher) and using hats or caps and sunglasses to shade your face and eyes may delay or prevent this damage.

Fact

It has long been thought that waning estrogen accounts for the higher rate of age-related hearing loss in women. Studies, however, have not shown an improvement in hearing with menopause hormone therapy. In fact, studies show hearing loss associated when the artificial progesterone progestin is used in hormone therapy. If you are taking combination hormone therapy and have noticed some hearing loss, talk to your health care provider.

Skin Care Basics

Your diet, the amount of rest you get every day, the level of stress you're subjected to, and the types of pollutants that exist in your environment all play a role in the health and vitality of your skin. Women in the United States spend millions of dollars every year on skin-rejuvenating treatments, including:

  • Chemical peels and dermabrasion treatments that remove the outer layers of the skin

  • Injections of botulinum toxin (botox) that temporarily paralyze the facial muscles to eliminate frown lines and other wrinkles in the face and neck

  • Collagen injections that temporarily plump up the skin's understructure

  • Radiofrequency treatments to the underlying collagen that tighten structures and stimulate collagen production, without surgery or injections.

  • Cosmetic surgery that tightens, tucks, and lifts skin to eliminate wrinkling and sagging

All of these treatment options can improve the appearance of aging skin, but some of those improvements are expensive and temporary. And — as with any medical treatment — all of these techniques carry some risks, which, though infrequent, include scarring and skin discoloration. Carefully research any treatment option you're considering by getting multiple professional opinions and by talking to others who have used the procedure.

Essential

The fluctuations in hormone levels you experience during perimenopause and menopause can result in a relative increase in androgen levels as compared to estrogen levels. As androgen levels rise, facial hairs can become thicker, darker, more numerous, and more noticeable. Rogue chin hairs are a common occurrence for women age forty and over.

If you prefer to pursue less invasive techniques for keeping your skin looking healthy and vital, you have many options to choose from. Though your skin is unique, most women need to moisturize their skin more frequently after age 40. A number of creams, lotions, and even some prescription drugs are available today for nourishing and healing aging skin:

  • Creams and lotions containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) dissolve the upper layer of skin that has suffered the most damage to reveal fresher, plumper skin beneath. These products won't eliminate deep wrinkles or age spots, but they can make the skin look and feel fresher. Women with sensitive skin or rosacea should not use these products without the advice of a health care professional.

  • Oils, creams, and lotions containing antioxidants and vitamin derivatives may help protect collagen, moisturize the skin's upper layer, and help diminish the visible signs of fine wrinkles. Vitamins C, E, and A are typical antioxidants used in these products.

  • Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is also a common anti-aging formula component. Prescription drugs Retin-A and Renova are marketed to reduce fine-line wrinkles, build collagen, and help fade age spots.

Fact

Don't rely on magazine articles, a facialist, or a cosmetic salesperson for skin care advice. Talk to a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist about your skin concerns. He or she can help you pinpoint specific skin problems you might be developing and tell you the best techniques for combating them.

Beyond skin care formulas, however, you have some very basic tools at your disposal for protecting your skin. No matter what other skin care treatments you use, follow these basic practices to protect your skin and keep it looking its best:

  • Drink at least 32 ounces of water every day — 64 ounces is better.

  • Stop smoking — smoking ages the skin, breaks down its collagen structure, and increases wrinkles and sagging, especially around the mouth and the eyes.

  • Anytime you go outdoors, use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, even if skies are overcast.

  • Maintain a daily skin care routine of gentle washing in lukewarm water, using a very mild soap. Avoid soaps with excessive perfumes and deodorizing chemicals, and don't scrub your skin!

  • Use a moisturizer everywhere your skin feels dry, but especially around your eyes, mouth, throat, and hands.

Keeping Your Hair Healthy and Strong

The changes in your hair growth and health in perimenopause and postmenopause can seem downright unfair; the hair on your scalp starts to become thin, sparse, and gray, while some of the previously fine, pale hairs on your face grow thicker and darker. You can tweeze, wax, chemically dissolve unwanted facial hair, or use electrolysis or laser treatment to destroy the hair follicle permanently. (Some women experience skin irritation from laser and electrolysis.) Though some of these changes are inevitable with age, you have a number of options available to you for preserving the health and vitality of your hair.

First, keep your hair trimmed to remove split, brittle ends and encourage volume. Some color treatments can give the effect of fullness and volumizing shampoos can coat thin hair to give it extra body. When you shampoo, use warm — not hot — water, and limit blow-drying as much as possible. Some deep conditioning treatments, used every few weeks, can help keep hair strong and less prone to breaking and splitting.

Your hair reflects your nutrition, too. Don't forget to include a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet, and take vitamin supplements to make sure that you're getting all of the recommended nutrients every day. Proper hydration is essential to healthy hair, so don't forget to drink the recommended 32 ounces or more of water every day.

Alert

Thinning, dry, brittle hair may be more than a natural sign of age. Some medications and certain systemic illnesses, such as a thyroid disorder, can also cause hair to lose its strength and vitality — even to the point of causing dramatic hair loss. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about noticeable changes to your hair's strength and appearance; don't assume it's simple aging.

Some prescription drugs are available to help manage menopausal hair problems:

  • Minoxidil (marketed under the name Rogaine) works to stimulate hair follicles that may have grown dormant. Minoxidil can help restore lost hair by 10 percent or more, according to some estimates.

  • Eflornithine may help stop unwanted hair growth. Eflornithine (marketed in its topical form as Vaniqa) can be applied as a cream directly to the area where unwanted hair growth occurs. The drug inhibits the production of an enzyme that contributes to hair growth; as a result, the drug slows the growth of unwanted hair.

Many of these hair and skin preparations and prescriptions take weeks, if not months, to show a result. Don't be discouraged and give up your treatment program if you don't see results overnight.

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