Before you blame your skincare, Laura Dowling, RELIFE Ireland Pharmacist Advisor, reveals how our hormones could be hacking our complexion.
Whenever our skin starts to act up, there are usually three likely culprits. Either A) you're feeling stressed, B) It's your time of the month or C) you've started using a new product. The latter is usually the first to take the blame. Think about it, how many times have you stopped using a new moisturiser or serum because your skin has broken out?
While yes, a new product can be to blame because its ingredients don't agree with your skin – it's actually more likely that your hormones are to blame. Both stress and your period are known for causing breakouts but they are just two of the many hormonal factors that can affect your skin. These can be acne breakouts, hyperpigmentation, spotting, excess oil, rosacea and eczema, among other things. Our skin is very much ruled by our hormones.
To explain how and why, we quizzed Laura Dowling, RELIFE Ireland Pharmacist Advisor, on how hormones affect the skin and what we can do to combat it. Below, she breaks down the four main events when hormones can wreak havoc on our skin.
Waiting for that baby glow to happen? It could take a trimester. “Pregnancy can affect women’s skin in different ways due to the changes in hormonal levels, namely oestrogen and progesterone," tells Dowling. "Everyone thinks you are going to glow during pregnancy, and that can happen in the latter stages, but in the first trimester, some women can get spots, some get bad acne, and some can get dry skin – and all because of hormones." Having experienced pregnancy hormones first hand, Dowling knows all about the less talked about effects pregnancy can have on your skin. "During my first trimester, I had quite spotty, oily skin, whereas, in my second trimester, I was your typical glowy pregnant woman.”
A woman’s immune system is in flux during pregnancy, and this can influence existing skin conditions. “Some women who suffer from eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis find it gets much better because of the dampening of the immune response during pregnancy," explains Dowling. "We know psoriasis is an autoimmune disease so their psoriasis can clear up, and then they can experience a huge flare-up afterwards. It can improve significantly during pregnancy or it can get worse – it all depends on the individual.”
When it comes to caring for our skin, pregnancy is not the time to trial a new regime, says Dowling. Instead, she advises choosing gentle products that are fragrance-free. “I wouldn’t try any active products: I don’t advise the use of retinol in pregnancy. Glycolic can be quite severe, and in pregnancy, you may have a stronger reaction to it than normal," says Dowling. "It’s important to be very delicate with your skin during pregnancy and only use simple products that are kind to the skin.”
And as for the dreaded stretch marks, chances are if your mum had them, you will too. “With a growing baby, the skin can get tight and itchy around the belly, so moisturising is really important," tells Dowling. "There are stretch mark creams, but a good moisturiser will work – there is no magic solution to stretch marks. A lot of it is genetic but you can help it a certain amount.”
ONE TO TRY:
Relife Relizema ultra-hydrating lotion, €20, SHOP
There are a number of structural and functional changes that occur in the skin as our hormone levels decline with age, especially during menopause. “People talk about menopause like it is an entire event. Menopause is twelve months after your last period,” explains Dowling. “You are either peri-menopausal or post-menopausal. People can go through perimenopause for a number of years. Oestrogen levels are being depleted, periods are changing, libido may be reduced, and skin can become dry, dull and lacking in lustre. It’s important to maintain a good skincare regimen; sloughing off dry cells and adding moisture."
During perimenopause, our skin becomes thinner, and it becomes more susceptible to cuts, bruises and abrasions so a barrier cream can be helpful to strengthen the skin. "Urea is an ingredient in skincare that can help," tells Dowling. "RELIFE’S U-Life 5 moisturising-smoothing face cream (€18) is hydrating, and U-Life 10 moisturising body cream (€24) for dry skin has a keratolytic effect which can refine skin on the body.”
“Rosacea can also affect women in the menopausal years as it is connected to our hormones," adds Dowling. "We may experience fluctuating levels of rosacea at different times of the month. It can also be triggered by spicy foods, alcohol and sun, and papules and pustules can develop.”
“Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is when the thyroid gland stops producing thyroxine, a very important hormone in the function of overall bodily health," tells Dowling. "It affects so many systems, so when it stops working optimally, they are side effects and it can be very dangerous. It is quite common, and it affects women more than men.” According to the HSE, it is estimated that hypothyroidism affects 15 in every 1,000 women compared to 1 in 1,000 men. “Some of the signs are weight gain, tiredness, fatigue, dry and brittle hair, dry and dull skin, puffy eyes," explains Dowling. "In fact, dry skin is one of the first signs of hypothyroidism.”
If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, Dowling’s advice is to cleanse with a gentle oil-based cleanser, moisturise and steer clear of active ingredients. “If you are experiencing dry skin or irritation or have hypothyroidism, actives aren’t the way to go because they will just make your skin drier and more irritated.”
ONE TO TRY:
RELIFE Relizema hydrating cleansing bath oil, €15, SHOP
We all deal with different stresses, whether related to our jobs, our families, the cities we live in, the constant struggle to do it all or a global pandemic. And just how we all deal with different types of stress, we also all handle stress differently. But one-way stress affects us all equally is through our skin. “All of our organs are affected by stress, and our skin is no different," explains Dowling. "It is important that we experience certain levels of stress – it triggers the fight or flight syndrome – but if we are experiencing chronic levels of stress, that can manifest negatively in our skin in a number of ways: it can trigger eczema, dermatitis, rosacea and psoriasis or cause flare-ups of existing conditions.”
Main image by Photo by Gemma Chua-Tran on Unsplash