I am fascinated by how the cosmetics business responds to customer concerns, from sustainable packaging and cruelty-free formulas to less well-defined 'clean beauty' and 'wellness' products. Calls for greater inclusivity have generated several niche categories in recent years, including product lines and even entire brands labelled specifically for menopausal women. The menopause is far from new and not a skincare problem per se, so I am interested in the press materials for such products.
These include information on ways a woman’s skin can change during menopause (e.g., increased dryness, adult acne, and subcutaneous fat, elastin, and collagen loss), and on some ingredients that we already know can manage or conceal such changes — yet no information on new dermatological discoveries related to this time in a woman’s life that might catalyse a new product trend. Indeed, I haven’t found any.
This is not to say that these are bad products, just that extreme dryness, acne, and fat, collagen and elastin loss are already well catered-to skincare concerns, and there is no special edge on offer from a product labelled 'menopause'.
“I advise women to focus on a healthy lifestyle and evidence-based skin care routine. Women do not need products with ‘menopause’ on the label but should use scientifically proven products that can combat the changes to skin texture, tone and volume,” says Professor Eleanor Higgins, a Dublin-based consultant dermatologist.
Before going shopping, it is also important to note that no topical, over-the-counter product can tackle the underlying hormonal changes that affect your skin during perimenopause and menopause. The decision to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is very personal, and many women find the benefits far outweigh the risks. HRT may be able to balance your skin without additional investment in any new beauty products or treatments at all, thereby saving you time and money.
According to Houston-based dermatologist, Dr Andrea Suarez, you will get an increase in skin thickness as the fibroblast cells in the deeper layers of the skin that downregulate the level of oestrogen receptors on their surface when menopause happens will start to upregulate and make collagen again when you start HRT. You’ll also see an increase in skin hydration, smoothness, and elasticity. These improvements are important for the healthy functioning of your skin, as well as its appearance.
It is often observed that men’s skin ages better than women’s, but perhaps it is more accurate to say that such ageing is differently paced. Men typically have more natural collagen for longer and greater sebum production, both of which keep skin brighter, better hydrated, and more resilient. But they do have physiological traits that women don’t — such as a tendency towards brow ptosis, and a combination of larger facial muscles and less subcutaneous fat that can cause deep wrinkles — that contribute to more 'distinguished' faces over time. Menopause speeds up the signs of skin ageing in women in a comparatively short period.
This is not always comfortable to discuss, especially as your experience will differ from your peers, and one positive element of this trend may be that increased conversation causes menopause to instil less dread.
Managing skin’s symptoms is all about the right ingredients. “Dryness can be managed using a soap-free, gentle cleanser, and a daily moisturiser. Moisturisers with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid help hold moisture in,” says Professor Higgins. “Niacinamide is an antioxidant that reduces inflammation and can improve the skin barrier.”
Aveeno Calm + Restore Nourishing Oat Cleanser, €9.99 at pharmacies nationwide, and Strivectin Super-B Barrier Strengthening Oil, €70.45 at lookfantastic.ie
“Topical Vitamin A-related compounds such as retinol and tretinoin have been shown to reduce photoaging and promote collagen formation. However, these can cause dryness and irritation so should be introduced into routines slowly,” says Professor Higgins.
Tretinoin is a retinoic acid cream and only available with a prescription in the Republic of Ireland, but the skin can metabolise widely available retinol into retinoic acid through two oxidative steps it makes naturally.
Drunk Elephant A-Passioni Retinol Cream, €60.35 at boots.ie, is a lightweight, gel-cream that absorbs quickly into skin with no tackiness and works well under other products.
It won’t reduce the retinol’s effects if you’re especially dry and apply another moisturiser afterwards. Just make sure your skin is completely dry before applying retinol itself. Broad-spectrum SPF50 is always important, but especially so the morning after using a retinol product.
Professor Higgins notes that skin may be more sensitive during menopause, so advises the avoidance of fragrances and alcohol-containing products generally.