When menopause is mentioned, we tend to think of hot flushes as the most common symptom, but they certainly aren't the only one.
Along with changes to blood vessels, bones and metabolism, a lot of women going through menopause also notice changes to the skin.
Dr Elena Ruiz Domingo, specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics, tells us that although many people don't realise it, the decrease in collagen in the skin from the age of 45 or 50 is due to the oestrogen deficiency associated with menopause. And studies show that women who go through premature menopause tend to also suffer more rapid skin ageing.
The effect on skin
At menopause, the decrease in oestrogen in women leads to loss of lipids, water and collagen. The decrease in the collagen layer makes skin thinner and because the sebaceous glands secrete less sebum it becomes drier. The overall effect is that skin becomes rougher, drier and harder.
Modern gynaecologists don't only prescribe treatments for the prevention of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease or the symptomatic effects of menopause such as hot flushes; they also take into account the desire of the mature woman to preserve both health and body image. The dehydration of the skin that was previously seen as simply a natural stage in the ageing process is now being incorporated into the overall framework of women's health and wellbeing.
Moisturising and skin care
Skin undergoes changes all through life, depending on intrinsic factors (heredity, race, age etc) and extrinsic factors (lifestyle habits such as smoking, exposure to sun over the years, diet, etc.). However, in order to slow the effects of these factors and the effects of menopause on the skin, it's necessary to start taking care of the skin from an early age. This way, when oestrogen levels start to drop, the skin is in a healthy, well-hydrated condition and can cope better with the changes.
Skin can be 'nourished' by maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fibre and by taking plenty of exercise and avoiding tobacco. For those women who undergo hormone replacement therapy, this will help stimulate hyaluronan and encourage the formation of new blood vessels and aid the retention of water.
Of course the sun is one of the skin's greatest enemies, so, particularly in summer, it's important to take care when sunbathing, use appropriate sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Skin has a memory and stores up a count of the exposure to UVA and UVB throughout your life; even if you're young and healthy and you think you can get away with taking less care, the effects of how you treat your skin now may not become apparent until later in life.
Despite, that, it's important to remember that the sun is an important source of vitamin D, which is essential for strong bones. It also has an effect on mood, so do try and get 15 minutes of sunshine each day if you can.