From rashes to dry skin, menopause and perimenopause do a number on your skin and hair. Here we explain how to recognise and manage menopause symptoms
From rashes to dry and itchy patches, menopause – and perimenopause – can do a real number on your skin, hair, body and mood.
In fact, a recent survey found that more than 70% of British women are worried about the negative impact of menopause on their skin.
With just over half of women aged over 45 citing concerns about weight gain and hot flashes.
Just like during puberty and pregnancy, fluctuations in hormone levels as your body goes through menopause are the cause of a whole host of symptoms including completely changing your skin type and tone.
They’re usually coupled with other skin changes that are more widely associated with age – sagging, pigmentation etc – and the result for many of us is having to switch up our routine, techniques and products we’ve used for decades.
Below we explain what happens during menopause when it comes to your skin and hair, and what you can do about it.
We’ve also explained how to use concealer on mature skin, and selected what we consider to be the best eye creams, best firming lotions and best anti-ageing creams if you want to know more about dealing with these changes.
FURTHER READING: Best menopause treatments
There are two major stages involved in menopause.
The first is called perimenopause and describes the period of time (usually several years) leading up to when your body stops having periods.
At this point, you enter the menopause phase which ends when your eggs stop being produced. This is, on average, around a year after your final period but can vary. The timings of perimenopause and menopause can also vary by age, typically occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, but in rare cases (1 in 100 in the UK), it can start in your 30s.
Menopause typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 58. However, a big misconception is that the term menopause covers the entire process. In fact, menopause is just a moment in time. Once a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months, she’s finished menopause. Every symptom and change experienced before the end of this 12 months is known as perimenopause – and everything after it is post-menopause.’
In cases where women experience menopause between the ages of 40 and 45, this is clinically classified as early menopause, and anything earlier is classed as premature, or primary ovarian insufficiency (POI).
To reach menopause, the body goes through a hormonal shift. Follicles in the ovaries die and stop secreting oestrogen and progesterone.
Oestrogen (the female sex hormone) helps maintain vaginal blood flow, lubrication and elasticity. It’s what causes the lining of the uterus to thicken during the menstrual cycle, but it’s also the hormone that contributes to brain health, bone health, and the function of the cardiovascular system, among other bodily functions.
At the same time, levels of progesterone similarly drop. This hormone is responsible for preparing the lining of the uterus for a fertilised egg and it helps keep the body in balance in early pregnancy.
To make matters worse, these two hormones work together in a delicate balance to keep the body in check so when perimenopause hits, this balance is thrown out of whack. The problem is because women’s bodies go through a state of hormonal flux on a monthly basis, many don’t realise they’re perimenopausal for months or even years.
Others may think they’re in perimenopause because they’re experiencing common symptoms but then these symptoms suddenly stop. This happens because the hormones that had been dropping may suddenly peak. It doesn’t mean the woman has stopped being in perimenopause, and this can be confusing and upsetting.
You can find out more about the symptoms, menopause treatments as well as how it impacts your sex life and more at Menopause Experts. The site offers free training and also offers training for men – the first of its kind.
The experience is different for everyone, of course, but because it involves such significant shifts in hormone levels, perimenopause and menopause can also have a noticeable impact on skin and hair.
There are a number of products you can buy to lessen the impact or help manage it, and we’ve included some recommendations below. We’ve also got an entire article on natural menopause treatment options. It also helps to take a look at your diet and make sure that you’re not eating or drinking anything that will make the symptoms worse.
The key changes you can expect to see are summarised in the list below. Click the link next to each menopause symptom to jump straight to that section and learn more.
During perimenopause, skin can become thinner and more prone to bruising. Using SPF helps slow the thinning of your skin, by reducing the damage caused by sunlight.
Sometimes retinoid treatments can also help prevent further thinning, but start with low concentrations and speak to a dermatologist if you have any questions about using them.
Menopause can also mean any wounds you receive might heal more slowly than before, but it is important not to worry about this happening. Care for the wound as usual and remember it will heal eventually.
READ NEXT: What is SPF and why is it so important?
Lower oestrogen levels result in skin having less collagen, a protein that makes skin strong and elastic.
One study found that women lose up to 30% of their skin’s collagen during the first five years after menopause.
Instead of being smooth and tight, this reduction in elasticity causes the skin to become loose and wrinkly. Bags under your eyes might start to become more pronounced, and skin can sag underneath your chin. This is also the reason why perimenopausal women tend to get more skin tags.
If you can spend a little more – and in this instance, we believe it’s worth it – check out the Prai Beauty range. Not only is it vegan and cruelty-free, with a portion of every sale going to animal charities, but it also specialises in mature skin. It also happens to align very closely with what we at mamabella are striving for – real women and real beauty, whatever your age, skin type or tone.
It’s one of the few brands to sell products that focus purely on your neck and decolletage – the skin on your chest and between your boobs. These areas show signs of ageing as much, if not more, than on your face so it’s worth paying them attention. The PRAI Ageless cream features in our best anti-ageing cream list and in our best neck cream guide.
All of these creams will certainly help reduce the effects, predominantly because they add a film-like layer to your skin to reduce water loss and protect it from environmental elements, but this is one symptom that will really benefit from an improved diet as well.
A popular choice (although one that doesn’t sound that appealing) is bone broth.
Bone broth draws collagen out of beef, chicken or fish bones by simmering them in water in a slow cooker for a couple of days and this creates a liquid you can drink or add to other dishes. You can also buy so-called beauty powders that contain collagen peptides and can be added to drinks, smoothies, soups, sauces and more.
Menopause causes dry skin in two ways – it causes your skin to produce fewer oils while also reducing the skin’s ability to hold onto moisture.
“The most common complaint among women around the time of menopause is itching and dry skin,” said Dr Elina Teser, molecular biochemist and founder of ABG Lab. “Oestrogen is required for skin hydration, as it helps the skin produce ceramides, natural hyaluronic acid and sebum.
“Without these substances, moisture in the skin evaporates easier causing the skin to become and feel dry.”
You can compensate for the drop in oil by using more oils in your skincare routine and moisturising daily. We explain more about facial oils in our skincare comparison guide.
Using milder cleansing products – check out our best cleanser guide for recommendations – can help reduce your skin’s dryness, too, especially if it is itchy. But dry skin can also be an indication of another underlying problem, a potential vitamin deficiency or a thyroid problem, so consult a doctor if you are concerned.
Just like during puberty, hormonal changes in menopause can sometimes lead to spots or acne.
“Many women, especially those who have a history of acne as a teenager, have acne and flare-ups around menopause and it is not clear why,” continued Dr Tester. “It is possible that a drop in oestrogen means the ratio of male hormones is relatively higher, and this may trigger acne.”
We recently reviewed Aegle’s Acne Clear Now Supplement and it’s made a big difference to our hormonal acne. It specifically targets the oestrogen imbalance that can bring on spots of women of all ages. You can read our Aegle’s review here.
Elsewhere, avoid over-washing the skin and use products with salicylic acid.
Read our guide on what causes acne and how to treat it and if the problem persists, consult a doctor.
Age and hormonal changes can also increase the chances of dark spots, also known as age spots or sunspots. Sunspots are flat brown marks that show up on the skin. At the same time, thread veins, lines or wrinkles may also develop.
These are caused by years of damage caused by exposure to the sun. It’s why SPF is such an important factor to include in your skincare regime from early on. You can read more in our how to get rid of age spots fast guide.
“Signs of sun damage and photo-sensitivity may become more prominent around menopause, especially for those who live in sunnier climes or have spent a considerable amount of time in the sun over their lifetime,” said Dr Tester. “This can result in irregular skin tone, lacklustre skin and sunspots.”
As mentioned above, dry skin can often lead to itchiness, or in some cases rashes and irritated skin. Changes in the skin’s pH levels during menopause can also cause rashes or make conditions such as eczema worse. Using fragrance-free products, mild soaps and moisturising regularly can keep this under control.
We highly recommend Salcura’s Bioskin range for tackling eczema, psoriasis and other dry skin conditions. The Salcura Bioskin Junior Outbreak Rescue Cream, while designed for children, can also be used by adults to reduce itchiness while being gentle. We quite often pinch some of this from our son when our eczema flares up.
SVR is also another fantastic skincare brand designed for sensitive and irritation-prone skin.
FURTHER READING: Best rosacea cream | The surprising, hidden reason why you can’t sort out your skin
The drop in oestrogen that happens during menopause can also lead to hair appearing in places you’ve not seen it before, particularly under your chin, above your top lip and on your jawline. If you want to remove the hair, options include waxing, laser treatment or creams.
As we explain in our How to manage hair loss and make hair grow faster article, science suggests we lose between 50 to 100 strands of hair every day normally but as we get older, some of our follicles stop working (or retire!) and this is what causes hair to thin as you age. Making similar diet changes like those mentioned above, in our sagging skin section.
British hair and scalp expert Philip Kingsley treats over 3,000 clients per year and we spoke to the brand’s President and Consultant Trichologist Anabel Kingsley to find out more about how hair is affected by menopause symptoms. She explained:
Menopause causes oestrogen levels to decrease. Oestrogen is a hair-friendly hormone, helping to keep your hair in its anagen (growth) phase for longer, and this drop in oestrogen during menopause means the anagen (growth) phase can become shorter. As the hormonal balance is disrupted by less oestrogen protection, hair follicles become more sensitive to the male hormone (dihydrotestosterone) which start to shrink the follicle. Subsequently, each hair produced from the shrinking follicle is finer than the last.
This is because the new hairs that your follicles produce become gradually finer, and finer hair is naturally more fragile. Therefore, it is increasingly important when reaching menopause that women seek products to strengthen and protect the hair against mechanical or chemical damage that can cause further weakening.
The drop in oestrogen levels around menopause means that you have a higher ratio of testosterone in your body, allowing it to have a stronger negative affect on your hair follicles. In women whose hair follicles are genetically sensitive to DHT (dihydrotestosterone), hair thinning during menopause is often more pronounced.
The best treatments for menopausal hair thinning should, therefore, address the hormonal sensitivity in the hair follicles. This usually involves a combination of hair follicle stimulants such as minoxidil and methyl nicotinate, stress management (stress can raise androgen levels in your body), and scalp drops containing hormones.
We recommend buying products that help you look after your scalp, rather than just your hair, and you should look out for products that feature ceramides and caffeine. Ceramides have been shown to help improve the barrier function of skin and lead to a more moisturised, less flaky scalp. Caffeine stimulates the skin and helps encourage hair to grow.
READ NEXT: Best hair masks
Philip Kingsley’s trichologists formulate prescription-only scalp drops, containing a combination of anti-androgenic hormones, as well as a follicle stimulant. In most cases, Philip Kingsley’s clients using these drops will see an improvement in their hair density within three-six months.
New Nordic Hair Volume Supplements can also help because they contain vitamins that support healthy hair volume and growth including natural apple proanthocyanidine-B2 growth factor. This stimulates hair epithelial cells and boosts your hair follicles, skin and nails. Although these supplements are great for menopausal woman, they equally benefit anyone with hair loss concerns.
You can read more about the truth behind beauty supplements in our guide.
You should also do the following:
FURTHER READING: How to hair oil
Not a direct skin or hair impact, per se, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, 61% of women report experiencing symptoms of insomnia as they go through the stages of menopause.
Similarly, a recent survey by Anxiety UK found that 98% of women report feelings of anxiety during menopause and perimenopause and that 61% of these women have been recommended anti-depressants to treat their anxiety.
“Anxiety occurs when your body’s fight or flight defence works continuously. An ‘imbalance’ in the way the body processes environmental and sensory stimuli leads to a disproportionate ‘excitatory’ response and excessive release of neurotransmitters between nerve cells in the brain. Leading to overstimulation of the nervous system and feelings of anxiety.
“During the menopause and perimenopause, changing hormone levels contribute to this imbalance in the brain and heightened levels of anxiety,” Immediate Past Chair of the British Menopause Society Kathy Abernethy explains: “When you start the menopause, oestrogen levels begin to decline and fluctuate. Your body also produces less progesterone.
“Both hormones influence the production of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is a mood-regulating transmitter. Alongside these emotional changes, coping with physical symptoms, such as sleeplessness and hot flushes, can leave women feeling worn out, frustrated and of course anxious.”
According to a Public Health England (PHE) report, women are 1.5 times more likely to be prescribed drugs, including SSRIs & Benzodiazepines, than men, too.
As an alternative, pharmaceutical-quality lavender oil – such as Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules – taken orally can reduce excessive neurotransmitter activity, reduce overstimulation and hyperactivity of the nervous response, and improve symptoms of anxiety.
There is also a relatively new product, called The Night Drink from London-based wellness brand, TEN PM. Unlike other products focused on helping you feel relaxed and sleepy, The Night Drink has been made specifically with peri-menopausal and menopausal women in mind.
It contains a blend of seven natural ingredients that have been proven to help promote relaxation and induce sleep, including magnesium, L-theanine and L-Glycine. It doesn’t have harmful side effects and is a good option for women looking for natural menopause treatments.
Some people going through perimenopause choose to treat their symptoms with hormone replacement therapy – taking combinations of hormones to replace those no longer being produced by the body. In some cases, this can prevent many unwanted changes to the skin by addressing the root cause.
As its name implies, hormone replacement therapy is a treatment used to replace oestrogen and progesterone lost during perimenopause and menopause.
Treatment involves either taking both of these hormones, known as combined HRT, or by taking oestrogen-only HRT, usually only recommended if you’ve had a hysterectomy.
Historically, studies found that HRT could increase the risk of breast cancer but this has been largely refuted.
Older forms of HRT relied on synthetic forms of progesterone, and an oestrogen replacement typically made from mare’s urine, administered via a pill. More modern forms of HRT instead use what’s known as bioidentical hormones.
This means the chemical structure of the hormones in the treatment is identical to what women create naturally. And they’re now available in sprays, gels or patches – known as transdermal HRT.
Due to the fact modern, bioidentical HRT uses hormones that mimic those created naturally in the body, studies have reported fewer side effects including a lower risk of breast cancer than previously thought.
What’s more, transdermal HRT lowers the risk of breast cancer further because the hormones aren’t being transported into the body via the liver.
Medical reports found that it was the metabolism of oestrogen as it travelled through the liver, when delivered in pill-form, that was linked to increased instances of breast cancer, as well as blood clots and strokes. Delivering oestrogen via the skin lowers this risk, even for women with a past history of these conditions.
Not everyone will be eligible to undergo HRT and the decision to start taking hormone supplements should be made by taking into account all the pros and cons and consulting with your doctor.
Regenerative skin therapy, based on the principles of mesotherapy, can be extremely beneficial for peri and menopausal skin.
“This is because it effectively prejuvenates, or “buys time” for the skin, allowing it to stimulate collagen synthesis and bank collagen that is used to effectively stave off the first signs of wrinkles, and maintain the skin’s elasticity and firmness,” said Dr Tester who offers the treatment at ABG Labs. “As well as correcting areas of hyperpigmentation and imparting overall skin-tone uniformity and radiance.”
While many conventional menopause beauty treatments provide temporary results, regenerative beauty technologies aim to stimulate the skin’s own repair mechanisms. This leads to longer-lasting and more natural-looking outcomes, as the skin continues to heal and rejuvenate itself over time.
Victoria is founder and editor-in-chief of mamabella, freelance journalist and Mum. She has a passion for empowering people to feel beautiful whatever their age, size, skin type and budget