One of the VERY first signs of perimenopause - before you even know that it’s happening - is dry skin. Then you wake up to an undereye bag or eye lines. Some women see horizontal lines in their forehead, others get brown spots, redness, or the return of acne. Drier skin can affect your insides as well, meaning the skin “down there”.
Growing Up Is Hard On Our Largest Organ.
In skin, there are 2 major causes of aging. 99% of facial skincare is focused on what is known as external aging – UV radiation and pollution, which instigates free radical damage. A much less discussed factor is hormone change (internal aging). Sex hormones like estrogen do much more than just driving sex drive! They impact basic biological functions including heart & blood vessels (cardiovascular), skeletal, urinary, brain and skin cell production.
“Keratinocytes, Langerhans’ cells, melanocytes, sebaceous glands, collagen content and the synthesis of hyaluronic acid are under hormonal influence,” says Dermatology Review. Like so much associated with perimenopause and menopause, the health & beauty world has traditionally ignored how the wild west of hormones can slow up things up on the inside.
There are dozens of skincare regimens, but most anti-aging products address external aging only. Estrogen (and progesterone) hormone decline, shockingly, begins at age 30 for both sexes. However, a woman’s hormone production seriously slows in her late 30s/early 40s - declining at DOUBLE the rate for a man of the same age. This is the beginning of what’s called perimenopause, the four-to-ten year period before actual menopause. Hair and skin cell production, whether collagen, keratin, elastin or hyaluronic acid and their multivarious supporting cells, is supported by estrogen. Less estrogen means fewer skin cells are being made. As a result: dryness, bigger pores, sags & bags, crow’s feet, elevenses, fine lines, vaginal dryness, thinning hair. Usually though in our late thirties, when we laugh and make funny faces, skin can ‘bounce back’ into place.
Then the other shoe drops! Menopause is the day a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months, typically around age 51. The immediate 3-year period right after Menopause Day is dramatic. Women lose about 30% of their skin cell production capability because estradiol, one of our key estrogens, stops being produced entirely, resulting in firmness, hydration, and elasticity loss. Fewer cells and less turnover means those smile and eye lines become ‘etched’. A wrinkle is born.
Best Skincare Ingredients for Menopausal Skin
We often get asked at Caire Beauty what skincare ingredients to look for. You want to choose not just ingredients but formulations that specifically work to counteract estrogen change. Your skincare should work to generate or directly add in collagen and hyaluronic acid and get to work beneath the skin barrier as much as possible. The greatest ingredients in the world, if they’re only sitting on top of skin, can’t do much against hormone caused skin aging at all. For example, the right type of Hyaluronic acid, whether through increased production or direct infusion (as in Caire’s 15 minute Triple Lift Molecule Mask, for example), ideally works by going beneath the dermal barrier. This is how you can achieve more visibly youthful skin on the outside and prevent future aging signs from starting.
For the actual skin inside, yep, we’re referring to your vagina, Kindra’s Vaginal Lotion, like Caire’s Defiance Science Duo, also uses Hyaluronic acid to help put back the moisture that would have been generated by higher amounts of estrogen. As your skin changes on your pre and post menopausal journey, let’s take a deeper look at ingredients to look for and why:
Peptides are amino acid chains, with superpowers! Signaling capability is a key one. A good signaling peptide at the right strength is designed to trigger your skin into turning on more Collagen or Hyaluronic acid creation – thereby compensating for lost estrogenic action. Remember, more new cells equals smoother, stronger, more supple skin. By the way, peptides are hard to get past the skin barrier, so you want to seek formulations (like Caire’s Theorem Serum Boost which uses biofermentation to power peptides into skin) designed to move active peptides past the dermal barrier. This is called bioavailability. Theorem Serum has clinically proven pro-collagen and pro-hyaluronic acid activity that replaces lost estrogenic action (internal aging). 97% of women found that their skin looked like it did 5 years ago. A nicely textured good peptide-based moisturizer to consider is Tata Harper’s Crème Riche Peptide Night Cream.
Kindra's Soothe Bath Soak also contains peptides! Soothe’s formula features patent-pending technology with the Nourish-3 Complex, a gentle yet effective clinically-studied peptide shown to provide comfort to sensitive skin. Soothe is specifically formulated with the shifting pH of intimate skin during mid-life in mind to provide a silky and luxurious bath-time experience that hydrates and nourishes skin.
As we get older, skin layers get thinner (the result of contracting cell production over time). While exfoliation and increasing cellular turnover is good, we want to do it gently. Fruit enzymes, like those found in papaya or pineapple, are wonderful in cleansers, toners and masks, as a way to encourage cellular turnover and reveal a fresh glow. A good choice is Pharrell Williams’ Humanrace Lotus Enzyme Exfoliator which includes 2% fruit AHAs and Papaya, Pineapple & Pomegranate fruit enzymes.
Low Weight Hyaluronic Acid
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is NOT an acid at all, it’s actually a polysaccharide (sugar), but this sugar is not only good for you, it’s necessary to life. This anti-inflammatory miracle ‘goo’ molecule is the primary component of your ECM - extracellular matrix, which is all the stuff in between the skin cells. Because Hyaluronic acid holds 1000x its weight in water, it is this gooeyness – non-scientific word here - that holds all your skin cells in place. One way to think of it is that HA is like the the mortar between the collagen and elastin bricks of skin.
However, not all Hyaluronic acid is equal. HA in skincare is typically made of long-chain (also known as ‘high weight’) molecules. Higher weight HA stays on the surface of your face where it provides excellent hydration and is sufficient by itself when you’re 30. But in our “F” Years (our Forties and Fifties) and “S” Years (our Sixties and Seventies), you should look for ultra low-weight molecules that are tiny enough to move down into the dermis where it can hydrate – read plump – skin from within. As it does this, it’s also restructuring the fundamental firmness of your skin as it gives critical support to collagen and elastin fibrils. Theorem Serum Boost and Triple Lift Molecule Mask all feature a full spectrum of HA weights including Caire’s signature Tiniest HA in the World.
Vitamin A, C, E + Niacinamide Antioxidants
Oxidation is what makes an apple slice turn brown. In skin, oxidation is inflammatory, breaking down collagen and disrupting normal cellular repair. It’s caused by free radicals which are basically unstable molecules. They’re unstable because they have “uncoupled” electrons circling around. Thinking back to high school chemistry, you might recall that electrons need to live as “couples”, So the molecules with “singleton” electrons (think Bridget Jones!) steal someone else’s electrons so they can be coupled up. But their stealing an electron, makes that previously happy, stable molecule unstable. So then this newly unstable molecule goes out and itself looks to steal an electron from someone else. As you can see, all this coupling and uncoupling causes a domino effect of damage. Free radicals are produced internally, but they’re also caused by smoking, pollution, and stress. Antioxidants help by offering up their own extra electrons, thereby neutralizing free radicals. This stops that chain reaction of stealing electrons and causing cellular damage.
Vitamin C has good clinical proof of antioxidant activity but make sure you’re using only a stable Vitamin C form and at high enough levels (we suggest formulas with a minimum of 12%). Use products up within 3 or 4 months at a maximum or frankly, don’t bother. Many grown up women develop skin sensitivities as skin changes during perimenopause and menopause. If that is you, be a little wary of Vitamin C and perhaps consider Niacinamide (which is a form of Vitamin B3) instead. In a number of recent clinical studies, niacinimde demonstrates even higher antioxidant activity than Vitamin C. Niacinamide can also improve skin hyperpigmentation, overall barrier function and importantly, elasticity in skin.
We like Revive Repairing Night Cream which uses Vitamin E, Niacinamide, and Green Tea for antioxidants instead of Vitamin C and Kindra’s Vaginal Lotion for the skin ‘down there’ which uses an unique Niacinamide, Glycerin and Hyaluronic Acid formulation together to replenish moisture and improve elasticity. Skin health is after all not limited to our face and necks. Your vaginal skin health is critical to your overall sense of well-being, not to mention sex life.
Algaes are stable antioxidants, rich in vitamins, minerals, lipids, and proteins. They are particularly good for grown-up skin as they provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and hydration properties all in one. There are many thousands of different marine algae, kelps, and seaweeds species, but the key is to choose formulations that are using higher levels of active algae in conjunction with other active ingredients. At Caire Beauty, we like Grown Alchemist’s Hydra-Restore Cream Cleanser which is soothing for sensitive perimenopausal skin. You might also consider Osea Undaria Algae Oil or Ren Microalgae Anti-Fatigue Body Oils because our arms and legs, of course, deserve attention too.
The lesson here is that your perimenopausal skincare routine needs to change. Choosing good ingredients should go hand in hand with choosing adult women-focused formulations. Together, you can proactively help your midlife skin look and feel its smoothest, strongest, most supple self, inside and out. Recent new product ideas, often led by women, recognize that hormone caused aging is real but it’s something that can be managed. Women and brands are out there creating new science and formulations that work in ways the last generation’s skincare could never have imagined.
Also, you’ve heard it a thousand times but it’s worth repeating that a healthy lifestyle - good food, good sleep, frequent exercise and stress control - and protecting yourself from the sun is invaluable. A huge amount of DNA damage is caused over time from harmful UV rays so superior mineral suncare (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide), wearing hats, and staying out of the sun between 11am and 3pm is a must-do.
Celeste Lee and Lorrie King are midlife women and beauty industry veterans. They founded Caire Beauty, Skincare for Grown Up Women, when they found out that skincare specifically addressing estrogen-related aging did not exist.