Thursday, October 27, 2011


Ah, hormones. Those wacky chemicals that carry messages from our organs to our cells. Those super-busy messengers that dictate pretty much everything in our bodies -- from the speed of our metabolism to how tall we grow -- hormones call all the shots, they have the control, they, in short, are king. And, as noted dermatologists Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields say in their book, "Write Your Skin a Prescription for Change," hormones also have a ton to do with the way our skin "changes and ages throughout life" and, a lot to do with any and all of our skin problems.

Skip to learn how to solve your age-related skin problems.

"With the onset of puberty," the doctors write, "sex hormones skyrocket, ruling behavior and altering the appearance of skin." And, guess what? That roller coaster continues all the way through menopause … and then some.

There are six major hormones that affect our skin: estrogen, progesterone, melanin, cortisol, testosterone and the thyroid hormones. And, their levels fluctuate all the time, which explains, among other things, why our complexions also change throughout the month (and years).

To get an idea of how our skin is affected by these hormones during three key periods of our lives (adolescence, pregnancy and menopause), we talked to two preeminent dermatology experts, Dr. Howard Murad and Dr. Jessica Wu -- both of whom specialize (and excel) in the medical and cosmetic aspects of their field. They walked us through the three stages, offering up insight into what happens from a physiological standpoint and giving suggestions for how to best handle the situations to keep the resulting skin problems to a minimum.

So, if you're ready to get a firmer understanding of what the heck is going on inside our bodies that can sometimes wreak havoc on our complexions, and learn what you can do to outsmart them, you're in luck.


The hormonal gist: "During puberty," says Dr. Wu, "your raging hormones make your sebaceous (oil) glands enlarge and pump out lots of oil. This is why teens are typically oily in their T-zone area, with large pores, blackheads and pimples." In their book, doctors Rodan and Fields point out that with the onset of menstruation, come other problems. "The hormonal surges that accompany menses frequently cause moodiness, bloating, cramps and acne."

Other problem-causing factors: Dr. Murad says that "teens and young adults are being exposed to more free radical aggressors and sun damage than ever before so it is imperative to wear sunscreen daily to minimize the possibility of skin cancer."


Dr. Wu, whose new book "Feed Your Face" discusses the food/skin connection, gets down to brass tacks with her teen patients. "I tell [them] to avoid dairy if they have acne -- dairy hormones can also stimulate oil glands and lead to clogged pores," she says, pointing out that it's important for them to get their calcium and protein elsewhere. (Soy and almond milks are both rich in calcium and tofu, apricots, figs and hazelnuts are great protein sources.) She also says that adolescents should "watch their sugar, since high blood sugar can cause inflammation leading to redness, swelling, and whiteheads."


Which products to use: Dr. Wu's approach takes the specific condition into consideration; "If there are more whiteheads and pimples, benzoyl peroxide can help dry them out; if the problem is mainly blackheads, then salicylic acid products (like Clean & Clear Advantage 3-in-1 Foaming Acne Wash, $5.97) can help unclog pores."

And, Dr. Murad suggests that teens "adopt a three-step regimen addressing their specific skin needs. This should include a cleanser and toner, treatment product and moisturizer with a sunscreen." Additionally, he recommends "using products containing botanical ingredients and essential oils to keep skin healthy and hydrated." (Try Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Masque, $35.)

Doctors Rodan and Fields raise the point that some birth control pills can also be helpful with regulating teen skin. "Pills such as Yaz are also very effective in controlling breakouts because they help to mitigate the impact of hormonal fluctuations on skin," they say.

The hormonal gist: Dr. Wu says that "during pregnancy, your body produces up to 50 percent more blood to nourish your growing baby. As a result, your skin may look more rosy and glowy, and you might also notice more spider veins on your face, chest and legs." She also notes other ancillary happenings like the appearance of varicose veins -- though the news isn't all bad -- "many women notice that their hair and nails are thicker and grow more quickly when they’re pregnant," she says, but is quick to note that there "may be some hair thinning after delivery."

The skin issues: In his practice, Dr. Murad "sees a lot of pregnant women for melasma," also known as the "mask of pregnancy" and he notes that the "discoloration of the forehead, upper cheeks, nose and/or upper lip is commonly believed to be caused by hormonal shifts." Patients also seek help with breakouts, dry skin and the dreaded stretch marks. (Get the truth about which products will actually help stretch marks -- and which are just a waste of money here.)

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