The human body is a complex system affected by thousands of individually unique biochemical messengers. The release of one can trigger increased sebum production, the release of another can trigger the thickening of the skin. A fall in one may trigger a reduction in collagen production, the fall of another may cause a once oily skin type to turn dry.
Throughout these complex processes there are 2 renowned hormones at work – androgens e.g. testosterone and oestrogens e.g. estradiol. Both hormones exert differing effects on a person’s skin, they can cause acne, provoke an oily skin type and even encourage hyperpigmentation. Levels of androgens and oestrogens are carefully connected, with see-sawing of either commonly being caused by:
Each of the above events is characterised by specific changes to a person’s sex hormones. These changes affect many functions of the body, including skin function.
Skin changes during puberty
Puberty marks the beginning of sex hormone fluctuations. Predominantly beginning at age 11 in girls, it signals the start of oestrogen release. For boys, the start of androgen release.
The hormonal changes occurring during puberty in girls is considered more complex than the process that progresses for boys. While androgen release controls the majority of male puberty, for a female – a complex interweaving of estradiol, testosterone, progesterone and prolactin exert pubescent changes.
While there are many positive skin effects caused by puberty, there’s one marked negative – spots, pimples, and acne. Changes caused by a marked increase in androgen levels1.
Increased androgen levels are directly linked to an increase in sebum production2 – the natural oil skin creates to lubricate and moisturise itself. Sebum is excreted from sebaceous glands found inside of individual hair follicles. When produced in excess, sebum can prevent effective desquamation (natural exfoliation) of dead skin cells, resulting in plugs of sebum and dead skin. Bacteria naturally found on all skin types then use these plugs as food causing a proliferation of bacteria – namely Propionibacterium acnes. This process results in the inflammatory response known as acne.
How to care for skin during puberty
There are many protective and preventative skin care steps that can be taken to guard against skin changes associated with puberty, but there is one having greatest effect – exfoliation.
While rising androgen levels cause an increase in sebum excretion, skins natural desquamation rate is reduced. This can be corrected for with regular manual exfoliation.
Appropriate use of a muslin cloth, such as our griffin+row Exfoliate, will help speed up desquamation, prevent dead skin plugs and perturb acne.
Skin changes during monthly menstruation
While male hormone levels remain fairly consistent throughout adulthood, female hormone levels do not. Instead as a consequence of menstruation, they rise and fall on an average 28-day cycle.
- Week 1 signals a gradual increase in oestrogen
- Week 2 is characterised by a maintained increase in oestrogen partnered by an increase in progesterone
- Week 3 continues a rise in progesterone, with oestrogen levels temporarily falling midweek
- Week 4 shows a marked fall of oestrogen and progesterone to baseline levels
During the first week of menstruation, skin can feel drier than usual as oestrogen levels begin at a 28-day low. Oestrogen is a hormone associated with youthful looking skin, with falling levels e.g. during menopause associated with reduced collagen levels, dryness, fine lines and wrinkles3. The low levels experienced during week 1 of menstruation can dehydrate skin, exaggerating the appearance of existing fine lines and wrinkles.
Week 2 of menstruation is when skin will look and feel its best. Rising oestrogen levels improve skin hydration, fines lines and wrinkles become less pronounced, collagen production is at a high and healing is therefore quick and effective.
Weeks 3 to 4 mark a relative increase in testosterone – an androgenic hormone. Testosterone levels remain fairly consistent throughout all menstrual cycles; however, the rise and fall of oestrogen and progesterone mean they are relatively greater at certain stages of a person’s monthly cycle. The beginning of week 3 sees a relative increase in testosterone, an androgenic hormone causing an increase in sebum excretion. This is then quickly followed by a subsequent rise in oestrogen – a hormone some studies note as being able to reduce pore size by up to 60%4. A quick rise in sebum production followed by a reduction in pore size is theorised to trap plugs of sebum and dead skin – resulting in hormonal acne.
How to care for skin during monthly menstruation
The needs of skin vary greatly throughout a person’s monthly cycle. In general, these are the best steps to follow for each distinct segment of menstruation – it is also worth noting that everyone’s monthly cycle varies to a certain degree. For this reason, suggestions should be tailored to the unique length and progression of an individual’s cycle.
In the beginning week when oestrogen levels are low, skin is best cared for with skincare products focused on rehydration. Specifically, ingredients such as glycerine and hyaluronic acid – both potent humectants – become functional actives behaving like magnets to water molecules.
Week 2 signals optimum skin health and in reaction your skincare routine should be balanced between hydration and condition i.e. products that focus on both, for example pairing the griffin+ row Hydrate with Nourish, natural skin moisturiser.
Weeks 3 to 4 provoke increased sebum production often accompanied by hormonal acne. During this time, diligent exfoliation is key. Daily use of a mild exfoliating tool such as the griffin+row Exfoliate can be paired with a gentle cleanser to avoid and lessen spots, pimples, and acne.
Skin changes during pregnancy
For the majority of changes occurring during pregnancy, there are 2 responsible hormones – oestrogen and progesterone. In fact, a woman produces more oestrogen in one pregnancy than throughout a lifetime of menstrual cycles5. Oestrogen levels rise steeply at first and evenly thereon into the third trimester.
Increased oestrogen levels show mostly positive effects on skin, with oestrogen involved intimately in collagen synthesis and therefore wound healing – pre-existing conditions such as psoriasis may even improve6.
Oestrogen is known to help skin maintain hydration; however, its rise is also responsible for a reduction in pore size and therefore sebum excretion. An effect which can be compensated for by necessary changes within a skincare routine.
For the many positive skin changes noticed during pregnancy there are 3 to take extra precautions against to prevent;
- Stretch marks
- Pregnancy acne
Melasma is often referred to as the mask of pregnancy. It is a form of hyperpigmentation – a condition characterised by disproportionate production of melanin. Usually, the human body makes and distributes melanin (the pigment responsible for skin colouration) uniformly, however during pregnancy, heightened oestrogen levels can cause this process to become erratic7.
Stretch marks, technically known as striae distensae are a skin condition caused by the quick growth cycle pregnancy initiates. Stretch marks are a form of atrophic dermal scar8 caused by tears to the dermis. These tears allow deeper layers of skin to show through, initially presenting as pink lines and maturing to ‘silver’ streaks.
Alongside steep rises in oestrogen and progesterone, several androgenic hormones also rise during pregnancy9. Pregnancy acne is a consequence of these changes. Androgens rises are directly linked to increases in sebum production which in turn is directly linked to acne vulgaris. Pregnancy acne is most common during the first trimester.
How to care for skin during pregnancy
For each skin condition linked to the hormonal fluctuations caused by pregnancy there are distinct preventative measures a person may take;
- Melasma – daily sun protection
- Stretch marks – diligent use of moisturiser to maintain skin plasticity
- Pregnancy acne – exfoliation
Melasma is a consequence of hormones however it can also be worsened by sun exposure10. The pigment responsible for melasma, melanin, is also provoked by exposure to UV light. Throughout pregnancy, melanin expression is easily perturbed and therefore a person’s skin care routine should be adjusted to compensate.
The most effective way to do this is in the addition of a daily sunscreen with high SPF – dermatologists recommend SPF 30 as a minimum.
Stretch marks are a very common pregnancy effect. To help prevent against these pink-silvery lines, the skin should be kept well moisturised with ingredients helping to increase the plasticity of skin. Ingredients found in the skin’s natural moisturising factor e.g. lactic acid and urea is especially helpful in achieving this.
Pregnancy acne although having a distinct cause is best treated in the same way as acne experienced during puberty and menstruation – by regular exfoliation.
Skin changes during menopause
As menopause begins, oestrogen levels decline. With this change come many significant skin effects – loss of hydration, a decrease in sebum production and an increase in fine lines and wrinkles. Post menopause the collagen content of skin markedly declines at around 2% per year11. Collagen is a structural protein responsible for skin’s volume and resilience, as levels fall, skin becomes prone to fine lines, wrinkles and sagging. These changes are directly supported by studies which show the use of hormone replacement therapies and topical oestrogen creams to reverse the ageing skin effects of menopause12.
How to care for skin during menopause
There are many ways in which a skincare routine may help compensate for the skin changes experienced during and after menopause. Each practise focuses either on replenishing skin hydration, skin sebum levels (e.g. oils) or by working to re-boost collagen levels.
Twice daily application of skincare products focused on hydration and condition significantly help compensate for skin dryness provoked by falling oestrogen levels. Products such as the griffin+row Hydrate and Nourish our antioxidant night cream for condition.
There are also active skincare ingredients showing the ability to stimulate collagen production. Actives such as vitamin C13 (ascorbic acid) have been shown to increase skin production of procollagens I and III. Vitamin C is an ingredient closely involved in collagen synthesis, a link first discovered by the prevalence of scurvy in sailors. Without adequate dietary levels soft tissues lose their integrity, gums begin to bleed and skin blackens and disintegrates. Supplementing both skincare and diet with products high in vitamin C will help care for post-menopausal skin types.
- Vexiau P, Chivot M. [Feminine acne: dermatologic disease or endocrine disease?] Gynecol Obstet Fertil. 2002 Jan;30(1) 11-21. doi:10.1016/s1297-9589(01)00255-7. PMID: 11875860.
- Sebaceous gland activity and serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels in boys and girls. M. E. Stewart, D. T. Downing, J. S. Cook, J. R. Hansen, J. S. Strauss, Arch Dermatol. 1992 Oct; 128(10): 1345–1348.
- Estrogen and skin: the effects of estrogen, menopause, and hormone replacement therapy on the skin. Glenda Hall, Tania J. Phillips J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005 Oct; 53(4): 555–572. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2004.08.039
- SCHMIDT, J. B., BINDER, M., DEMSCHIK, G., BIEGLMAYER, C. and REINER, A. (1996), TREATMENT OF SKIN AGING WITH TOPICAL ESTROGENS. International Journal of Dermatology, 35: 669–674. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4362.1996.tb03701.x
- Abbassi-Ghanavati M, Greer LG, Cunningham FG. Pregnancy and laboratory studies: a reference table for clinicians. Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;114(6):1326-31.
- Dunna SF, Finlay AY. Psoriasis: improvement during and worsening after pregnancy. Br J Dermatol. 1989; 120 584
- Wade TR, Wade SL, Jones HE. Skin changes and diseases associated with pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 1978; 52 233-242
- Laser therapy of stretch marks. David H. McDaniel, Dermatol Clin. 2002 Jan; 20(1): 67-76, viii.
- Hum Reprod Update. 2014 Jul; 20(4): 542–559. Published online 2014 Mar 18. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmu008
- Kroumpouzos G, Cohen LM. Dermatoses of pregnancy. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001; 45 1-19
- Brincat M, Versi E, Moniz CF, Magos A, De Trafford J, Studd JW. Skin collagen changes in postmenopausal women receiving different regimens of estrogen therapy. Obstet Gynecol. 1987; 70 123-127
- Shah, M.G. & Maibach, H.I. Am J Clin Dermatol (2001) 2: 143. doi:10.2165/00128071-200102030-00003
- Topically applied vitamin C enhances the mRNA level of collagens I and III, their processing enzymes and tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinase 1 in the human dermis. B. V. Nusgens, P. Humbert, A. Rougier, A. C. Colige, M. Haftek, C. A. Lambert, A. Richard, P. Creidi, C. M. Lapière, J Invest Dermatol. 2001 Jun; 116(6): 853–859. doi: 10.1046/j.0022-202x.2001.01362.x