No, but certain life stages can trigger hormonal changes that do affect the skin. Making diet and lifestyle changes can help you manage those fluctuations.
For all your hormones do for you, they’re still shrouded in mystery — you can’t see them. Hormones are chemical messengers secreted by glands that direct the function of various processes in your body, such as growth and development, metabolism, sexual function and reproduction, and mood, according to the Hormone Health Network. Several hormones of note: thyroid, insulin, cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
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Hormones Affect Skin Health in a Variety of Ways
Your hormones don’t just control how you feel — they can impact the health of your skin, too. “Hormones play a key role in skin health. We know this because certain hormonal disorders manifest themselves in the skin and hair, in addition to internally,” says S. Tyler Hollmig, MD, director of dermatologic surgery at UT Dell Medical School and Ascension Seton in Austin, Texas.
Hormone levels largely go unnoticed unless there’s something off. For instance, having low levels of thyroid hormones, called hypothyroidism, can contribute to weight gain, low mood, constipation, and even dry skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. Excess androgen — considered typical male hormones, which females also have — can stimulate sebaceous glands in skin to pump out oil, one factor that contributes to the development of acne, says Fran Cook-Bolden, MD, a dermatologist affiliated with Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City.
Another big hormonal player in skin health is estrogen. Even before menopause, “as we age, estrogen levels can start to decline. Estrogen helps to stimulate the right amount of oil production to keep it supple, smooth, and plump. But as estrogen decreases, skin is drier and itchier. We see this in patients with dry skin in general as well as in eczema patients during flares,” says Dr. Cook-Bolden.
In fact, regular visits to your dermatologist can be critical for your hormonal health. “One of the most amazing things about dermatology is that the skin can serve as a window into the health of the body. Many endocrine and other internal disorders are diagnosed by dermatologists,” says Dr. Hollmig. A dermatologist can suspect whether a certain hormonal system is off balance, and then lab tests can confirm whether this is the case. Still, Hollmig adds, scientists don’t fully understand how certain hormones contribute to common skin conditions.
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Should You Try to ‘Reset Your Hormones’ for Better Skin Health?
With a quick Google search you’ll find many so-called health experts promising that a “hormone reset” (via things like diet changes or supplements) will improve your skin health. But most often these aren’t healthcare professionals, and their claims are largely unfounded. Still, don’t feel bad if you were taken by the promise of better health, including for your skin. “I can see how some patients would find the concept of ‘resetting your hormones’ really appealing, but I’m not sure this really translates medically,” says Hollmig.
What is true is that if you’re experiencing symptoms such as a specific skin problem, your doctor may consider a hormonal condition. For instance, if you have irregular periods, acne along your jawline, and excess hair on your lip and chin, your doctor may evaluate you for polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. Excess levels of “male hormones” called androgens, as well as high insulin (another hormone) may play a role in the cause of PCOS, according to the Office on Women’s Health. In this case, treatment via weight reduction or prescription medication, like birth control pills or spironolactone, may help regulate hormones.
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Changing Hormones Influence Your Skin Throughout the Years
Similarly, your doctor may grow suspicious that other hormonal factors are at play if your skin is not responding to tried-and-true treatments, says Hollmig. For instance, “acne largely caused by a hormonal imbalance would not likely improve significantly with a topical antibacterial wash,” he says. If your skin is not responding to treatment, your doctor may request lab testing.
Puberty Can Trigger Hormonal Acne
Puberty was probably the first time you noticed how fluctuating hormones affect your skin. During puberty — when a woman’s ovaries “turn on” — there’s a rise in estrogen as well as testosterone (it’s not a male-exclusive hormone). Receptors in the skin are sensitive to testosterone, pumping out sebum as a result, which can lead to acne, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. (Because men make more testosterone, they tend to get worse acne, she says.) For women, hormonal birth control pills are an option, as they “put the ovaries asleep” and as a result, shut down testosterone production, says Dr. Minkin.
Pregnancy-Related Hormonal Changes Are Linked With Melasma
During pregnancy, skin changes vary widely among women. One notable skin change is melasma, a condition characterized by dark discolorations on your face. “Pregnancy is a state of high estrogen, making skin more sensitive to the sun,” says Minkin. To reduce your risk of developing melasma, she encourages patients to seek shade and always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
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Perimenopause and Menopause Can Alter Skin Structure
And let’s not forget about perimenopause and menopause. Due to the loss of estrogen, “menopause is associated with dryness everywhere, including your vagina and skin,” says Minkin. Skin may also feel itchy and uncomfortable at this time.
If you’re experiencing perimenopause, you may be considering hormone therapy (HT), also called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This is “medication that contains female hormones, either estrogen alone or estrogen and progestin together, to replace the ones the body is no longer making,” according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Some people take bioidentical hormones (BHT), which have the same chemical and molecular structure as the hormones the body makes, per the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). Sometimes this is compounded BHT, which is a mix of hormones that is custom-made at a pharmacy.
Along with reduced skin hydration, a lack of estrogen is also involved in breaking down collagen and elastin, the proteins that give skin its structure, noted a paper published in 2019 in the Dermatology Online Journal. The combination of dryness and loss of collagen leads to more prominent wrinkles.
Past research has suggested that women on HT and BHT have younger-looking skin with fewer wrinkles and sagging. That said, the researchers emphasize that more research needs to be done to evaluate its use as an anti-aging therapy, particularly when it comes to compounded BHT. In fact, at this time, there is no scientific evidence to support using compounded hormones over standard formulations.
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Several HT delivery methods are safe, says Minkin, though every therapy still comes with risks that an individual’s doctor must weigh against the potential benefits.
According to the Mayo Clinic, HT delivery methods include systemic therapy like pills, patches, gels, creams, or sprays. Local vaginal estrogen therapies will only address vaginal symptoms and won’t impact your general skin health.
Furthermore, healthcare professionals agree that women who don’t have problematic menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and sleep trouble, should not use HT for skin benefits alone. But if you’re battling skin dryness, it’s also likely you’ll have vaginal dryness too, and possibly other symptoms, like hot flashes. Meaning: Systemic estrogen therapy will provide a double benefit for skin and other menopause symptoms. “Consider it a bonus,” says Minkin.
“In general, if there’s a hormonal cause of a dermatologic problem, getting things back in balance is the way to go,” says Hollmig. “As dermatologists, we are able to use medications that help normalize hormone levels to improve skin health,” he adds. But notice that the treatment is specific to the condition — it’s not a one-size-fits-all hormonal reset you can find online.
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Diet and Lifestyle Habits That Can Optimize Your Hormonal and Skin Health
This is not about taking a specialized rotation of supplements or adhering to a detox or cleanse. “You can improve your skin health by getting plenty of sleep, having a balanced diet, exercising regularly, reducing alcohol consumption, and avoiding smoking. This is good, clean living,” says Hollmig. Skip severe diets and prolonged cleanses, as these can lead to a hormonal imbalance if they put too much stress on your body, he says.
Speaking of stress, managing it is one way to boost the health of your hormonal system, and potentially improve your skin health. “By a lesser-known mechanism, stress can affect cortisol levels, which can lead to flares of acne,” says Lauren Ploch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Aiken, South Carolina. “We also see flares of psoriasis, eczema, and other autoimmune conditions with stress,” she says.
If your doctor has assessed you for a hormonal condition, and your blood work or medical evaluation checks out, ask yourself: Is the underlying issue stress? In that case, lifestyle measures to manage that stress (reading, walking outside, spending time with friends laughing up a storm) can indirectly help calm and clear your skin.
Data cited in past research suggested that ramping up on magnesium-rich foods — like green leafy vegetables and nuts — may also help your body better cope with stress. “When cortisol levels rise, the body uses up a lot of magnesium,” says Cook-Bolden. Yet more studies are needed to better understand the relationship between cortisol and magnesium.
Ultimately, “hormones affect every function our body has, which includes [the development or worsening of] skin diseases, and they’re important in keeping skin in balance,” says Cook-Bolden. While hormones may play a key role, beyond medical treatment for a specific hormonal deficiency, an at-home reset will not better your skin health. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, practicing stress reduction, and getting adequate sleep are all best practices. But they’re also the habits you hear about every day. There’s no secret skin reset there.