Skin is our largest organ, it covers our body and serves as protection and defense, regulates our temperature, makes vitamin D for us, is one of our detoxification organs, holds us together and represents who we are. Wow!
It is made up of mainly protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water.
As we reach middle age we become more susceptible to skin conditions. In fact, 25% of women between 40 – 49 will experience perimenopausal acne.
Lets look at what hormones affect our skin:
Oestrogen stimulates the production of collagen (one of the proteins that make up skin and is responsible for its integrity), it also helps keep skin healthy and youthful by encouraging healing and hydration.
As oestrogen levels drop, the skin becomes more dry and its integrity diminishes so it thins out. As a result the skin becomes more vulnerable, dry, delicate and sensitive, take longer to heal and starts to lose its elasticity (due to a protein called elastin which also starts to diminish with age). This vulnerability can mean we become more sensitive to fabrics, perfumes, dyes, chemicals and even sweat (yay for the hot flushes and night sweats). You might find that you are getting rashes and itchy, dry, red skin for the first time.
Sebum (oil) is actually controlled by testosterone (and other androgens). These male hormones (which we also make) can make skin thicker. This can clog pores, encourage bacteria to infiltrate and cause acne.
High amounts of testosterone can make the skin become more oily, and can cause acne on the back and can be responsible for the start of those damn whiskers, chin hairs and middle age moustaches.
High amounts of progesterone may also increase sebum production which is why we sometimes get pimples the week before our period (when progesterone is at its highest). There isn’t any conclusive evidence of the role of progesterone as research is limited at the moment but based on association.
4. Thyroid Hormone
Our Thyroid hormone is directly related to skin and when our thyroid isn’t functioning well then our skin will tell us.
When we have LOW thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) we can get dry, leathery skin, oedema of the face and eyelids, we don’t sweat as much, we feel cold and look pale, and our hair might start to thin. It is common to lose the lower third of our eyebrows.
When we have HIGH thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) our skin can become very warm and smooth, it can appear thinner than usual, we might sweat more, our skin may appear red and we might start to see lots of spidery looking blood vessels.
Cortisol in good amounts is anti inflammatory but when in high amounts for a long time it can drive inflammation. Studies have shown that when we are stressed, sebum production is upregulated, skin takes longer to heal, and we are more likely to touch our face and pick pimples.
Too much insulin and insulin resistance (usually as a result of high amount of refined carbs/high blood sugar) can effect skin in various ways. Insulin activates a substance called Insulin Growth Factor 1 which increases sebum production (by increasing testosterone), stimulates the production of skin cells (resulting in thicker skin) and is associated with psoriasis, acne and skin tags.
Insulin resistance can lead to diabetes and both can specifically cause skin conditions:
Eruptive xanthomatosis : causes yellow, hard, waxy lumps on the skin surrounded by a red circle which can be really itchy. This is a sign of too much fat in the blood as a result of insulin resistance.
Acanthosis nigricans – is a symptom of diabetes, where there are dark patches of smooth, velvety like skin due to glucose destroying the skin cells.
This is when diet and lifestyle are key
Skin is a detoxification organ so any issues with the skin usually suggest that there could be probably a problem with the other organs – gut, liver, kidneys and lungs.
Kidneys – make sure you are drinking water and not eating a huge amount of refined carbohydrates and sugary foods and not over doing protein (no more than 90g/day or 25g per meal), reduce salt (no more than 2000mg/day).
Lungs – breathing techniques and exercising
Liver and Gut health – reducing alcohol and coffee and getting support if you have any gut conditions or issues.
Specific foods and nutrients that help the skin
Vitamin C which is anti inflammatory and also required for the production of collagen. Foods rich in vitamin C include capsicum, green leafy vegetables, strawberries, kiwi fruit, oranges, grapefruit.
Zinc which is excellent for problem skin as it reduces inflammation and helps the healing process. It is also involved in the production of skin and has a role in regulating metabolism and hormones. Low levels of zinc have been found in those with severe acne (the more severe the lower the levels). 15mg – 40mg zinc is what has been shown to be effective in studies but be aware that we absorb more efficiently from food. Food rich in zinc include pumpkin seeds, beef, turkey, legumes esp. lentils, seafood such as oysters and crab, fish, wholegrains esp. quinoa, nuts esp. cashews, dairy.
Vitamin A is very important for the production and maintenance of skin, it speeds up healing and also helps keep the skin hydrated, it has also been shown to prevents acne breakouts. It reduces inflammation and is also an antioxidant. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, spinach, watercress, broccoli, sweet potatoes, melons, liver.
Vitamin E also reduces inflammation and is an antioxidant. It helps skin cells regenerate so ‘may’ help slow ageing. Studies have shown that low levels of vitamin A and E are both linked to acne. Can also put on the skin topically in a serum. Foods rich in vitamin E include almonds, blackberries, and avocados, Wheat germ oil, Sunflower seeds, Almonds, Peanuts, peanut butter, silverbeet greens, spinach, pumpkin.
Biotin (also known as Vitamin B7) has a role in slin health although the specifics appear unknown at present. When we are deficient in this vitamin then our skin will tell us as dermatitis is common. Biotin is also made by our gut bacteria so anyone with serious inflammatory gut conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s or active Celiac’s disease can be more at risk of deficiency. Foods rich in biotin include eggs, oats, liver, kidneys, nuts, legumes, wholegrains, cauliflower, bananas and mushrooms.
Protein – especially that is what skin is made from (collagen, elastin and keratin). Foods rich in protein include chicken, fish, legumes, quinoa, eggs, soy, dairy, nuts and seeds.
Eating low-glycemic foods made of complex carbohydrates may reduce your risk of developing acne by reducing insulin. Make sure you are eating plenty of wholegrains, legumes and fruit and veggies.
Fermented foods -some health conditions such as eczema and acne are linked to an imbalance of bacteria on the skin and this relates to the health of our gut bacteria. Include a little bit of these foods everyday – plain yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, miso, tempeh, natto, kimchi, sourdough products.
Omega 3 fatty acids are highly anti-inflammatory and have been shown to decrease acne. Eat fatty fish 1 – 3x/week, have a handful of walnuts every day, eat 1/2 – 1/2 avocado/day (also rich in vitamin E and other healthy fats),1 tbsp. flaxseed oil/day or consider taking a supplement.
A diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, yoghurt, fish and chicken and low in saturated fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates is the best diet for skin conditions. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been shown to be really helpful in psoriasis, skin cancer, and those starting prednisone.
Remember you have a choice, you have control and you can support your skin be as healthy as it can be regardless of your age.
Come and join our group Hormone Health Tips for 40+ to watch the 2 videos specifically on skin health, ask questions and email us at [email protected] if you would like our free handout ‘5 Recipes for Healthy Skin’.