Guest blog: Niki Bezzant on hormones and menopause
We’re excited to announce Niki Bezzant, writer, speaker and author of This Changes Everything, to be our first guest blog feature.
Niki was one of our fabulous “5 fearless women over 50” and is a champion on educating many women on perimenopause, menopause and beyond and we’re honoured to have her here with her knowledge and advice.
The hormonal changes happening in a menopausal body - and what’s going on in your skin
Hormones drive us as humans. In women, our most powerful hormone is oestrogen. It’s the one we know is responsible for our menstrual cycle; but did you know oestrogen is also involved in almost every other system of the body, too? This powerful hormone affects almost every aspect of our lives as women, including our skin.
In perimenopause – the period of time leading up to menopause, which can start as early as our late 30s and last between 2 and ten years – oestrogen starts its slow decline. But along the way, oestrogen levels go on a bit of a rollercoaster ride, heading up and down in quite unpredictable ways. It’s this rollercoaster that’s responsible for many of the symptoms we experience at this time, and through the menopause transition.
What’s happening to my skin?
We have oestrogen receptors all over our bodies, from our brains to our little toe joints. That includes our skin. So it’s no surprise we see skin changes happening in midlife and beyond. Some of that is related to natural ageing – which happens to all of us – and in Aotearoa especially, the legacy of our lives spent outside in the sun can really start to show up in our skins at this stage. Genetics play a part, too. But it’s all compounded by hormonal change.
One of the changes that happens in perimenopause and menopause is a decline in the amount of collagen in the skin. Think of collagen like the structural girders of the skin. Collagen production is driven in part by oestrogen. When we’re younger, we have lots of strong collagen, and as we age the collagen fibres become less strongly knitted together, meaning a loss of suppleness and support. We also lose elastin, another important protein for elasticity in many tissues in the body. We start losing elastin in our 20s, but the loss seems to accelerate in midlife, again leading to a loss of firmness.
We lose other things from the skin, too: hyaluronic acid, which attracts water to our skin, meaning it becomes drier and more fragile. We start to lose the fat pads under the skin of the face — they’re what makes a youthful face look full — and there’s the start of gradual bone loss which can contributing to a ‘sad face’ look. We can see a change in the shape of our faces, from an oval to a more square shape, as this all takes place.
And on top of that for some women, because of that hormone rollercoaster, teenage-like acne can rear its head again. Fun times!
What can I do about it?
Some of this change we can’t do anything about, short of injectables or surgery – not a route most women want to go down. But we can do a lot to look after our skin and keep it as healthy as possible as we get older.
For a start, how we live shows in our skin; our skin health reflects our general health. If we’re stressed out, not getting enough sleep, maybe drinking a bit too much alcohol and eating a less-than-ideal diet, it can be a perfect recipe for suddenly looking in the mirror and feeling like we’ve aged 10 years overnight. So addressing the basics: diet, exercise, sleep and stress – can go a long way to helping us look rested and healthy.
It's also worth practicing some self-care and looking after our skin with quality, gentle skincare. Sunscreen every day, rain or shine, should be a baseline. Then look for products featuring niacinamide, vitamin C and vitamin A (or gentler equivalents), all of which have been shown to be effective to help ageing skin.
Lastly, we can re-frame how we see ourselves as we get older. We’re conditioned to believe that youthful = beautiful; most of us have grown up with that narrative, reinforced by endless marketing messages and social and cultural norms. Now it’s even worse, since we have social media relentlessly pushing manipulated and unrealistic images at us. Learning to accept our changing faces might be hard, but it will make us feel better. Think of the older women in your life who you love; I bet you think they are beautiful just as they are. You are beautiful, too. And we all know (I hope) that confidence and feeling truly comfortable in our skin is always attractive, no matter how old we are.
By Niki Bezzant, author of This Changes Everything, the honest guide to menopause and perimenopause
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