Hormones are the body’s chemicals that send signals between cells. They control and regulate many functions in the body, including temperature and blood pressure, and they support other diverse functions, such as growth, cell repair, metabolism, fertility and reproduction. The communication that a hormone has with organs in the body, along with other hormones, can also affect the skin of both women and men at various stages of their lives.
With all the skin conditions that can arise due to too many or too few hormones, you must be aware of everything you can do safely for your skin as side effects can be from one end of the scale with overly dry skin, to the other end—acne breakouts.
Understanding body chemistry
There are naturally occurring changes in body chemistry as people age, such as menopause. These changes can affect hormonal release from glands, thus disturbing their balance. Diabetes is another fairly common hormonal imbalance that occurs when there is not enough insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that affects metabolism. Hyper- or hypo-thyroidism is also quite common and is sometimes even detected in children. All these imbalances can manifest themselves in a wide variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Sustained hormonal imbalance can have severe—and potentially fatal—complications, so a diagnosis and treatment is critical for general health and well-being. The main hormones that affect the skin include estrogens, testosterone and thyroid hormones.
Estrogen. Estrogen is the most commonly discussed hormone, but is often misrepresented because it is not only a female hormone, but is also found in men and in tissues outside the ovaries. Estrogens are made up of hormones that are chemically similar.
Testosterone. Testosterone is not just a male-based hormone. It affects hair growth and loss, causes coarser skin and increased levels of oil during different stages of a woman’s life.
Thyroid. The thyroid gland makes two hormones, which, if not balanced, will affect the skin. Too many of the hormones cause the skin to become sweaty, featuring enlarged pores that are warm to touch and even flushed. Too little production can cause the skin to go to other end of the spectrum, and become dry, coarse and thick.
During young adulthood (adolescence to adulthood), acne often comes into play. Androgen hormones will stimulate the sebaceous glands in the skin. If they are overstimulated, acne will occur. Clients with hormonal acne may also experience irregular menstrual cycles, hair loss, diabetes and infertility. These health challenges can also lead to other skin conditions.
Hormonal acne will benefit from more gentle, effective treatments, because this skin can be sensitive and aggressive treatments may cause unwanted reactions. In the treatment room, a combination of deep cleaning treatments, enzymes and light-to-medium peels are effective. Home care should include products that are antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, soothing and hydrating. Vitamin A derivatives, salicylic acid, totarol and benzoyl peroxide-like ingredientes – such as glycyrrhiza inflata root extract (licorice) – can be effective for oil control.
Another highly imbalanced hormonal stage occurs during pregnancy, and often results in melasma, also commonly known as “pregnancy mask.” This condition occurs when there is an overproduction of melanin. Professional treatments that can help include lasers and peels, but they are only recommended after the child is born. A series of microdermabrasion facials also can be helpful during pregnancy. Home care during pregnancy can include natural brighteners, such as vitamin C, bearberry and daisy. After the pregnancy, home care may need to become more aggressive, using products such as hydroquinone and tretinoin-like ingredients. During the course of the pregnancy and beyond, we always recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, since this will help prevent further pigmentation problems.
The major phase of hormonal skin condition changes is menopause. Menopause can happen naturally as women age or be induced prematurely due to illnesses, surgeries and medications. Because the main source of female hormones, the ovaries, shut down at this time, many side effects can affect the skin, as well as the treatments done by the professional. Menopause is the state of an absence of menstrual periods for at least twelve months. There is usually a transitional period to menopause, which can include smaller stages of periomenopause, the transitional time of hormone fluctuation and post-menopause, the period of time after the very last menstrual cycle occurrence.
Skin can be affected from a variety of issues during menopause, such as thinning, acne, dryness, excessive hair growth in odd places and even hair loss. You can still use anti-aging ingredients, such as peptides, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and antioxidants, but you just need to be more cautious when dealing with more sensitive skin.
9 Tips to Help Balance Hormones
1. Avoid High Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fats
“The human body is about 97% saturated and monounsaturated fat, with only 3 % Polyunsaturated fats. Half of that three percent is Omega-3 fats, and that balance needs to be there. Vegetable oils contain very high levels of polyunsaturated fats, and these oils have replaced many of the saturated fats in our diets since the 1950s.
The body needs fats for rebuilding cells and hormone production, but it has to use the building blocks we give it. When we give it a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats instead of the ratios it needs, it has no choice but to incorporate these fats into our cells during cell repair and creation.
The problem is that polyunsaturated fats are highly unstable and oxidize easily in the body (if they haven’t already oxidized during processing or by light exposure while sitting on the grocery store shelf). These oxidized fats cause inflammation and mutation in cells.
In arterial cells, these mutations cause inflammation that can clog arteries. When these fats are incorporated into skin cells, their mutation causes skin cancer. (This is why people often get the most dangerous forms of skin cancer in places where they are never exposed to the sun, but that is a topic for another day!)
When these oils are incorporated into cells in reproductive tissue, some evidence suggests that this can spur problems like endometriosis and PCOS. In short, the body is made up of saturated and monounsaturated fats, and it needs these for optimal health.”
Bottom line: Don’t eat fats like Vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola oil, soybean oil, margarine, shortening, or other chemically altered fats. Choose fats like coconut oil, real butter, olive oil (don’t heat!) and eat lots of high Omega-3 fish.
2. Limit the Caffeine
I love coffee, a lot, but the truth is that too much caffeine can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, especially if there are other hormone stressors involved too like pregnancy, presence of toxins, beneficial fat imbalance or stress.
Cut down the coffee if you can, or replace with beneficial herbal teas. If you can’t or won’t cut the coffee, use it as a way to sneak in your beneficial fats by adding 1 tablespoon coconut oil to each cup and blending in the blender to emulsify. It is like a latte but with healthy fats!
3. Avoid Toxins
Toxins found in pesticides, plastics, household chemicals, and even mattresses can contain hormone disrupting chemicals that mimic hormones in the body and keep the body from producing real hormones. If you have hormone imbalance or are struggling to get pregnant, avoiding these toxins is very important! Cook in glass or non-coated metal pans (no non-stick or teflon!) and avoid heating or storing foods in plastic. Find organic produce and meat whenever possible and don’t use chemical pesticides or cleaners.
Can’t emphasize this one enough! If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your hormone will not be balanced. Period!! This can single-handedly improve hormones and is even linked to longer life, less chance of disease and optimizing weight.
5. Supplement Wisely
In a perfect world, we would be rising and sleeping with the sun, getting Vitamin D from the sun and Magnesium from the ocean while relaxing and exercising in great balance each day in a stress-free world. Since I doubt that describes any of us currently, supplements can fill in the gaps. There are some specific ones that are helpful for hormone support.
- Maca- A tuber in the radish family that has a history of boosting hormone production and libido. Many women notice less PMS, increased fertility, and improved and better sleep. Maca is also high in minerals and essential fatty acids, making it great for hormones. It is available in powder form (least expensive option) or in capsules.
- Magnesium- Magnesium supports hundreds of reactions in the body and often contributes to better sleep (which is great for hormones!). There are several effective forms of Magnesium: In powder form with a product like Natural Calm so that you can vary your dose and work up slowly, ionic liquid form can be added to food and drinks and dose can be worked up slowly, or transdermal form by using Magnesium oil applied to skin. This is often the most effective option for those with damaged digestive tract or severe deficiency.
- Vitamin D- A pre-hormone is supportive of hormone function. Best obtained from the sun if possible, or from a D3 supplement
- Fermented Cod Liver Oil – Provides many of the necessary building blocks for hormone production including Vitamins A, D, and K. It also is a great source of Omega-3s and beneficial fats.
- Gelatin- is a great source of calcium, magnesium and phosphate. It supports hormone production and digestive health and helps sooth inflammation, especially in joints. Great Lakes Kosher was able to verify with the company that it is sourced from grass-fed, humanely raised cows, and as such is higher in nutrients.
6. Exercise Lightly
If you have hormone imbalance, intense extended exercise can actually make the problem worse in the short term. Sleep is actually more important, at least during the balancing phase, so focus on relaxing exercises like walking or swimming and avoid the extended running, cardio, and exercise videos, for now.
7. Lift Heavy Weights
While extended cardio can be bad, short bursts of heavy lifting (kettlebells, deadlifts, squats, lunges) can be beneficial since they trigger a cascade of beneficial hormone reactions. Aim for a few sets (5-7) at a weight that really challenges you, but make sure to get help with form and training if you haven’t done these before as bad form can be harmful!
8. Eat Some Coconut Oil
Coconut Oil is amazing for hormone health. It provides the necessary building blocks for hormone production, can assist weight loss, reduce inflammation, and even has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.
If you really need hormone help, aim to consume 1/4 cup of added coconut oil a day. My favorite way is to blend into coffee or tea.
9. Fix Your Leptin
Leptin is a master hormone, and if it is out of balance or if you are resistant to it, no other hormones will balance well. Fixing leptin will also help boost fertility, make weight loss easier, improve sleep, and lower inflammation.