Our hormones are responsible for a whole range of body functions – from your heart rate to the quality of your sleep. But did you know they can also impact your skin? Jenna Farmer chats to the experts to uncover the connection…
While the hormones whizzing around our bodies can have some pretty powerful effects (whether that’s progesterone keeping your menstrual cycle in check, or adrenaline giving you a surge of energy in a ‘fight-or-flight’ situation), they don’t just impact what’s happening on the inside. Our skin, the body’s largest organ, can be affected too. Whether that’s due to stress making your skin look dull, or being more prone to blemishes at certain points in your cycle. Let’s take a look at some of the most common hormones that could impact your skin health.
These can be particularly detrimental to our skin health, with studies showing more than 10 different kinds of conditions (such as acne or psoriasis) are closely linked to psychological problems. But why is this? Well, part of it is down to how we manage our stress.
Consultant dermatologist and founder of klira.skin, Dr Emma Craythorne explains: “Poor stress management can have a poor impact on the skin, because sometimes patients might scratch or pick at their skin or pull their hair out. They might over-focus on acne lesions and picking them can lead to scars or worsening of acne.”
Other conditions are more directly linked to stress hormones – when we release large amounts of cortisol (due to being super stressed for a long time), our skin can sometimes become much more oily than usual, which can trigger an eczema outbreak.
“Stress has multiple and wide-ranging physiological and clinical impacts on skin disease. There are skin conditions that are known to flare due to stress, such as eczema and psoriasis, and in these situations increased stress levels can make the disease much more severe,” adds Emma.
Menstrual cycle hormones
As well as stress hormones, the hormones responsible for your menstrual cycle – such as oestrogen and progesterone – can also impact your skin. However, it’s not all bad news. Nutritional therapist Aneequa Godart, explains: “Oestrogen, which is more prominent in the first half of your cycle, helps to stimulate collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid production in the skin, so you may notice that it is looking plump, hydrated, and clearer during the first 10–16 days.”
However, once we’ve ovulated, we may start to notice more skin issues. “Our levels of progesterone start to increase in the second half of our cycle, which can become more problematic for the skin as sebum production is stimulated so it becomes oilier, which can lead to blocked pores and breakouts,” adds Aneequa.
What’s more, when our female hormones are a bit off kilter (which may be a temporary blip or due to conditions such as PCOS; a common gynaecological condition that causes irregular periods) it can result in more long-term skin problems. For example, just under half of women with PCOS report having acne. This is because of something called androgens – a type of sex hormone. “Women and people with cycles who have higher levels of androgens, such as people with PCOS, have higher levels of acne,” explains Dr Emma Craythorne.
Turns out that there’s plenty of truth to the idea of getting enough ‘beauty sleep’. One study from the journal Sleep found that a lack of sleep was linked to a wide range of skin complaints, such as darker circles under the eyes, pale skin, and even more fine line and wrinkles. This is because when we sleep, our body repairs itself, and that goes for our skin, too – it’s at this time that collagen is rebuilt, and any damage from UV exposure is repaired, which is really important if we want our skin to look its best. The sleep hormone melatonin helps control our sleep cycle, but it also helps repair skin damage and has antioxidant properties. As well as impacting our skin, other hormones (like stress hormone cortisol) are dependent on us getting enough shut-eye, too, so heading to bed earlier is one of the best things you can do for your wellbeing.
Can diet impact our skin?
According to nutritional therapist Aneequa Godart, it’s a yes. “There’s some truth in the saying ‘great skin comes from within’, and our skin can often be a reflection of what is going on inside our body. Dull skin, problem skin, or signs of premature skin ageing can all be a sign of insufficient nutrient intake,” she adds.
How to address common skin complaints
Aneequa advises tucking into plenty of healthy fats, such as oily fish (like salmon and mackerel), or avocados and flaxseed oils. “Omega-3 fatty acids are great for dry skin as they support the layer of intracellular lipids in the stratum corneum (the outer layer of skin) which helps prevent moisture escaping,” she explains.
For bad breakouts:
If your skin seems prone to breakouts, it could be worth upping your zinc intake. “Zinc has anti-inflammatory properties and can help with skin repair – so load up on zinc-rich foods, including pumpkin seeds, oysters, spinach, beef, and lentils,” says Anneequa.
For dull skin:
If you ever wonder why you can’t achieve that sought-after dewy glow, it’s time to reach for the rainbow. “Fruits and vegetables full of antioxidants could help to improve dull skin by helping to protect it from damage from free radicals and other environmental stressors,” advises Aneequa. “Think ‘eating a rainbow’ as different coloured fruits and vegetables contain varying antioxidants, for example, yellow and orange foods, including pumpkins and oranges, are usually high in beta-carotene, which is great for maintaining skin health, and purple foods, such as blueberries and aubergines, contain anthocyanins, that help protect the skin from UV-induced damage.”
If you would like to find out more about nutrition and skin health, visit the Nutritionist Resource or speak to a qualified nutritionist.