We hear quite a lot about how stress, medication and coffee in the afternoon affects our hormones. However there a quite a few more things that can affect our balance and how we feel. Losing sleep, crash diets, irregular gym attendance and a workout that misses cardio or is biased towards one exercise all affect our hormones as well. A lot of people don't know how our hormones work even without all these things that can affect them negatively. Read on to find out...
If you had acne when you were a teenager you'd remember that it was pretty obvious when teenage hormones were affecting your skin. I thought I had the worst case of teenage acne ever and wouldn't have any photos because I hated the way that I looked. Little did I know that the worst acne I had ever experienced would come later, around the time I was 30. Severe pustular acne appeared almost overnight - it was a reaction to medication, stress and hormones. If only it went away as quickly as it appeared. My face has never hurt so much. My pride was hit the hardest though. I didn't want to go outside.
As you can understand from the above, my hormones have had a bashing. It took quite a while for me to feel better after my stint in hospital. This was all down to my body chemistry being out of wack - our hormones are a delicate balance.
What are Hormones?
In short, a hormone is a chemical signal. Signalling is one method of communication in the body. Chemical signals relay messages between cells, tissues, and organs. Hormones are released (from various glands) and they act on a specific receptor of a target site (a cell, tissue, organ). The level of the hormone in the bloodstream (how much there is) is the ‘signal’ itself.
Hormones are controlled by the brain (the hypothalamus and pituitary gland). The release of hormones is controlled by your brain and a complex system of feedback loops.
When you have a hormonally-induced skin problem, like acne or melasma, it is difficult to change the cause or the action of the hormones themselves. Only prescription drugs can do that. Topical products can help the outer appearance of skin. This is why, when your health and skin concerns are of a hormonal nature you need to be patient and treat the problem holistically.
The hormones that primarily concern women and their skin are:
Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone.
Hormones, Puberty and our Skin
Puberty usually occurs in girls between the ages of 10 and 14 - your brain releases a special gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH for short) that starts the changes of puberty. When GnRH reaches the pituitary gland (a pea-shaped gland that sits just under the brain), the pituitary gland releases two more puberty hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH for short) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH for short) into the bloodstream.
In girls, FSH and LH target the ovaries, which contain eggs that have been there since birth. The hormones stimulate the ovaries to begin producing another hormone called estrogen. Estrogen plays an essential role in the development of female characteristics such as breasts, pubic and armpit hair, the tissue lining the inner cavity of the uterus (or womb), and the regulation of the menstrual cycle/reproductive system.
These hormone fluctuations can aggravate the skin and cause blemishes and breakouts. During puberty, hormonal acne often appears in the T-zone. This includes your forehead, nose, and chin. Estrogen, is a natural anti-inflammatory hormone that generally keeps things calm. However, the drop in estrogen around the time of a period can cause the skin to flare up resulting in “monthly breakouts”.
Hormones, the Menstrual Cycle and our Skin
Your skin can change depending on what stage you're at in the 28-day cycle, from greasy and acne prone to dry and normal, so you should treat your skin accordingly. A menstrual cycle is a roughly four-week span of time when three key hormones— estrogen, testosterone and progesterone—rise and fall in a specific pattern.
Before your period when hormone levels surge (progesterone and testosterone), your oil glands go into overdrive. Oil production is at its highest (pores become blocked, and pimple formation is common) during the last 14 days of your cycle. Remember to moisturise during you period, because levels of estogren are low and this dehydrates skin.
Hormones, Pregnancy and our Skin
The most common thing that worries pregnant women is chloasma/melasma or the mask of pregnancy. Some pregnant women develop dark irregular patches on their face most commonly on the upper cheek, nose, lips, and forehead. Melasma is tricky to treat and it is due to the stimulation of pigment-producing cells by female sex hormones so that they produce more melanin pigments (dark coloured pigments) when the skin is exposed to sun. Sometimes women are more prone to getting melasma when on the pill. You can treat melasma with laser and skin lightening creams (etc); however sun protection is a better preventative measure. During pregnancy it is best to be really careful so you can prevent these patches from occurring.
Menopause and our Skin
Hormonal changes as well as the slowdown in ovarian activity (including the decrease in B-Estradiol levels), cause most of the changes women see with menopause. During menopause hormones cause hot flashes and the adrenal glands and ovaries of post-menopausal women secrete increased androgens.
Many women will notice changes in their skin and hair during the menopause. Dry, thin and sagging skin are common complaints heard during menopause. The two main reasons for the change in skin are loss of estrogen during menopause and long-term exposure to the elements, namely sun and wind. Other symptoms attributed to the skin during the menopause and perimenopause transition include acne-type breakouts and unwanted facial hair.
John Sunyecz, M.D.
Contraceptives, Medication and our Hormones
When you use a hormone-based birth control method your body receives a controlled dose of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones have the power to prevent ovulation as well as thinning the uterine lining to make it harder for the fertilised egg to attach. They also prevent sperm progression into the uterine cavity because they thicken the cervical mucus.
While the pill; for example, can improve acne (if you take a brand that has progesterone to decrease androgen levels, including testosterone), protect you against ovarian cancer and control PMS symptoms like bloating, pelvic pain, and mood swings, it can also have negative effects too. It can interfere with thyroglobulin and affect thyroid function. Researchers have also found a link between oral contraceptives and an increased risk of breast cancer. There is an increased risk of venous blood clots associated with oral contraceptives however this risk is mainly for obese or overweight users, smokers, and women over 35 years of age. Hormonal birth control methods are very effective and can be safe if you use them correctly.
Medication can also affect our hormones. Medications make a difference to lots of peoples lives and they are mostly positive. However medications carry risks and side effects so it is important to research everything before you take it. Anti-depressants, for example, alter brain chemistry and since hormones are controlled by the brain it makes sense that anti-depressants would affect hormones as well.