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Is Your Skin Acting Hormonal? How Hormone Changes Impact Your Skin

Could monthly hormonal changes be to blame for issues with your skin? Read our latest blog for all of the details.

We all have those days when we want to scream and punch a pillow. For some women, these days tend to coincide with a particular time of the month.

If you have a skin condition like psoriasis or chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU), you may have noticed that your mood isn’t the only thing that’s affected on a monthly basis – your skin symptoms may be too. That’s because two of the hormones, estrogen and progesterone, that govern your menstrual cycle may possibly affect your skin.1

But first, a ‘from a girl to a woman’ refresher

Before we dig into why your monthly ‘present’ may affect your skin condition, let’s take a step back. Imagine you are a pre-teen again, learning about why you are going through this hell once a month. Here’s how your menstrual cycle breaks down on a biological level…

Levels of estrogen and progesterone fluctuate throughout the month. For example, in a typical cycle, estrogen levels are at their lowest just before your period, then gradually rise, reaching a peak mid cycle before dropping off again in the second half of the month. Progesterone, on the other hand, is at its lowest in the first half of the cycle, then peaks about a week before your period, with a sudden drop just before.2 So, imagine two waves of hormones, one peaking when the other is down, like two hormonal roller coasters side-by-side. Get it?

These monthly fluctuations can have a dramatic effect on the skin, thanks to the presence of estrogen receptors throughout the epidermis and dermis, and to a lesser extent progesterone receptors.3 In fact, cyclical changes in estrogen and progesterone affect everything from the skin’s moisture levels and elasticity, to its pore size and oil production.4

But sex hormones don’t just affect your complexion – studies suggest they may cause a number of immunological changes deep within the skin , too. They could even possibly influence the course of (you guessed it) psoriasis and CSU.

Hormonal link to psoriasis

It may be likely that sex hormones play a role in psoriasis. We know, for instance, that the incidence of the disease peaks around puberty, after pregnancy, and during menopause, while many women find their symptoms improve during pregnancy.6,7 The fact that estrogen appears to encourage the proliferation of keratinocytes (the same skin cells that go into overdrive in psoriasis) also suggests a link.8,9

Sure enough, studies show high levels of estrogen appear to have a calming effect on the immune system . In other words, if you have psoriasis, you may find that your skin improves around the middle of your cycle when estrogen levels are at their highest.11 Conversely, flare-ups are likely to occur when estrogen levels drop just before your period.12 So, be sure to add itchy skin to your PMS symptoms – yay.

Hormonal triggers of hives

Sex hormones also appear to influence CSU.13 We know, for instance, that the condition is approximately twice as frequent in women as in men,14 while some women notice flare ups coincide with menstrual changes.15

High estrogen levels may even aggravate CSU’s symptoms. Estrogen appears to trigger mast cells to produce more histamine,16 so you may find your hives are at their worst around the middle of your cycle when levels of the hormone peak.17 Indeed, one study found women’s skin was most sensitive around these days.18 Another study revealed that some women with CSU are actually ‘allergic’ to estrogen, and it’s that which triggers hives and swelling.19

A journal can help

Sex hormones are by no means the only factors that affect your skin, but if you do have a hunch that your skin is particularly bad at certain times of the month, it’s a good idea to keep record of the changes. Start jotting down in a journal or keep track on your phone: there are even apps on your phone that will help log your symptoms, allowing you to identify any cyclical patterns. Arming yourself with the data in this way is a really helpful starting point for discussing the issue with your doctor. A clear picture of when your symptoms are at their worst will give him or her a better idea of what might be the trigger so your treatment can be tailored accordingly.

At the very least, being aware of monthly changes in your skin means you’ll be more prepared for pesky flare-ups when they do strike. After all, if you know your skin is likely to act up at certain times in the month, you can plan for it. It might not cure those monthly woes, but it may make your skin a little less angry…

  1. Website “Hormones And Your Skin” Aguirre, Claudia. http://www.dermalinstitute.com/us/library/76_article_Hormones_and_Your_Skin.html
  2. Website “BBC” – Oestrogen and progesterone – higher. Last accessed: 29.02.16. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/edexcel_pre_2011/electrical/hormonesrev6.shtml
  3. Physiological Changes Associated with the Menstrual Cycle. A Review. Miranda A. Farage, Sallie Neill and Allan B. MacLean. Obstetrical And Gynaelogical Survey, Volume 64. No. 1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23681150_Physiological_Changes_Associated_with_the_Menstrual_Cycle
  4. Physiological Changes Associated with the Menstrual Cycle. A Review. Miranda A. Farage, Sallie Neill and Allan B. MacLean. Obstetrical And Gynaelogical Survey, Volume 64. No. 1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23681150_Physiological_Changes_Associated_with_the_Menstrual_Cycle
  5. Regulatory roles of sex hormones in cutaneous biology and immunology. Naoko Kanda, , Shinichi Watanabe Journal of Dermatological Science. Volume 38, Issue 1, April 2005, Pages 1–7 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0923181104002567
  6. Psoriasis of early and late onset: Characterization of two types of psoriasis vulgaris. Henseler, Tilo et al. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology , Volume 13 , Issue 3 , 450 – 456. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=4056119
  7. Psoriasis: female skin changes in various hormonal stages throughout life--puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Ceovic R, Mance M, Bukvic Mokos Z, Svetec M, Kostovic K, Stulhofer Buzina D. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:571912. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=24459670
  8. Psoriasis: female skin changes in various hormonal stages throughout life--puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Ceovic R, Mance M, Bukvic Mokos Z, Svetec M, Kostovic K, Stulhofer Buzina D. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:571912. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=24459670http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2013/571912/
  9. Effect of estrogens on skin aging and the potential role of SERMs. Susan Stevenson and Julie Thornton. Clin Interv Aging. 2007 Sep; 2(3): 283–297. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685269/
  10. Psoriasis: Female Skin Changes in Various Hormonal Stages throughout Life—Puberty, Pregnancy, and Menopause. Romana Ceovic, Marko Mance, Zrinka Bukvic Mokos, Maja Svetec, Kresimir Kostovic, and Daska Stulhofer Buzina. BioMed Research International. Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 571912, 6 pages http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2013/571912/
  11. Psoriasis: Female Skin Changes in Various Hormonal Stages throughout Life—Puberty, Pregnancy, and Menopause. Romana Ceovic, Marko Mance, Zrinka Bukvic Mokos, Maja Svetec, Kresimir Kostovic, and Daska Stulhofer Buzina. BioMed Research International. Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 571912, 6 pages http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2013/571912/
  12. The possible relevance of sex hormones on irritant and allergic responses: their importance for skin testing. Miranda A. Farage1, Enzo Berardesca and Howard Maibach. Contact Dermatitis. Volume 62, Issue 2, pages 67–74, February 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=19807749
  13. A case of chronic urticaria exacerbating with menstrual cycles. Kalkan G, Pancar GS, Bas Y.  J Contemp Med. 2013; 3(3): 200-202. http://www.scopemed.org/?mno=34756
  14. Sex hormones and urticaria. Kasperska-Zajac A1, Brzoza Z, Rogala B. J Dermatol Sci. 2008 Nov;52(2):79-86. J Dermatol Sci. 2008 Nov;52(2):79-86. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2008.04.002. Epub 2008 May 16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18485675
  15. Chronic Urticaria Related to Menses. Shah, A. et al. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology , Volume 127 , Issue 2. http://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749%2810%29023511/fulltext
  16. Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013 Feb; 13(1): 92–99. Estrogen effects in allergy and asthma Rana S. Bondsa and Terumi Midoro-Horiutib http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3537328/
  17. Role of female sex hormones, estradiol and progesterone, in mast cell behavior. Oliver Zierau, Ana C. Zenclussen, and Federico Jensen. Front Immunol. 2012; 3: 169. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3377947/
  18. Hormonal Link to Autoimmune Allergies. Shilpa Shah. ISRN Allergy Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 910437, 5 pages. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/910437/
  19. Exogenous oestrogen as an alternative to food allergy in the aetiology of angioneurotic oedema. André F1, Veysseyre-Balter C, Rousset H, Descos L, André C. Toxicology. 2003 Mar 14;185(1-2):155-60. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12505453