One of the most undesirable effects of hormones on the skin is acne. This can range from the odd spot to Grade IV acne. Even though the actual cause of acne is unknown some facts have been established. Acne in puberty is the result of defective sebum production, abnormal cornification (thickening) in the top of the pilosebaceous duct, abnormal microflora of the skin and inflammation as a result of the presence of this micro-flora. The androgen hormones influence two of these. Androgens increase the rate of cell turnover in the basal layer resulting in a thickening of the skin surrounding the opening of the follicle. This increases the likelihood of blockages forming in this area. Androgens also increase the flow of sebum. However, we often observe acne conditions that show signs of lipid dryness. This could be due to the fact that an androgen dominance would negate the thinning, liquefying effect oestrogen would normally have on sebaceous secretions, resulting in a thick, viscous sebum that is more likely to block the pilosebaceous duct. Because of this the sebum would not be secreted onto the surface of the skin and the skin would appear lipid dry as a result.
This suggests that all acne sufferers have high levels of androgens circulating in their blood. But research shows that this is only true for 50-70% of women with acne. So not all acne sufferers have disturbed androgen levels. It is also interesting that not all people with hormonal imbalances get pimples. It seems that one factor that can determine whether or not a person will develop acne is their sensitivity to androgens and this sensitivity can be an inherited trait. Studies show that the same acne type will equally affect identical twins whereas this is not the case for non-identical twins. There are also racial tendencies with the Japanese being less affected than the Chinese and Caucasians more affected than Blacks.
To further complicate the issue, we must also consider that the ovaries and adrenal glands produce only 50% of our androgens. The other half is produced locally in tissue such as the skin. Weak androgens can be converted into stronger ones in the hair follicle. This results in an increased androgenic influence in the skin without high levels circulating in the blood. This also tends to be an inherited trait.
In summary, androgen hormones certainly contribute to the problem of acne by increasing the turnover of cells and the flow of thick, fatty sebum. However, the person must have inherited sensitivity to androgens in order for them to have this influence.
During the first half of the menstrual cycle the hormone oestrogen is dominant and it exerts its control over the sebaceous glands, limiting sebum production and ensuring that it is thin and less fatty. After ovulation the corpus luteum is formed in the ovary and starts to produce increasing amounts of progesterone making it the dominant hormone in the second stage of the menstrual cycle. The effect of progesterone on the skin is unknown even though we know that our skin cells do have receptors for this hormone. However, progesterone can interfere with the action of the skins oestrogen receptors and the regulating effect that oestrogen would normally have on the secretions of the sebaceous glands. This would result in an increase in the flow of thick, viscous sebum, explaining why women suffer from pre-menstrual breakouts.
The effect of progesterone on the skin is still unknown, but we do know it interferes with the regulating effect that oestrogen would normally have on the sebaceous glands.
|Women often find that their skin can respond to pregnancy in a number of different ways. Some women find to their delight that their skin is radiant and glowing while others, to their despair, find their skin is unsettled and they develop pimples.
The dominant hormone during pregnancy is progesterone with the placenta churning out quantities ten to twenty times higher than normally experienced during a usual menstrual cycle.
The exact effect of progesterone on the skin is still unknown but we do know that it interferes with the regulating effect that oestrogen would normally have on the sebaceous glands. To further complicate the issue, whenever progesterone levels are high in our bodies, androgen levels are low. Perhaps these two conflicting influences explain why some women have wonderful skins during pregnancy and others do not. Obviously, more research is needed in this area.
Unless surgically induced, the hormonal changes at menopause often occur gradually. The menstrual cycle becomes increasingly erratic and ovulation occurs less and less. Eventually ovulation ceases completely.
At this time a number of things happen. Progesterone production stops because the corpus luteum, which is the source of this hormone, only forms if ovulation occurs. The ovaries production of oestrogen greatly diminishes and oestrone becomes the dominant oestrogen in the body.
|Oestrone is formed by the conversion of androgens in the fatty tissue (peripheral oestrogen conversion). It is a very weak estrogen (twelve times weaker than oestradiol the oestrogen produced by the ovary). Because the ovary produces only minute amounts of oestradiol, the main source of estrogen available to the body is now oestrone and even the formation of this weak hormone drop to two-thirds of the usual level found in menstruating women. The net result of these changes is a much-reduced oestrogen and progesterone influence in the body.
The lack of oestrogen also causes a reduction in the action of the enzyme hyaluronidase, which produces hyaluronic acid. The low dermal GAGS (hyaluronic acid makes up a large percentage of these substances) mean that the skin becomes thinner and loses its supple texture. The skin can remain soft to touch but can feel less smooth. There is also a decrease in the reflection of light from the skin leaving the surface looking dull and dry. Stress can also disrupt the delicate hormonal balance, upsetting the menstrual cycle or even stopping it completely.
When Things go Wrong
Many endocrine diseases and disorders effect the hormonal balance of our bodies. This can result in an imbalance of sex hormones, which can effect the appearance of the skin in the following ways:
- Too much androgen causes the epidermis to become coarse and thick. The sebaceous glands enlarge and acne can develop. The hairline of both males and females can recede.
- Too little androgen results in a dull, thin epidermis that becomes finely wrinkled. The skin can become dry and there is no facial, pubic or axillary hair. The skin can have a pallor due to fewer blood vessels and decreased pigment levels.
- Too little oestrogen in women causes changes to the skin that are very similar to a lack of androgens but not to the same extreme. The skin will appear dull, thin and finely wrinkled with some loss of tone.
- Too much oestrogen causes pigmentation changes and the appearance of spider nevi.
As we know, the sex hormones can have a powerful effect on the skin and any upset in their delicate balance can have a dramatic effect on the appearance of the skin. Is there anything that we can do to positively influence these hormones and help our clients through their times of change?
Pugliese, P. (1996). Physiology of the Skin. Allured Publishing Corporation.
Trickey,R. (1998). Women, Hormones & Menstrual Cycle. Allen & Unwin.
Article supplied by Janine Tait, Founder & Creator of Bestow Beauty.
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