Making Friends with Menopause
Addressing Your Skin in Transition
By Linda Knittel
Originally published in Skin Deep. Copyright 2005. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Looking good for your age is desirable no matter what your chronology, but maintaining a youthful appearance after you've hit menopause is enviable. And the 40 million or so potential clients out there who are going through life's changes don't need face-lifts and botox shots to do it. In fact, maintaining the glow may be as simple as cultivating some healthy habits and receiving facial treatments that address menopause-related changes.
Menopause is simply the word used to describe the normal end of a woman's menstrual cycle. As a natural part of the aging process, most women's hormone levels begin to shift after the age of 40, and eventually, by around the age of 50, most women's ovaries have ceased production of estrogen hormones, causing irregularities and eventual cessation in ovulation and menstruation. Other possible symptoms are hot flashes and mood changes. Once a woman has gone a full year without a menstrual cycle, she has completed menopause.
In addition to controlling ovulation and menstruation, estrogen plays a number of other roles in a woman's body, including keeping the skin soft, elastic, and hydrated. Therefore, as estrogen levels wane, the skin has a tendency to become thinner and drier, which can contribute to sagging skin and wrinkles. "Menopausal women also complain of changes in pigmentation and an enlargement of the pores," says Melissa McClelland, an esthetician in Durham, N.C.
Although skin treatments can't reverse the aging process or stop menopause, they can drastically improve the health of a woman's skin and help keep her looking younger longer. "Even just massaging the skin will increase circulation and help the skin look more youthful," McClelland says. For this reason, facials that incorporate a good deal of stimulation in the form of massage will help increase blood flow as well as collagen production, which is essential to maintaining the skin's elasticity.
How well the skin is hydrated also plays a key role in how supple it feels, and since hydration diminishes as a woman ages, it is imperative to provide your clients with services that help restore moisture. To start, be sure to use mild cleansers that won't strip the skin. Gentle exfoliants help remove dead skin and foster cell renewal, while rich masks and moisturizing products boost hydration. Consider using products that contain one or more of the following antiaging ingredients.
--Hyaluronic acid is the compound naturally found in the body's connective tissue, which helps cushion and lubricate. Because the acid is able to bind with water, products made with hyaluronic acid hydrate the skin, therefore diminishing fine lines and wrinkles.
--DAE (dimethylaminoethanol), only recently recognized for its ability to improve the appearance of skin, has been shown to firm skin and smooth lines when applied topically.
--Creatine appears to accelerate cell repair on a genetic level, making it a great addition to moisturizers and sunscreens.
--Alpha lipoic acid is becoming as well known of an antioxidant as vitamins A, C, and E. Due to its solubility in both water and oil, alpha lipoic acid can penetrate all parts of a cell, allowing it to help fight free radicals, as well as easing the inflammation that can cause fine lines. Fighting free radicals and inflammation internally and externally is a big part of fighting off wrinkles and sagging skin (see "Easing Inflammation," sidebar).
It is also important to address the changes in skin color that occur during aging. When estrogen wanes, cells in a woman's skin are less able to properly process the pigment or melanin they contain. The result is often a mottled look caused by age spots and sun damage. Offering lightening creams and bleaching treatments, as well as photo rejuvenation therapies, can help even out your client's skin tone. And, of course, always recommend a good sunscreen to help prevent further damage.
Linda Knittel is a freelance writer in Portland, Ore. Her work has appeared in several national publications, including Yoga Journal, Natural Health, Fitness, and Gourmet.