Sun, Skin and Hormones

Mary Heim RPh FAAFM Women's Health Specialist

Mary Heim RPh FAAFM
Women’s Health Specialist

After one of the strangest winters in memory, women in Michigan are welcoming back the sun. Although exposure to the sun will improve our Vitamin D levels (and moods), we do need to remember that skin health is a major concern. Vitamin D can be taken in a supplement for those without adequate levels. Although not as natural as producing your own vitamin D via sun exposure, these supplements do not increase the risk of skin cancer or skin damage.

As women enter menopause and the levels of estrogen and progesterone begin to lower, they notice a thinning of their skin and loss of elasticity.  The skin often becomes drier and more sensitive. Hormone replacement therapy is used to treat symptoms of menopause such as vaginal dryness and hot flashes. Medical professionals agree low estrogen (specifically estradiol) is a significant contributor to reduced collagen production and reduced skin elasticity and moisture. Facial skin expresses a higher concentration of estrogen receptors than the skin of the breast or the thigh. This means that the effects of declining estrogen levels as women progress through menopause are more obvious on the skin of the face than on the skin covering other parts of the body. Although skin appearance is definitely not an acceptable reason to start hormone replacement, it can be considered a great side effect. Don’t counter this added benefit of your hormone replacement therapy with unprotected exposure to the sun.

So when packing for your next vacation, heading to the beach or spending hours in your garden, remember to apply (and re-apply regularly) a good sunscreen lotion. Sprays make it too easy to apply too little or miss spots and also pose inhalation risks.

Some of my favorites can be found here at Keystone, starting at $15.99.

There are couple ingredients in sunscreens I would advise women to avoid, especially peri-menopausal or menopausal women.

  1. Oxybenzone is a very common ingredient in sunscreens which acts like a xenoestrogen or hormone disrupter in the body. We are advised to avoid xenoestrogens by drinking out of glass bottles and cups when possible, avoiding certain plastics, and not microwaving in plastic containers. To then apply one directly to the skin is not a good strategy. Avoid this “active ingredient”.
  2. Vitamin A or retinyl palmitate is often added to night creams for its anti-aging effects on the skin. But on sun-exposed skin, retinyl palmitate may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. The FDA has yet to rule on the safety of this ingredient in skin care but avoid this “inactive ingredient” in sunscreens.

Keystone Pharmacy is carrying several products containing active ingredients Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, which provide both UVA and UVB protection.

Enjoy the sun but be responsible and kind to your skin!

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