Are Your Hormones Sensitizing Your Skin?
How They Contribute to Redness
With allergy season approaching, many of us are anxiously awaiting watery eyes, itchy noses, and skin redness. Those of us prone to atopy are also prone to flare-ups of eczema, rosacea, and hives. If you experience these, your hormonal status and health may be one area to explore; especially if symptoms ebb and flow with your menstrual cycle. As we’re expecting the season of allergies, now seems like a good time of year to deeply examine what aggravates our inflammatory responses.
Beyond the external environment, internal factors that affect our immune systems also contribute to skin redness. It may be surprising to learn that hormones can be one of them. The connection between hormones and skin sensitivity shows up in allergies, along with inflammatory skin problems. Read on to understand how your hormones may be contributing to your skin redness.
It may be a surprise to learn that women are more frequently affected by atopy and sensitive skin. This is one reason that female reproductive hormones have been a long suspected factor in allergic symptoms. Estrogen receptors are found on many immunoregulatory cells (which control our immune responses) and studies show that this can prompt or aggravate allergies by influencing our mast cells. Our mast cells contain histamine and the release of histamine and other chemical mediators from these cells take place in the allergy inflammation.
The estrogen connection to mast cell behaviour can be seen in the higher prevalence of respiratory allergies and hives in reproductive-aged women over male counterparts. Along with this, allergen skin prick tests in allergy-prone groups have been seen to alter with the menstrual cycle.
Increased allergy and inflammation with estrogen have also been observed in animal models as serum IgE levels are higher in allergic female mice compared to males. Another study showed that female rats who had their ovaries removed developed less airway inflammation. However, after undergoing estrogen replacement therapy, airway inflammation levels were re-elevated.
Our own endogenous estrogen is not the only source that plays a role in sensitization, environmental estrogens can too. Xenoestrogens such as bisphenol A and phthalates have been seen to enhance allergic sensitization in animal studies, indicating their role in human sensitivity.
Another major cause of some of the inflammatory symptoms is also hormonal transitions and fluctuations.
Studies have found that urticaria (hives) are associated with hormonal changes such as the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, hormonal contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. Furthermore, approximately 42% reproductive-aged women say their skin sensitivity increases right before and during menses.
Even shifts that lower estrogen can sensitize skin. Changing hormone levels during menopause has been seen to trigger inflamed skin conditions with one survey revealing that almost 32% of premenopausal and postmenopausal women experience increased skin sensitivity. Likewise, psoriasis has been observed to worsen in postpartum and menopause. This may be because low estrogen has been seen to have a stimulatory effect on the production of a cell signalling protein (TNF-α) involved in inflammation, while high concentrations have been seen to inhibit its synthesis.
So, if you’re prone to sensitive, reactive skin, you may want to look at the hormonal connection. This is especially true if you’re are in the midst of hormonal shifts such as pregnancy, postpartum or menopause and are experiencing skin redness, bumping, itching or discomfort. You may want to consider seeing a healthcare practitioner such as a Naturopathic Doctor who can help safely address your inflammation while supporting your body through its natural hormonal transition.
Kristen Ma is an Ayurvedic skincare specialist and the co-founder of Pure+Simple, a Canadian spa chain and retailer of natural beauty products.