NEW YORK – Evidence is mounting that early intervention in the menopausal transition could help forestall some of the skin aging associated with estrogen decline.
Estrogen supplementation and collagen stimulation both seem effective in preserving the integrity of a woman’s skin as levels of the hormone decrease, Dr. Diane Madfes said at the American Academy of Dermatology summer meeting.
Type 3 collagen decreases by up to 50% within a few years of menopause, said Dr. Madfes, a dermatologist in New York. This is directly related to a loss of estrogen receptor beta in the dermal matrix, which promotes collagen formation.
“There is a theory – the timing hypothesis – that we have a window of opportunity to intervene. If we can stimulate the collagen before the receptors go down, maybe we can have a beneficial effect on skin.”
Any method of collagen stimulation should work, she said: laser resurfacing, microneedling, or radiofrequency. “We are very good about being able to stimulate collagen. The method doesn’t matter as much as the timing. The important thing is to intervene early. If you see your patients starting to sag, see a loss of elasticity, that is the time to intervene. Get at the collagen while it’s still receptive.”
Estrogen exerts a plethora of antiaging, skin-preserving effects. “We know that a decrease in estrogen is related to telomere shortening. Estrogen protects against oxidative damage. It signals keratinocytes through IGF-1,” she said.
The hormone also protects skin’s water-binding qualities by promoting mucopolysaccharides, sebum production, barrier function, and hyaluronic acid. It may even play a role in protecting against ultraviolet light. Estrogen downregulation affects healing by inhibiting the proliferation of keratinocytes and the proliferation and migration of fibroblasts.
All these add up to rapid skin aging after estrogen levels drop.
“The visible effects of aging on women’s skin are not so much related to her chronological age as to the years after menopause,” Dr. Madfes said – a finding that is particularly illustrated in young women with surgical menopause and those with breast cancer who take tamoxifen. The observation seems to suggest that early intervention with estrogen might help prevent at least some of the signs of aging.
The ongoing KEEPS trial (Kronos Early Estrogen Prevention Study) may shed some light on the issue. KEEPS has randomized 729 women aged 42-58 years to oral or transdermal estrogen; the primary endpoint is rate of atherosclerosis. But an ancillary study is looking at the effect of estrogen on skin wrinkles and skin rigidity.
The substudy is based on positive findings of a 1996 study, which found evidence for facial application of topical estrogen designed for vulvar use. After 6 months, elasticity and firmness significantly improved. Skin moisture increased, as did type 3 collagen and collagen fibers.
Some women do use topical estrogens on their faces. “It seems to promote skin thickening and tightening,“ Dr. Madfes said, although a recent editorial suggested that using the product anywhere but on the genitals can cause estrogen-mediated side effects in both children and pets.
But recommending estrogen is fraught with controversy. Large studies have come to conflicting conclusions about its benefit and safety. And prescribing estrogen is not really within a dermatologist’s purview.
“It’s not for us to suggest that women go on hormone therapy. But we can explain these things and ask if she is taking it, or if she’s talked to her gynecologist about it.”
Dr. Madfes has no financial disclosures to report.
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