This is not a story about battling ageing or turning back time. After almost 20 years of interviewing skin experts from every corner of the globe I can honestly say, hand on heart, that a fighting attitude does not put you on the path to beauty nirvana (AKA feeling happy in your own skin).
For starters, equating youth with beauty is an unrewarding algebra; no lotion or potion can magically erase the past when you’re moving into a new life phase, though it can make the transition feel a little smoother.
It’s all a question of balance – we’re not suggesting you should look forward to saggy jowls or crow’s feet, but indulging in too much aesthetic nit-picking is self-defeating for both your self-image and your skin.
Too often it prompts an arsenal of actives to appear on your bathroom shelf which, without a careful guide, can send your skin into an absolute spin. When your hormones are already seesawing, that’s a troubling combination.
If you feel like you’re in mid-life freefall skin-wise, it’s time to try two things: ‘skinmalism’ (using only what you really need) and a mindset check-in: less ‘anti’ ageing and more ‘healthy’ complexion is a mantra echoed by aestheticians around the world.
“What’s really interesting is that in much of Europe, the attitude to skin and beauty is slightly different to Anglo-Saxon countries,” says Stephen de Heinrich de Omorovicza, founder of Omorovicza, a brand born from the mineral-rich thermal waters in Hungary.
“They understand that skin doesn’t go from ‘great’ to ‘old’. Women tend to enter into a symbiotic relationship with an aesthetician in their teens and, over time, that helps them become more attuned to what their skin needs. They begin to realise their skin’s potential.”
In Australia, we tend to adopt more of a DIY attitude. That is nothing to be sniffed at but it can make it harder not to be reactive when your complexion starts to behave erratically (though rest assured, even those with professional support will need some grit to ride through the meno skin stage).
“Perimenopause is like the warm-up stage to menopause and unpredictable skin symptoms can be expected,” says Sandi Daley, Sothys Australian Training Manager. “Menopause is more of a settling-in stage where the skin begins to stabilise and tends to flare less, and post-menopause is the evanescent stage where the skin is predictably functioning.”
Until that steady skin scenario unfolds, the changes can feel like a bit of a wild ride because your complexion may do things it never has before. “Reduction of oestrogen directly affects the skin’s epidermal lipid production as well as the natural balance of the skin’s microbiome,” says Sandi.
“Consequently, the skin may become more reactive and prone to redness, or show signs of dehydration, dryness, stress-induced breakouts and hyper-pigmentation.”
Hydration, or lack thereof, tends to be the number one gripe from perimenopause onwards. “The decrease in oestrogen production can result in skin becoming thinner and drier, necessitating an increased focus on hydration to preserve its health and appearance,” says Bridget Carmady, Naturopath and Founder of Clemence Organics.
This is a good time to make friends with skin-loving oils and serious hydration boosters like hyaluronic acid. Be generous with application at night because that’s when the skin is doing all the repair work.
Skin cells begin to turn over more slowly as you mature, so you may also find a kind of dullness creeping in when cells ‘stick’ to the epidermis longer – it’s fine to slough them away, just reassess the frequency regularly because too much exfoliation can throw your skin’s microbiome out of whack.
These ‘surface’ complaints are all underpinned by structural issues: your collagen and elastin. By the age of 50, you’re doing well if you still have half the skin collagen you were born with – a 2018 study showed that Australian women tended to experience collagen loss 10-20 years earlier than their European and U.S. counterparts (mostly thanks to our high UV).
As well as a general loss of bounce, that also means pores tend to relax. “A lightly hydrating toner works to gently astringe the skin and reduce pore size after cleansing,” says Bridget. “I also highly recommend a cream cleanser as it helps to keep skin sebum levels constant.”
WATCH: Foods to eat that ease menopause symptoms (Article continues after video)
Thinning skin is best addressed with vitamin A, still the gold standard for prompting more collagen production (the building blocks of bouncy skin). If you have issues with rosacea or sensitivity, then treat retinol with caution – bakuchiol or peptides offer a gentler plumping alternative.
“Boosting collagen and other constructing proteins in the skin also then helps to hold moisture and maintain skin water levels,” says Sandi.
Possibly the most frustrating change is the return of pesky breakouts. “Hormonal flux during perimenopause leads to a kind of skin stress where it tries to stay in balance during this period of change,” says Sandi. “We call this ‘stress induced breakouts’ which need to be managed differently from teenager spots. An anti-inflammatory approach and supporting the skin microbiome yields the best results.”
That means extra gentle cleansing and exfoliating and feeding the skin with nourishing oils and antioxidants (inside and out). The one constant at this skin stage is that you can’t just set and forget your regimen.
“The care you give your skin will need to constantly evolve. Products you have been using for a long time just might not be suitable anymore, but that doesn’t mean you will end up in an unhappy place,” says Stephen.
“It’s great to just be more and more attuned to what your skin needs right now. When you do that consistently you might actually find that the best version of your skin may be much better than you ever imagined.”
Beauty from within
“A healthy diet really makes a difference to the health of your skin,” says Bridget, who recommends eating plenty of:
High quality fish oil or flaxseed oil for omega fatty acids: “Evening primrose oil is another great fatty acid rich oil and can also help with hot flushes.”
Vitamin C: “During menopause, hormone changes disrupt the body’s ability to produce collagen but adequate vitamin C levels ensure collagen production is at its maximum.”
Nuts: “Packed with vitamin E, zinc and healthy fats, which are important for skin regeneration.”
Protein in legumes, tofu, chicken and seafood: “Contains amino acids that maintain skin repair, regeneration, and elasticity, which maintains plumpness and firmness.”
Avocado and olive oil: “Contain essential fatty acids which provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and healing benefits and help maintain skin moisture.”