You’re probably very aware of the impact hormones can have on your health and your moods, but do you know how hormones affect your appearance? When I spoke with Toronto-based naturopath Dr. Stacy Cootauco about hormones and menopause, she also had a lot of fascinating info about the way hormones can affect looks. Dr. Cootauco, who practices at both the H.O.P.E. Clinic of Integrative Medicine and the Chopra Yoga Center, shared how hormones influence skin, weight and more. (This interview has been condensed and edited.)
Beauty in the Middle: When many of us think about the physical impact of menopause, weight gain comes to mind. What are other things you see with menopause and appearance that your patients are concerned about?
Dr. Cootauco: Skin. Some of the symptoms [of menopause] include vaginal dryness and thinning the same thing happens in the skin. Estrogen is a growth-promoting hormone, and when your levels decrease, you start losing the collagen and elastin that keep your skin young. So with age comes dryness and wrinkling in the skin. While skin is the main concern, hair can also get dry and coarse, and there can be hair loss. Some women will also experience acne and facial-hair growth.
Is there one thing you wish more women knew about how hormones affect their bodies?
People are often unaware of how much their diet can affect their hormones. I’ve struggled with acne all my life. And my skin knows when I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t have. I’ve had dietitians argue that I’m wrong, but I see it [the effect of food on complexion] in patients and I see it in myself. Common triggers are increased sugar and wheat. And while part of it is genetic everybody in my family has acne it’s ultimately a diet and lifestyle issue. Sleep, exercise and relaxation are important all these things help keep the hormones balanced. Stress is huge for causing hormone imbalances as well as excess inflammation within the body both of which can affect skin.
Speaking of skin issues, do you give any skin-care advice to patients?
I basically ask people to choose more natural, organic facial and skin-care products.
What about hair-care products?
The same thing. And they’re not hard to find. You can walk into any nutritional store and they’re there for both hair and skin. But you have to experiment. For example, I like Aubrey’s products for my face, but I had to experiment with other brands first. For my hair and scalp, I use coconut oil, which I massage in and leave on for at least an hour. Then I shampoo it out and apply a conditioner. But it all depends on a person’s skin and hair type, so it’s hard for me to give specific advice.
What else do you use on your skin?
Right now I have grape-seed oil and that’s what I’m using as a moisturizer. I bought a large bottle in the summer and am using it through the winter. I do a lot of hands-on therapy and people comment on how soft my skin is. I don’t bother with creams because the oils keep it simple. But if people like creams, then they can easily find natural ones that are void of chemicals.
I’ve also used castor oil, which actually dries your skin. So I’ve used it as a facial treatment that I leave on for a few minutes and then wash off. For some people with dry skin, it’s too drying, so you have to combine it with another oil, like jojoba or grape seed. You can experiment with the ratios. There are so many home-care recipes online and in books that are easy and effective.
Earlier in our conversation you discussed the possibility of parabens raising estrogen levels, is that the main reason we should avoid them in our skin-care products?
When I put anything on my skin, I want to know that it contains herbs and oils that are full of nutrients with antioxidant properties. I’m hoping that will help prevent, or, rather, delay wrinkling and aging. Many skin-care products contain added chemicals and preservatives that actually damage your skin, which quickens the aging process. And once these chemicals are absorbed, they can damage cells, tissue and DNA within the body, making them carcinogenic. Best to go as natural as possible.
As for hormone effects hormones attach to receptors within cells in order to create biochemical changes. Chemicals such as parabens and phthalates bind to these same receptors, causing hormone imbalances. Your skin is a basically a hormonal organ full of hormone receptors, so these chemicals are bad news.
While many more organic lines now offer anti-aging skin products, there’s still not as large a range as in conventional brands. Do you have any suggestions for women who want to treat wrinkles and lines with organic products?
Some products have hyaluronic acid in them, which seems to be the big craze. However, the absorption of hyaluronic acid into the skin is questionable. Antioxidant ingredients like vitamin C, E, A, and alpha-lipoic acid and CoQ10 are absorbed and can help protect the skin, improve its repair and increase collagen. However, studies are showing that a form of vitamin A still used in sunscreen products actually increases the risk of skin cancer when exposed to UV light. So people who are out in the sun for long periods might want to be cautious about using skin-care products that have a lot of vitamin A. In general, though, it’s best to work from the inside out, and make sure you’re getting your antioxidants through diet and supplements.
Shifting gears, what about women getting the abdominal muffin-top weight, is that due to hormones as well?
Good question. In younger females, estrogen will usually cause increased fat in the hips and thighs to support a baby. But later on, it will cause more fat in the midsection. However, both high estrogen and low estrogen can lead to more weight around the waist. And generally people who are stressed will tend to gain weight there. It’s an interaction between insulin and estrogen. If you look up “metabolic syndrome,” the same process is happening here people walking around with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, issues with insulin sensitivity, and bigger bellies.
I hope this post on how hormones affect your appearance will help you make a beautiful start to 2014. After a layoff of a few months, I’m excited to be back online with Beauty in the Middle to bring you a whole new year of fresh ideas in wellness and appearance for this stage of life!