Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dry and Itchy Skin: Menopause Symptoms


During menopause, skin drying is very common due to hormone decline and loss. The skin's inability to produce essential oils also results in the itchy, tight feeling on the skin of your body and face. Regularly exfoliating, incorporating high fatty acids into your daily diet and taking warm, instead of hot, showers are simple and effective ways to ease the dry, itching feeling.

Our Skin

Before getting to the details of this quite annoying menopause symptom, let’s review brief, what exactly our skin is, and how it can be affected by the menopausal changes in our body. Skin is the largest organ in our body, and one of the most important. There are three main layers in our skin.

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Epidermis - is the top or outer layer. It does not have any blood vessels in it. It basically consists of dead skin cells and it is designed to protect the delicate living cells of the deeper layers.

Epidermis needs to stay constantly moisturized to protect the deeper layers; that is why natural oils are produced. When the natural oil is stripped from the outer layer of skin, the moisture quickly evaporates leaving the skin dry and itchy.

The dead skin cells replenish themselves periodically. When we are young, this outer layer replaces itself very often, giving us fresh, healthy looking skin. When we age, the process of exfoliation (the top cells wear away, new cells grow beneath to replace them, and so on) is much slower, and the skin begins to look more tired and worn.

Dermis - is the second layer. This layer has blood vessels, which provide blood to that upper Epidermis layer. The Dermis is a permanent layer of skin, it does not replenish itself and it cannot be reached by cosmetics. It contains the elastin and collagen, forming the structure of the skin. This layer stays elastic or gets saggy, causing wrinkles or firmness in your skin's look.

Hypodermis - is the lower layer. This layer contains main blood vessels, sweat glands and hair follicles.

Dry Skin and Menopause

Loss of estrogen, brought about by menopause, is the primary cause of skin sensitivity during this life phase as estrogen is responsible for stimulating of production of skin-smoothing collagen and oils. That's why, as menopause approaches and estrogen production diminishes, dry, itchy skin becomes very common, says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.

That reduction of estrogen, and the changing ratios of hormones in your body don't just slow down your body's oil production, they also reduce your body's ability to retain moisture.

While a parched t-zone or flakey elbows may be the first places you notice the changes, "it really is a whole-body phenomenon," says Tanzi, with dry skin appearing just about anywhere, from the oil-gland-dense face, back, and chest, to elbows, legs, genitals -- even nails.

In addition to the chief symptom of dryness and itchiness, skin changes in menopause can also produce the following symptoms:
  • Small bumps on the skin.
  • Red or irritated skin.
  • Skin rush.
  • Abnormal touch sensations.

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The changes to your skin can start as early as perimenopause, and they're permanent, Tanzi says. Fortunately, easing the itch and combating the dry skin associated with menopause is largely in your hands.

Other Causes of Dry and Itchy Skin during Menopause

While hormonal changes are the most common cause of itchy skin around the time of menopause, other medical conditions can be responsible for itchy skin. While these are rare causes, they are important to be aware of, particularly in cases where itchy skin is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms.

Among the most probable causes are:
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Fungal Infection
  • Diabetes
  • Skin cancer
  • Vitamin Deficiencies
  • Herpes
  • Drug side effects
  • Drug abuse or withdrawal

Women concerned about the causes of itchy skin and those who experience other worrisome symptoms are advised to speak with a qualified dermatologist or other medical professional. Fortunately, itchy skin in menopause can often be successfully managed with self care and natural treatments.

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Treatment of Dry and Itchy Skin

Treating itchy skin in menopause often requires a number of self care techniques. Most doctors advise against invasive and risky medical or hormonal treatments for itchy skin during menopause. However, many experts recommend that women combine lifestyle changes with natural treatments, which are often safe and effective in providing itchy skin relief.

There are selected tips on how to deal with dry and itchy skin issues during menopause:
  • Good diet: Essential fatty acids -- like the omega-3s found in salmon, walnuts, fortified eggs, or algae oils -- help produce your skin's oil barrier, vital in keeping skin hydrated. A diet short of these body-boosting fats can leave skin dry, itchy, and prone to acne. Adequate vitamin B intake is also crucial to skin health.
  • Skin protection from Sun: Keep skin healthy with "a broad spectrum sunblock with an SPF of 15 or higher," says Andrea Cambio, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Cape Coral, Fla. Dry skin, wrinkles, moles, and skin cancers can all result from too much sun, so add a sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection to your line of defense. Aim for about an ounce to cover all sun-exposed skin.
  • Increase water intake: This will help to hydrate the skin from the inside out. But do not abuse your body by drinking too much of water, and do not fall to the 8x8 popular medical scam. Drink only when you are thirsty, but if are thirsty, do not delay the necessary water intake.
  • Avoid hot showers: Because hot water can be harsh and drying, experts advise taking shorter showers using warm water. Also, preserve those natural oils by scrubbing with soap only in the spots you really need it, like your underarms, feet, and groin. Because your legs, back, and arms don't usually get very dirty, skip the soap and stick to a warm-water wash for these areas.
  • Use gentle, non-irritating soaps: Scented, antibacterial, or deodorant soaps can be harsh, removing your body's essential oils, leaving skin even more itchy and dry. Instead, reach for an unscented or lightly scented bar.
  • Moisturize after showers: Within a few minutes after your warm shower, smooth on your favorite moisturizer. Mineral oil and petroleum jelly are both excellent and inexpensive skin moisturizers. To help moisturizers penetrate the skin, experts also suggest exfoliating -- sloughing off the top layer of dead skin -- with a gentle scrubbing or by using products containing alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids. If you are still dealing with itchy skin and menopause, then you can try castor oil. To give the castor oil a nice, refreshing scent, you can purchase small bottles or vials of things like peppermint or lavender.
  • Avoid other irritants: Avoiding smoke, excess sun exposure, stress, and lack of sleep can also help to manage itchy skin.
  • Exercise: Exercise, which is important in menopause for heart and bone health, can keep skin healthy as well.  By increasing the amount of nutrients and oxygen that make it to your skin, exercise, like estrogen, can increases collagen, one of the key substances that keeps our skin youthful.

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Alternative Medicine

Alternative approaches involve little to no risk and can be an extremely effective way to treat all menopause symptoms, including the skin related problems. This level of approach can involve several different therapies. Herbal supplements are the most prominent, though in addition women may turn to such menopause treatments as acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, aromatherapy, or hypnosis. All of these treatments can be valid and effective, though most women find that herbal supplements are the easiest menopause treatment to follow, as the other menopause treatments require a greater time and monetary commitment. In addition, herbal supplements are the only viable option to treat the hormonal imbalance directly at its source.

In the case of herbal supplements, there are two types of herbs that can be used for treating the 34 menopause symptoms: phytoestrogenic and non-estrogenic herbs.

Phytoestrogenic herbs (e.g. Black Cohosh) contain estrogenic components produced by plants. These herbs, at first, provide a menopause treatment for hormonal imbalance by introducing these plant-based estrogens into the body. However, this menopause treatment adds outside hormones, a womanÒ‘s body may become less capable of producing estrogen on its own. This causes a further decrease of body-own hormone levels.          

By contrast, non-estrogenic herbs, as the name suggests, don't contain any estrogen. These herbs provide the menopause treatment of stimulating a woman’s hormone production by nourishing the pituitary and endocrine glands, causing them to more efficiently produce natural hormones. This menopause treatment ultimately results in balancing not only estrogen, but also progesterone and testosterone. Non-estrogenic herbs (e.g. Macafem) can be considered the safest way to treat all menopause symptoms naturally as the body creates its own hormones and doesn’t require any outside assistance.

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