When it comes to skin health, hormones have a much bigger effect than many people realize. Hormones are your body’s chemical messengers which affect many different processes. Indeed fixing hormones can do a lot to boost your health. In this interview, Dr. Sacha Elliott will explain to us the link between hormone imbalance and skin issues…
Dr. Elliott, what role do hormones play in our body?
Hormones are a powerful tool that our bodies use to affect our growth, mood, metabolism and reproduction. They’re essential to everyday function and contribute to almost every aspect of our health including digestion, weight, sleep, menses, skin, and how we manage our stress.
Endocrine glands, such as the thyroid or pancreas, produce hormones in response to the body’s demand; these are released into the bloodstream to act locally or are carried downstream to affect distal tissue.
How do you usually tell if hormones are unbalanced?
It is usually fairly obvious when hormones become imbalanced and one will recognize negative shifts in their health.
For example, a woman’s menstrual cycle may become irregular, her moods more imbalanced, she may complain of fatigue, acne, and hair loss, while a man may complain of gynecomastia (growth of breast tissue), erectile dysfunction, diminished sex drive, or balding.
Menopause is another classic example of hormones changing: women may experience hot flashes, insomnia, irritability, and vaginal dryness.
However, in a healthy body, natural hormone changes over a lifecycle may not create any problems whatsoever: I have many female patients who claim they breezed right through menopause with little or no issues (lucky them!)
It is said that there may be a link between hormone imbalance and skin. Can fluctuating levels of hormones affect our skin?
Absolutely! The main skin conditions I see in practice are eczema, acne, hives, and psoriasis. There tends to be more direct hormone involvement with acne, but if hormones are imbalanced, they may also worsen skin conditions such as eczema.
Vitamin D is technically a hormone in the body – one of its functions is to modulate our immune system, and with many of us in North America having subpar levels of vitamin D, it inadvertently impacts the health of our skin.
What skin problems can be most likely triggered by hormonal changes?
The most common skin condition I see that is directly triggered by hormonal changes is acne.
There are two common presentations that show up in the female population I work with: estrogen dominance and acne associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Estrogen dominance is a term that is used to describe levels of estrogen that are too high in proportion to progesterone levels. This imbalance contributes to facial acne – often presenting along the jawline.
In PCOS, androgen levels (testosterone and dihydrotestosterone) are often elevated causing oily skin and deeper, cystic acne.
Other common PCOS complaints are blood sugar swings, weight gain, excessive hair growth (ex. chin hair), and infertility.
If acne begins to develop in a teenager or adult, it’s important to assess nutrition, exercise, and hormone levels.
Are there any effective natural solutions for treating hormone imbalances?
There certainly are many different natural avenues of treatment you can pursue to clear up your skin and reverse common complaints of hormone imbalance such as fatigue and infertility.
Nutrition is a huge component! If you’re not eating well, you won’t be able to make enough hormones (cholesterol is a precursor) or you’ll impede your hormone’s ability to bind to cell receptors and enter the cell.
Also, hormones are extremely sensitive to toxicity, and glands such as the thyroid do not function optimally in a toxic environment. Detoxifying our homes and bodies regularly lends to greater hormone balance.
Lifestyle and exercise are also important to consider. Stress causes immediate cortisol release (an adrenal hormone) which impacts many different systems in the body. It’s important to have strategies such as daily walks in the woods, meditation, or yoga, to deal with the constant bombardment of stress from our environment.
Lastly, when there is a strong foundation of health in place – ie. hydration, restorative sleep, stress management, nutrition, exercise, and social connection – we can add herbs, supplements, acupuncture and homeopathy to support the body in balancing our hormones.