What Do Your Hormones Have to Do With Your Skin’s Appearance? Plenty

Photo courtesy of Caire Beauty

Acids and peptides and enzymes, oh my!

Growing up is tough on skin. Not including the influence of genetics, there are two major types of skin aging — internal and external. Historically, most skincare has been designed to work against external aging caused by UV radiation and pollution. 

What often goes ignored is internal aging, or hormone decline, which informs our external aging. Our sex hormones — estrogen, progesterone, et al. — play a major role in biological functions other than our libidos, including skin cell synthesis. Lower hormone levels mean fewer skin cells and lower amounts of essential nutrients, which leads to dryness, bigger pores, eye sag, eye circles, crow’s feet, forehead lines, the “elevens” between your brows, thinning hair, and increased skin sensitivity.

How do hormone changes affect skin?

When both women and men reach 29 or 30, their hormone production and corresponding skin cell production start to diminish by about 1 percent each year. This process starts out as invisible, and most people’s skin will “bounce back” if they laugh, look annoyed, frown, and laugh again well into their late 30s.

But at around 39 or 40, the pace of hormone change diverges dramatically. For men, it carries on at about 1 percent per year. But for many women, hormone production loss doubles when they enter perimenopause — the 4-10 year period before menopause itself —  causing skin cell generation to decrease by 2-2.5 percent annually.

After a year without periods — which, for many women, is around age 51 — the proverbial other shoe drops. Those period-less 12 months are the transition into menopause’s final stage, postmenopause, when the ovaries have largely stopped producing estrogen. Women are hit with a 30 percent drop in their skin production capacity, which is equivalent to the total cumulative loss that started back at age 30. Skin layers are fundamentally less hydrated, less strong, less full, less elastic. Expression lines no longer snap back, wrinkles are born, and women’s skincare needs to do some heavy lifting, working from the outside in.

How does skincare help?

We often ask what ingredients to look for in our skincare, but that doesn’t cover the larger question of purpose. As we age, we should be thinking first and foremost about the purpose of a skincare product, then what the best ingredients are for that purpose, and finally, what formulation can maximize the ingredients’ effectiveness. It’s the same way that the exact same food ingredients can yield entirely different tastes with different preparations. Finding out what you want to address, learning what skincare ingredients are best for that, and then finding what formulations are most effective is the way you want to go.

For external photo-aging, we seek out sun care and makeup that incorporates SPF. For aging caused by estrogen depletion, we need skincare that counteracts the loss in collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, along with the increase in skin sensitivity and redness or acne that hormone loss causes. Your skincare should work to regenerate or directly add collagen and hyaluronic acid to your skin, and it should be working beneath the skin barrier whenever possible: Even the best ingredients cannot be effective if they’re just sitting on the surface. The key is finding skincare that will penetrate your skin to work from the inside out — remember that internal aging informs external. Here are some ingredients to look out for depending on what skin concerns you want to address.

Low-weight hyaluronic acid (HA)

Oddly, hyaluronic acid isn’t an acid at all but instead a long-chain polysaccharide, or sugar, molecule that can hold 1000 times its own weight in water. This good-for-you, must-have sugar is a key component of our extracellular matrix, the jello-like substance that holds cells in place, and it’s what makes skin feel firm and “bouncy.”

Caire Beauty Defiance Science Glowmaker Duo

Caire Beauty

Caire Beauty’s Theorem Serum Boost and Triple Lift Molecule Mask both contain extra tiny HA molecules that ensure they reach the inner layer of skin. The bonus? Skin is a living system, so if one part of it “improves,” other parts improve in response. In this case, an HA-rich extracellular matrix encourages stronger elastin and collagen fibers that contribute to skin firmness.

$100 at Caire

Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Acid Serum


Not all hyaluronic acid is the same. Most of the HA in skincare formulas is made of long-chain, or high-weight, molecules that stay on the surface of the skin. It provides sufficient hydration for 30-year-old skin, but those in the 40-70 age range need low-weight HA that can penetrate the skin barrier and supplement the decreased HA levels in the cellular matrix. Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Hyaluronic Serum uses a wide spectrum of HA molecules to both penetrate the skin barrier and nourish the skin’s surface.

$110 at Sephora

Futurewise Slug Boost Hydrating Spray


Generally, skin is more permeable when wet, so why not increase absorption and add hyaluronic acid at the same time? This fine mist by Futurewise contains three different molecular weights of water-attracting humectants (including hyaluronic acid), which moisturizes and primes your skin for heavier skincare products. Futurewise also makes a cream and balm you can use after applying the mist that will help further moisturize your skin.

$25 at Target

ILIA Super Serum Skin Tint


Once you’ve taken care of moisture beneath the surface, you can continue to layer HA onto your skin with your makeup. ILIA’s Super Serum Skin Tint contains HA as well as non-nano zinc SPF 40, and it comes in 30 shades you can match to your skin tone.

$48 at ILIA

Jones Road What The Foundation

Jones Road

If you prefer light-to-medium coverage, Jones Road’s What The Foundation, which contains hydrating, skin-smoothing HA molecules as well. There are 12 different shades to choose from, all of which are buildable and can be easily blended out depending on how much coverage you want.

$44 at Jones Road

Kindra Daily Vaginal Lotion


Skin is skin is skin, so keep in mind that HA is good for more than just your face and neck. Kindra’s Daily Vaginal Lotion provides a moisture boost to your vaginal lining, which can become drier and weaker as hormones decline. It’s formulated with HA, moisturizing niacinamide, and lightweight plant oils.

$54 at Kindra


Another super ingredient category is signaling peptides, which are designed to trigger collagen or hyaluronic acid creation in the skin and can make up for lost estrogenic action, or internal aging. But since peptides are chains of amino acids, they are often too large to get past the skin barrier and need extra help to do so. 

Caire Theorem Serum Boost

Caire Beauty

Caire’s Theorem Serum Boost uses natural fermentation to make its peptides more bioavailable, and has clinically proven pro-collagen and pro-HA activity to revitalize aging skin.

$56 at Caire

Youth To The People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream

Youth To The People

For a richer moisturizer, Youth To The People’s Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream pairs a calming peptide with powerful, plant-based adaptogens to moisturize the skin and protect it from environmental stressors.

$58 at YTTP

Fruit Enzymes

As our skin cell production decreases, our skin cell turnover — or desquamation — slows as well. Normally, our skin sheds old cells all day every day, which encourages fresh cells to come to the surface and prevents skin from looking dull. When the natural process slows, exfoliation helps to jumpstart our skin’s revitalization.

But here’s the rub (bad pun intended!): We need to exfoliate and increase cellular turnover gently. Facial scrubs with tiny beads or kernels create micro-tears in your skin and only serve to make it weaker. Fruit enzymes, on the other hand, prompt cellular turnover and reveal a fresh glow when used in cleansers, toners, and masks.

Youth To The People Yerba Mate Resurfacing Energy Facial

Youth To The People

Youth To The People’s Yerba Mate Resurfacing Energy Facial, which contains pineapple and papaya enzymes along with gentle natural exfoliants, is an excellent choice.

$59 at YTTP

Caire Triple Lift Molecule Mask

Caire Beauty

Most masks, including Caire’s Triple Lift Molecule Mask, will naturally exfoliate your skin and encourage turnover. However, women in hormone decline should avoid clay masks, which are very drying by nature, in favor of hydrating, nourishing masks.

$104 at Caire Beauty

Vitamin C + Niacinamide: Antioxidants

You’ve probably heard that free radicals are bad news, but what does that mean? Free radicals are molecules that are missing electrons, which makes them chemically unstable. In order to stabilize themselves, free radicals will poach electrons from neighboring molecules, which in turn makes those molecules unstable and causes a chain reaction of electron theft called oxidation. 

Oxidation damages cellular DNA and mitochondria, causes collagen and elastin breakdown, and prevents skin from performing basic cell repair. A simple way to visualize the process is with apple slices: They turn brown when exposed to air, but squeezing lemon juice on them prevents that oxidation from occurring. That’s because lemon juice is rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that has extra electrons that free radicals can use to stabilize themselves without stealing from stable molecules.

While free radicals can develop naturally in our own bodies, much of the oxidative stress we experience comes from external free radicals such as pollution, smoking, UV radiation, artificial dyes, and exposure to other toxins. Our bodies aren’t totally defenseless: We produce antioxidants internally, but it’s nearly impossible to produce enough to contend with the increasing number of free radicals in modern life. As a result, vitamin C and other antioxidants like vitamins A and E have become increasingly popular in skincare.

Unfortunately, vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid or ascorbyl palmitate) is a tricky ingredient. It needs to be used at a high concentration (preferably at least 12%) to be effective, but is itself unstable and breaks down with exposure to air, heat, or light. Vitamin C-based skincare should be used up within three to four months of opening, so don’t try to ration out your skincare to extend its life.

Youth To The People Superfood Cleanser

Youth To The People

As an acid, it can also be irritating: People with dry, sensitive mid-life skin should use more stable forms of vitamin C like tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate or 3-0 ethyl ascorbic acid, which can be found in Youth To The People’s Superfood Cleanser.

$39 at YTTP

Youth To The People Vitamin C + Caffeine Energy Serum

Youth To The People

The Youth To The People 15% Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum also has a stable form of vitamin C that’s safe for sensitive skin types. Layer it over Caire’s Theorem Serum to amp up their potency without irritation.

From $23 at YTTP

Supergoop Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40


For a potent vitamin C serum that doubles as your sun protection, go with Supergoop’s Daily Dose Vitamin C + SPF 40. It contains 14 percent vitamin C and 2 percent niacinamide, a powerful but gentle-on-the-skin antioxidant that can improve hyperpigmentation and skin elasticity while helping the skin produce more ceramides.

$46 at Supergoop


Algaes carry a high percentage of stable antioxidants and are rich in vitamins, minerals, lipids, and proteins. They’re particularly good for mature skin as they provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and hydration properties all in one.

Osea Undaria Algae Oil


There are dozens of products using algae, seaweeds, and kelp out there, but the key is to look for formulations that use a high level of active algae. For example, Osea’s Undaria Algae Oil has hand-harvested Undaria Algae as the second ingredient in this rich, but not greasy, body oil.

$84 at Osea

Ren Atlantic Kelp and Microalgae Anti-Fatigue Toning Body Oil


Ren’s Microalgae Anti-Fatigue Toning Body Oil might be just the thing to help the skin on your body regain a natural youthful sheen.  Full of red algae extract, microalgae oil, and Atlantic kelp extract, this formula helps smooth, firm, and moisturize skin while you gently massage it into your skin.

$52 at Ren

Anti-Ageism vs Anti-Aging

Every woman should have the right to look and feel her best self at every age. As long as your skincare and makeup practices change and grow with you throughout your life stages, your skin clock doesn’t need to be tethered to a calendar. New lifestyle brands and educational programs, often led by women, recognize that internal aging is as addressable as external aging, and modern formulations can help your skin look and feel its smoothest, strongest, most supple self. So buy the skincare and makeup that works for you, take care of your body, wear whatever you want, and ignore articles telling you what to wear by the decade. That’s the anti-ageism attitude in a nutshell. 

Celeste Lee and Lorrie King are beauty industry veterans in midlife. They founded Caire Beauty, Skincare for Grown-Up Women, when they found out personally that skincare addressing estrogen-related aging simply did not exist. 

A version of this article previously appeared on ourkindra.com.