Itchy skin is a less commonly thought of symptom of menopause, but it is still experienced by many menopausal women. When oestrogen declines during menopause, so too does the production of collagen, which softens and smoothes the skin. Collagen is a fibrous protein which provides strength, resilience and support to the skin and other tissues. The production of oils on the skin also decreases during menopause, which affects the skin’s hydration levels.
The reduction of oestrogen and the change in hormone levels are responsible for most of the changes that happen in a woman’s body as she reaches menopause. Progesterone and testosterone levels also decrease at this time. Testosterone is thought of as a male hormone, but women do still have some within their hormonal make-up. Changes to your skin may begin during perimenopause, which is the period of time that leads up to menopause. Whilst these changes are permanent, there is a lot which can be done to help alleviate dryness, and keep your skin healthy.
Changes to your skin
As well as dry, itchy skin, women may also experience changes to their skin, including:
- Small bumps on the surface of the skin
- Red or irritated skin
- Skin rash
- Changes to skin feeling such as tingling
It is important to be aware there are other conditions which can cause itchy skin. If the itchy skin is accompanied by other symptoms which do not appear to be related to menopause, ensure they are checked out by the GP to rule out other causes.
Different types of itchy skin
There are three main classifications for itchy skin:
- Pruritus is itchy skin which can cause disruption, especially if it’s disturbing sleep and/or causing discomfort.
- Parethesia is related to pruritus, and may occur during the transition to menopause. It is the sensation of pins and needles, numbness, tingling and prickling.
- Formication is a specific type of parethesia. It’s characterised by a creepy, crawly sensation and can feel like insects are crawling on the skin.
The increase in androgen during menopause is believed to be responsible for the changes in skin leading to adult acne. Androgens are another type of hormone which are produced in the adrenal glands. There are also peripheral sites of androgen production such as the skin, fat and liver. Adult acne mainly affects the lower face, and doesn’t usually respond to teen acne solution products. Women are more likely to suffer adult acne if they suffered acne as an adolescent.
How diet and nutrition can help
Diet plays a big role in supporting skin at any age, but a healthy balanced diet will help improve skin health. Drinking plenty of water, reducing alcohol and caffeine as well as decreasing smoking will also be beneficial for skin. Omega 3 fatty acids are known to help in production of the skin’s oil barrier, which is key for keeping skin feeling smooth. A diet lacking in omega 3 can leave skin prone to acne, and feeling dry and itchy. Omega 3 is found in:
- Oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna (not canned), sardines, trout, mackerel, anchovies, pilchards, whitebait and herring
- Safflower oil
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark green leafy vegetables
Omega 3 can also be taken in supplement form. It is likely to be safe for anyone, but as with all supplements, it is recommended to check with your GP before starting a new supplement. The safe dose for omega 3 is 3g/day. There is some concern about omega 3 being taken in higher doses than 3g/day as it may affect blood clotting and increase the risk of bleeding. It may also reduce the immune system and may have other more minor side effects too.
There are some diseases with which it is advisable not to take fish oil, including: liver disease, fish or seafood allergies, bipolar and depression, diabetes, and some medications.