Can Hormone Imbalance Cause Eczema?
If you’re a woman with eczema, you may have noticed how the symptoms ebb and flow along with your hormonal cycle. Here’s what you need to know about managing your condition throughout the month, through your pregnancy, and through any other times of hormonal imbalance.
Oestrogen and Eczema
Oestrogen is a hormone produced in the ovaries, the adrenal gland, and in the case of pregnant women, the placenta. If you have a regular menstrual cycle, your oestrogen levels will fluctuate very dramatically, with the largest peak just before ovulation and the lowest trough during your period. Pregnant women have a high dose all the time, while menopausal women get a constant, low dose.
So what does it do?
If you remember oestrogen from school, you probably think of it as the hormone that women produce which causes them to be different to men. That’s simplified – men do have a little oestrogen in their systems – but it’s basically true. In the quantities a female body produces, oestrogen helps to form sexual organs, causes ovulation, causes secondary sexual characteristics like breasts to form, and increases libido. As a matter of fact, the word comes from the Greek oistros, meaning “verve,” which is as good a euphemism as any.
But it has other effects, some of which aren’t related to reproduction at all and some of which aren’t perfectly understood yet. It makes bones stronger. It helps to regulate cholesterol levels. It changes your metabolism. And it does something that almost everyone who menstruates has noticed and bewailed: it causes your skin to produce sebum (scientists’ name for grease), which is why acne tends to become much worse about a week after the end of a period.
Eczema and Oestrogen Dominance
A couple of things. First, there are rare cases of people whose eczema flares up when their oestrogen levels rise, and at no other time. It’s not clear why this would be, but then, that’s hardly surprising. After all, we don’t really know what causes eczema, and we don’t really understand all the effects of oestrogen.
Even if they don’t get an eczema flare-up once a month, it’s not uncommon for women to only experience eczema during the time of their pregnancy. This tends to cause alarm, but it’s no more dangerous than eczema at any other time, and poses no danger to the baby – although, since the condition runs in families, it is correlated to eczema in the baby.
Eczema and Menstruation
So do higher oestrogen levels always mean worse eczema? Not always, and in fact, not even usually. More commonly, oestrogen peaks have the opposite effect. This is because the sebum produced as a side-effect of oestrogen production acts as a barrier between your skin and the world, preventing irritation and soothing dry skin. If you suffer from eczema, you’ve probably heard many times that the best emollients for your skin are fragrance- and dye-free and contain a lot of oil. Well, your body knows that, too.
Unfortunately, that means you can expect an eczema flare-up during your period. If you’ve noticed that, then you can expect eczema to get worse after menopause.
How to manage eczema during hormonal change
Forewarned is forearmed. Try marking days on your calendar when you’re likely to have a flare-up. When one of those days is coming, be extra-careful to avoid irritants, and to use whatever skin-care products you prefer.