We’re looking for solutions in bottles of actives and antioxidants when the glow (whether glass skin or dolphin skin) lies closer home—inside us. Those with a female reproductive system—their skin health relies on the interplay between three key hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Estrogen stimulates collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid production, progesterone stimulates the production of sebum or oil glands, and testosterone, activates the sebaceous glands. If life were simple, the three would be perfectly balanced, and we would be spared PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, and hormonal acne, among other problems. But where’s the fun in that?
“In puberty we start off with millions of eggs,” explains gynaecologist Dr Kiran Coelho. The menstrual clock is a finely tuned balance between the higher centres of the hypothalamus which produces releasing factors that act on the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland starts producing Follicle Stimulating Hormones (FSH) and Luteinizing hormones that acts on ovaries and then the egg ripens. “We have millions of eggs every month, but only one egg ripens. As it ripens, it produces estrogen. For the first 14 days estrogen reforms the lining, and when it’s at a certain level in the blood, it sends feedback to the brain making it release the luteinizing hormone. This causes the egg to rupture. Then the egg ‘shell’ remains and starts producing progesterone, which increases the lining of the uterus, making it ripe and ready for pregnancy.” When that doesn’t happen, progesterone and estrogen are withdrawn, and the lining comes out as your monthly period.
This precarious dance between estrogen and progesterone are doing much more than just running your menstrual cycle. “The slightest imbalance can trigger skin issues,” says dermatologist Dr Madhuri Agarwal, Yavana Aesthetics. “Low estrogen levels can lead to dryness and increased sensitivity, whereas high progesterone levels can increase skin oiliness and lead to breakouts.”
Menstrual cycles are irregular and hormonal levels are affected by external factors, more so today because our lifestyles are increasingly more stressful. “One of every 3-5 adolescent girls, one out of five adult women develop PCOS, because of stress and a sedentary lifestyle,” says Dr Coelho. “Their menstrual clocks are out of tune—the egg ripens but does not rupture, remaining inside, producing male hormones like testosterone and DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone). These cause hormonal acne, pimples, hair growth and insulin resistance. And because of that there is weight gain.”