Apparently our menopausal bodies are a desert. We certainly knew about the hot part, getting reminded of it constantly when the flashes turn us into flesh-and-blood furnaces. But we weren’t quite as aware of the dry conditions that went along with the soaring temps. Dry skin. Dry scalp. Dry hair. Dry other parts.
“Everything is dry,” Jane Larkworthy, beauty editor-at-large of The Cut, and a guest on NextTribe’s recent Menopause and Beauty virtual event. “Your skin is so dry it almost seems inpenetrable.” Dang! Welcome to the Sahara.
But the speakers at the event, part one of a three-part series on Thriving Through Menopause, didn’t leave us high and, uh, dry. Larkworthy and Dr. Julie Russak, founder of Russak Dermatolgoy in New York, offered plenty of advice for solving arid issues and taking on other beauty concerns that come with perimenopause, menopause, and beyond.
NextTribe launched this series in partnership with Nutrafol, which produces a specially formulated supplement that helps menopausal women take control of their hair health, to encourage conversation and understanding around menopause, a condition that is too often ignored by the media and health professionals. Since its inception, NextTribe has been talking about menopause and encouraging women to share their stories of this universal experience in our Menopause Chronicles. We invite you to share yours too!
Part 2, on June 9th, will focus on Menopause and Stress.
Viewers of the event were able to ask questions, and there were scores of them. We’ve condensed the conversation, which was moderated by NextTribe co-founder Jeannie Ralston, to the most relevant information. Five viewers who submitted questions were chosen to win three months’ worth of Nutrafol’s Women’s Balance. When you come to our event on menopause and stress, make sure to have your questions ready and you too could win.
Can you explain what happens to hair as women enter menopause? How does it affect hair growth and hair texture?
Dr. Russak: The dryness we’re talking about with hair is because it doesn’t have nutritional support. For a long time, we’ve disassociated how we treat our skin and how we treat our scalp. Now we are understanding that supporting your scalp is going to support your hair because your hair follicles are located in the scalp. Don’t think of your hair as something outside your body. Think of your hair as part of your body as a whole.
With hormonal changes, our hair’s ability to incorporate proteins and nutrients goes downhill. The hair becomes brittle. Not as lustrous and shiny. What you start noticing first is that the hair takes longer and longer to grow. A lot of my patients come to me in their 40s and they don’t think they’re already peri-menopausal. It is normal to go through these changes; we just have to know how to deal with them.
What are some options for improving hair health as we get older?
Dr. Russak: We have a lot of options; we just have to understand what contributes to hair health. Using a shampoo that treats the part of the hair that starts at the scalp is not going to be enough.
The changes that hair goes through during peri-menopause and menopause are actually multifactorial. The biggest thing is stress, hormonal stress. Our estrogen and progesterone start going down, but androgens (male sex hormones) remain at the same level for a while. So there’s a period that we’re much more under androgen control versus estrogen control.
In general, our metabolic rate goes down. So we can’t reverse the environmental damage as much. If you think you’re just going to take one vitamin or use one shampoo and it will fix it, that’s not going to happen. What you can do is take supplements that are specific to what your body is going through.
Nutrafol’s Women’s Balance contains saw palmetto, which helps regulate androgens; maca, known to support hormone health before, during, and after menopause; ashwagandha, which balances stress hormones to support the hair growth cycle; and bio-curcumin, shown to target micro-inflammation that can compromise hair growth. Give your body the nutrients that help combat environmental stress.
When hair thins with age, is it the strand itself that’s getting thinner, or are fewer follicles producing?
Dr. Russak: Both. Hair shaft is not as robust. Some hair follicles are starting to go to sleep, reducing the density of the hair follicles. That means you start seeing the scalp more.
Does it help to take collagen? And what form should we be taking it in?
Dr. Russak: With Nutrafol supplements, you have collagen and all the nutrition. It’s important to look at what you take and what you actually absorb. What you absorb is going to matter. In order to absorb you’ll need a healthy gut and a healthy microbiome. It all goes back to the multi-factorial issues. The ingredients in the supplements are focused on addressing different factors that contribute to hair loss, thinning and the health of the scalp.
Is there a way to test for gut health before buying nutritional supplements? Because it sounds like a waste of money if the body doesn’t absorb them.
Dr. Russak: Yes, absolutely. At my practice, we perform food sensitivity testing as part of a program designed to help patients understand their bodies clinically and implement lifestyle changes to feel their best. The program helps to determine lifestyle factors and antigens stimulating chronic inflammation and nutrient deficiencies utilizing comprehensive medical testing. Gut health is extremely critical for our overall well-being. Our food intolerance test detects the presence of immunoglobulin G food-specific antibodies to over 200 commonly eaten foods. We then you remove these dietary irritants, it will lead to restoring gut health, reducing overall inflammation, and stimulating healthy gene expression. This is when supplements will be able to work their best.
What about bone broth for collagen?
Dr. Russak: Bone broth is great. A lot of collagen. Can absorb really well. Collagen that comes with natural ingredients.
Do you believe scalp massage helps improve the condition of your hair?
Dr. Russak: Yes. The best time to do it is when you’re shampooing. Make sure it’s a gentle massage, that you’re not digging nails into scalp because that could cause damage. If it’s gentle, it will improve lymphatic drainage and blood circulation.
If you decide to go gray, what’s the best way to do it, to make sure your hair remains healthy looking?
Dr. Russak:. As we get older, we start losing something called melanocyte in our hair follicle. Melanocyte produces melanin, which is what gives us dark hair or lighter hair. As we go through menopause and peri-menopause, the cells are producing a little bit less melanocyte, so you’re producing a little bit less pigment. That what contributes to getting gray.
However, if you’re under more stress, environmental stress, and have inflammation, you can actually go gray a little earlier then genetically you would be going gray. If that’s the case, you should talk to your dermatologist and start paying attention to how to make your body stronger and healthier.
Gray can be beautiful, but you still have to make sure your hair is healthy. Gray hair goes through the same stress when we go through menopause. Gray hair can be unhealthy, gray hair can be thin. When your hair is thin and gray it doesn’t look good.
I wonder why the hair in the back goes gray last?
Dr. Russak: The scalp is divided into different hormonal zones, and the back is different from the front. Therefore, hair thinning and graying starts more at the front of the scalp and progresses to the back with age.
Does coloring your hair cause your hair to thin out?
Dr. Russak: Aggressive processing of your hair will contribute to hair looking thinner. A lot of the coloring destroys the cuticle, a protective shaft over your hair. It’s very similar to over aggressively treating your nails. If you destroy the protective shaft—whether from coloring, blow drying, straightening—it will expose the hair to more environmental damage. That means hair can break much easier. It doesn’t grow as fast. It doesn’t have the beautiful color to it.
There have been a lot of stories about hair products that cause thinning hair. I’m trying to determine if my thinning hair is because of hair products or because of menopause?
Dr. Russak: Probably both. I don’t think you can delineate, differentiate one from the other. Some hair products—there’s a law suit related to this—cause damage to the follicle. If you damage the follicle with toxic products, your hair is not going to grow.
Is there a connection between osteoporosis and hair issues?
Dr. Russak: Yes. Similar processes that lead to the decrease in calcium deposits and increase in calcium loss from the bones contributes to the decrease in nutrient absorption for hair production.
What are some ways to improve skin quality and appearance, without cosmetic procedures?
Jane Larkworthy: These are ingredients that really help a lot. Hyaluronic acid is a skin plumper. It will add not only add a bit of plumpness but it will hydrate as well. For hyaluronic acid moisturizers, I recommend Skinceuticals Emollience, CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, Neutrogena Hydro-Boost Hyaluronic Acid Gel Cream. And if you want to double down on the stuff, a few hyaluronic acid serums to also try: Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum, First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum, The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 Serum.
Other ingredients that help are peptides, anti-oxidant, and retinols. I’m a huge fan of Retin A. I use it every other night. I use prescription so you have to dip your toe in slowly to see how your skin handles it. Retinols help prevent precancerous lesions, help with exfoliation of skin and they’re also great for adult acne.
Speaking of adult acne, what’s up with getting acne at the same time that our skin is getting drier?
Jane Larkworthy: It’s a conundrum. The acne products we used when we were 23 are not right for us now.When you’re in your late 40s, 50s or 60s, you don’t want something that’s drying. That’s where Retinols help. Talk to your dermatologist about a program to help balance it out.
My skin isn’t so dry in general but around my eyes it is. Why is that?
Dr. Russak: Every skin is a combination. We’re all oilier in the T-zone (forehead to nose down to chin) and a little dry on the sides. The problem is that when your skin becomes inflamed, your T-zone wants to overcompensate and produces too much oil. If you really have dry skin around your eyes it could be an indicator of some other problem. I think you should see a dermatologist to make sure you don’t have a condition such as eczema.
What do you recommend for exfoliation?
Jane Larkworthy: Especially if your skin is sensitive like mine is you don’t want to use an aggressive exfoliation. Find one that is gentler, like beta hydroxy or alpha hydroxyl peel. I’m not a huge fan of physical exfoliants, such as a grainy product with tiny beads. I prefer finding a peel that will remove top the layer of skin through gentle acids. Dr. Gross Alpha Beta Peels are good, as are Kate Somerville Liquid Exfolikate Triple Acid Resurfacing Treatment, Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel, and Boscia Exfoliating Gel Peel.
I use Biologique Recherche P50 daily to exfoliate my skin. For a second after using, it’s a bit, “Wow! I’m a little red.” But then it goes away. It’s not a grainy exfoliant. It’s more of a toner.
Do you like dry brushing for exfoliation?
Jane Larkworthy: Dry brushing your body is great. I’m a huge proponent of it. Don’t dry brush your face.
How about a washcloth for your face for exfoliation?
Jane Larkworthy: I’m not a big fan. It can be too abrasive.
Age spots. What are they and how to treat them?
Dr. Russak: Using anti-oxidants and retinol on your skin can exfoliate and then repair and that will help a lot with age spots. But then on top of it, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Protect your skin and give it more of the ways to repair itself.
All Around the Body
What can you do about dark circles and baggy eyes?
Dr. Russak: When you wake up in the morning and you’re puffy, you can do a lymphatic massage right around eyes. It has to be very gentle because the lymphatic channels are very, very thin. This where excess water accumulates, and by lightly moving your fingers—don’t stretch the skin, you almost want to tap it—you will move the water out. You will notice a big difference if you do it when you wake up before you actually get up from the bed.
How should you change your make up if you’re going gray?
Jane Larkworthy: A friend of mine who went full gray said she never used to wear makeup, but now she has to because she doesn’t want to look washed out. She has olive skin and with gray hair it’s a beautiful juxtaposition. She never wore lipstick before, but now she does.
With a different color halo around face, it’s time to reassess your skin. Maybe you need a foundation that’s one shade darker. Certainly, you don’t want to go much darker. For blush, you might want to up the pigment a little. I’m not saying go crazy on the makeup. You have a different frame now. You have a different canvas. Think of it as a fun time to experiment. I think there’s nothing chicer than a gray-haired woman and a red lip. Like Linda Rodin.
Do you recommend using tools for lymphatic draining?
Dr. Russak: It’s becoming in vogue to use a lot of tools. If you use them it’s great, but you can also use your hands. But if you know how to use the tools correctly, that’s fine.
What foods you recommend to complement the recommendations you’re making here?
Dr. Russak: A lot of foods that are rich in anti-oxidants, such as blueberries, walnuts, leafy green vegetables, and sweet potatoes. And foods that bring inflammation down; curcumin (a form of turmeric) is one of my favorites. Boosting your own repair mechanism—there’s nothing better than that. Nothing that we can do for you is better than what body can do for itself.
We look forward to seeing you on June 9th for Part 2 in our series, where we’ll discuss menopause and stress. Click here to register.