Menopause is likely a topic that’s not even on your radar right now. After all, on average, menopause occurs at 51. But what tends to get lost in translation is the word “average.” “Women get really misled when everyone reports the average age of onset is 51,” notes Margery Gass, M.D., executive director of the North American Menopause Society. “Normal menopause is from ages 40 to the mid-50s. There’s a very wide range of normal, wider than puberty. So anyone who has menopause in their 40s, they’re really not early.”
Adds Dr. Gass: “Some women are caught by surprise.” Even more so if they experience early menopause, which can happen in your 30s and is caused by a genetic predisposition (so if your mom reached menopause at a young age, you might, too), an autoimmune disease or medically induced menopause, such as because of cancer treatment.
The two biggest scientific clues that menopause is knocking at your door: Your period is less predictable than before and you occasionally break into an unexpected sweat at night (hello, hot flashes). “Most often, you start to see a variation in your menstrual cycle intervals,” says Gass. “Some women are always like that, but what’s really a sign of a transition happening [is when your period arrives] seven days early or seven days late, so your periods are either getting longer or closer together. Also, little hot flashes now and then, commonly the night before your period starts. That’s when women have an estrogen drop. The closer women get to menopause, they notice night sweats the day before their period.”
Your skin and hair can also reveal the telltale signs of menopause:
Dry skin: As you inch closer to menopause, estrogen levels drop, resulting in drier skin. To infuse your parched skin with moisture, look for products that contain humectants, such as hyaluronic acid, which draws water into your skin and plumps it up for a more youthful appearance, according to Deirdre Hooper, board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Louisiana State University. “It’s a temporary affect and will go away after a shower,” she notes, “but hyaluronic acid will be your best friend.”
Wrinkles and saggy skin: The same estrogen plunge that brought on dry skin also ushers in wrinkles, along with skin that’s less firm and more fragile. “Estrogen keeps your skin plumper and more attractive,” says Hooper. As estrogen fades, so do levels of collagen and elastin, meaning you’ll start to notice more fine lines, wrinkles and saggier skin. “Don’t despair,” says Hooper. “You can definitely build up collagen.” She recommends using a topical vitamin C serum, such as SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, along with the gold standard anti-aging treatment: prescription retinoids or their over-the-counter version, retinols. Hooper also strongly recommends using sunscreen or a moisturizer with SPF 30 on a daily basis to prevent aging sun damage, as well as sun protective clothing. “Retinoids, topical vitamin C and sunscreen are the holy trinity of anti-aging,” says Hooper.
Thinning hair: As estrogen drops and the testosterone-estrogen balance is thrown off, you can start to lose your hair. “You’ll see all over thinning or thinning in the front where you can see more of your scalp than you used to,” says Hooper. Hair volumizing shampoos and leave-in hair treatments can help. “They won’t change the number of hairs on your scalp, but they will make it look good on a day-to-day basis or for a special event,” she says.
7 Anti-Aging Products for Younger-Looking Skin and Hair
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, $157, provides topical vitamin C, an antioxidant that fights skin-aging free radicals while firming your skin.
Yon-Ka Cellular Code Serum, $135, contains amino acids and other ingredients that help smooth wrinkles and improve skin’s firmness.
SkinMedica Retinol Complex 0.5, $75, boosts collagen production, softening fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin tone and texture.
CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM, $13, has super-hydrating hyaluronic acid, as well as SPF 30 to protect your skin from sun damage. Plus, it’s noncomedogenic so it won’t clog your pores.
Murad Intensive Age-Diffusing Serum, $75, instantly firms skin and over time, reduces wrinkles and helps make skin more resilient.