Skin is the body's largest organ and it's often where you see the first signs of aging - fine lines around your eyes and mouth even in your late 30s and 40s. Many women say those change accelerate around the time of menopause, which makes it easy to blame the loss of estrogen after your periods stop.
Loss of estrogen does play a role but it's far from the only reason you're spending so much time looking at your face in the mirror. In fact, your look now reflects your genes, the way you've been living for the last four or five decades and any environmental damage you may have been exposed to.
Obviously, you can't do much about your genes. If you're born into a family that wrinkles early, that's not your fault. But you have played a role in the other factors than damage skin.
Here's a look at some of them:
Sun. When most of us were young, we baked in the sun for hours without sunscreen. Now we're paying the price. If you look at the back of your hands and your top of your forearms, you probably see lots of tan or brown marks. These are commonly called age spots and they result from sun damage that may have taken place decades earlier. If you want to really understand the damage that sun has done to your skin, take a look at a part of your body that never sees the sun (like your rear end). If you compare that skin to the skin on your hands, you will seen the difference between the skin you were born with and the skin the sun gave you.
Even though the damage began long ago, you still need to wear sunscreen every day on the parts of your body that are exposed to sun.
Smoking. Smoking does a real number on your skin. You can always tell a smoker by the fine lines around her mouth and eyes from years of drawing in and blowing out smoke. The chemicals in cigarettes (like nicotine) decrease blood flow and keep oxygen and other essential nutrients from reaching the skin. Constant exposure to heat from cigarettes may also damage your skin. You may also see skin discoloration on the fingers from holding cigarettes. The skin of a longtime smoker has a distinctive yellowish tinge that makes you look sallow.
There are many, many other reasons to quit smoking but this could be the one that finally gets you to stop.
Hormones and undiagnosed physical problems. Some women consider menopausal hormone therapy just to slow skin aging. This is not a good reason to use hormones. Taking estrogen won't undo the damage from the sun or smoking and can't change your genes. But hormones could be playing a role in another way. Undiagnosed thyroid disease at midlife could be behind dry and itchy skin. Other disorders that cause dry skin include diabetes and kidney disease. If your skin feels unusually dry and itchy, don't just blame menopause. Talk to your doctor about what else could be going on.