Estrogen protects women from bone fractures, breast cancer and other diseases — and it's responsible for a glowing, youthful complexion, too. While controversy regarding the safety of hormone replacement therapy is ongoing, there are now nonprescription creams containing plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens. Creators of the creams say they are safe, effective ways to reduce wrinkles and thicken the skin.
"We've known for a very long time that estrogens are very good for the aging of the skin," says dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo. "It prevents it. It helps reverse it."
Prior to menopause, ovaries make estrogen, progesterone and testosterone — hormones important to every cell in the body, including skin cells. Estrogen production and skin collagen levels peak when a woman is in her mid-20s.
"Certainly estrogen is very important as your skin ages," says dermatologist Dr. Patricia Farris. "When a woman's estrogen drops out, they begin to break down collagen at a fairly rapid rate of about 2 percent per year. If you go with hormone replacement or supplement that estrogen, that collagen breakdown diminishes."
Gynecologist Dr. Rebecca Booth and her sister Cecil Booth, a veteran in the beauty industry, have created VENeffect (www.veneffect.com), a nonprescription skin care line containing plant estrogens.
"The phytoestrogens are naturally anti-inflammatory. They are antioxidants," Cecil says. "They come from some of the healthiest foods that you eat, so they are generally thought of as little miracle ingredients."
In Rebecca's book, The Venus Week, she explains that estrogen levels soar just prior to ovulation, creating attractive skin, high energy and mood, a sharper brain and decreased appetite. She says there are more estrogen receptors in the facial skin than on breast and thigh skin. "That's simply because Mother Nature again wants us to reflect our aesthetic in our face, and so much of the aesthetic is wrapped around fertility," Rebecca says. "So a women actually does receive that gift of a glow."
The Booth sisters say women can use VENeffect products to boost estrogen beginning in their late 20s, when levels of the hormone begin to decline, and continuing through their menopausal years. The Booths say studies and tests on their patients using VENeffect show it works and is safe.
Unlike prescription creams, VENeffect's plant-based estrogen cream brightens the skin, hitting receptors in two layers, and can be used by all women. However, other hormone doctors say plant estrogen is not nearly as effective as the human estrogen in prescription creams like Estrace and Premarin.
Actress Suzanne Somers, 65, has said hormone therapy is her secret to remaining young-looking. "I call it restoration versus deterioration," Somers says. "(Hormone therapy) puts back what we lost in the aging process."
However, controversy surrounding hormone replacement therapy led many women to stop taking prescription hormones after menopause. That's when dermatologists began seeing women's skin become dry, wrinkled and thin — fast. Now, doctors are reconsidering the importance of "body identical," nonoral hormones for health and beauty, especially when it comes to the skin. "I'm a big proponent of all-over estrogen because you get benefits," says Dr. Shane French, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Ochsner.
Studies published by the International and European Menopause Societies find post-menopausal women on hormones experience many health benefits, including lower rates of heart disease, belly fat, dementia, stroke and diabetes. They also live longer, with a 40 percent reduction in dying early from any cause.
"There is a minimal increased risk of breast can cer associated with estrogen therapy on a long-term basis, but there are also studies that show it actually helps with breast cancer as far as preventing it," French says.
Doctors still disagree about hormone replacement, but Mother Nature makes it clear that estrogen has anti-aging properties — and not just on the face. "It (affects) the skin on your hands, the skin on your feet," French says. Dermatologists point out that estrogen creams are not a substitute for the number-one wrinkle fighter, prescription retinoids such as Retin-A, Renova, Tazorac and Differin. But the topical treatments can be used together. "The (VENeffect line) is a higher platform to raise awareness through something that is safe and effective, and an easy way to help give women understanding that hormones are not their enemy," Rebecca says.
Look for Meg Farris' Medical Watch reports weeknights on WWL-TV Channel 4 and anytime on wwltv.com.