It’s not just monthly mood swings – hormones also cause wrinkles, dull hair and even cellulite. But can they also be used to make you beautiful?
With teenage tantrums behind you, you might think that with the exception of your monthly bad moods and the odd pregnancy, hormone imbalances aren’t going to feature much until you hit the menopause. But you’d be wrong.
Looking at hormones is currently de rigueur on the beauty agenda. And there’s a very good reason why.
Most people know that hormones can cause pre-menstrual spots, but they could also be responsible for everything from facial wrinkles and lacklustre hair to stubborn cellulite and that spare tyre.
So it’s no wonder that in our search for body-beautifying solutions that don’t involve surgery, hormones have become the hottest topic in the beauty arena.
But what exactly are hormones? ‘They’re chemical messengers secreted by glands around the body. They travel in the blood to specific cells and they trigger immediate (for example, sweating) and long-term (e.g., hair growth) changes in the body,’ explains Dr Cecilia Tregear, an anti-ageing expert.
She uses hormone supplements, such as progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone to help her patients banish wrinkles and lose weight.
More than 100 different hormones help to keep our bodies running smoothly, but the slightest imbalance can cause problems, from spotty skin and excess hair to cellulite, wrinkles and obesity.
As we age, most of our hormone levels drop, causing hair loss, thin skin, wrinkles and lack of muscle tone. But today’s lifestyle subjects us to many factors that can prematurely deplete them.
No wonder so many celebrities are looking at hormone therapy. Madonna, Demi Moore, Pamela Anderson, Jennifer Aniston and Debbie Harry are all rumoured to be fans of injections of the controversial Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
Touted as the elixir of youth, HGH promotes tissue repair and cell growth and supports the immune system. HGH is produced by the body, but as we age, production diminishes and some people believe that by artificially boosting levels, our biological clocks can be slowed down.
Devotees in the U.S. regularly inject themselves with high concentrations of the substance – though this isn’t yet common practice in the UK.
However, you don’t have to start wielding a syringe to boost your beauty. Recent research shows the skin contains a large number of hormone receptors, so using a cream with ingredients that can affect hormone levels is an alternative.
Arkopharma’s Phyto-Soya range contains soya, a natural source of the hormone oestrogen which drops with age and can result in wrinkles. Its Age Minimising Cream claims to leave skin smoother within days.
Big brands, such as Lancome, are also buying into the hype. The Lancome Absolue Premium Bx range, launched last year, aimed at those over 50, consists of products to tackle loss of skin elasticity and radiance. The products contain wild yam and soy, which affect the body’s hormone system.
And taking hormone supplements also seems to turn back the beauty clock. Although pure versions of hormones are not available over the counter in the UK, several pills that contain phyto- oestrogens – oestrogen-like compounds from natural sources – are available from companies such as Arkopharma, Holland & Barrett and Solgar. These boost oestrogen levels.
Even plastic surgeons are now considering hormone therapy in addition to the scalpel.
‘A decade ago, cosmetic surgeons would never have looked at hormone levels,’ admits Dr Jules-Jacques Nabet, a cosmetic surgeon at the Soma Centre, London. ‘But now they understand that you have to look at what’s going on inside a patient, too.’
But apart from age, your lifestyle could also damage your hormone levels. If your diet isn’t balanced, your body won’t have the building blocks required to make essential hormones such as HGH and the thyroid hormone, which is essential for regulating your metabolism. A lack of this hormone can result in weight gain.
The thyroid hormone is also closely linked to the sex hormones; a dip in the levels of the former leads to a drop in oestrogen and progesterone, the female sex hormones. In extreme cases, your male sex hormones, such as testosterone, dominate, resulting in excess hair growth.
Environmental pollutants cause problems, too, whether in cleaning products or in pesticides, which we ingest through food. ‘A small gland can easily be damaged by a high concentration of a pollutant like chlorine,’ says Dr Tregear.
She also warns about the effect of the contraceptive pill on our hormones. The Pill suppresses levels of the male hormones, such as testosterone. It tricks the body into thinking it is permanently pregnant by maintaining the levels of progesterone and oestrogen that occur during pregnancy and suppressing the function of the ovaries.
But the doses are so low that many women experience menopausal-type problems, such as hair loss and weight gain. Low levels of testosterone can also cause varicose veins and obesity.
Our busy lives don’t help either. Constant stress and illness can also disrupt our hormones. In her Harley Street clinic, Dr Tregear often treats people with hormonal imbalances. ‘I see patients in their 20s and 30s with sagging skin and wrinkles, who lack energy,’ she says. ‘They look and feel old.’
After ruling out diseases, she takes blood and urine samples for hormone analysis and advises patients about their diets. When the results come through – about three weeks later – Dr Tregear prescribes hormones in the form of a gel or cream to be rubbed on the skin in order to counteract any deficiencies.
Unlike synthetic hormones often prescribed for HRT, these ‘bio-identical’ ones are derived from natural sources. She claims that they are identical to those already in the body and so are easier for the body to use. Patients should see a change in one to three months and need to be retested once a year.
Amanda Walsham, 37, a mother of four from Rotherham, first went to Dr Tregear six months ago. ‘For eight years, I’d felt and looked terrible,’ she says. ‘I was overweight, I lacked energy, I looked grey and tired, my hair was lank, and I had acne and dark circles under my eyes.
‘Dr Tregear recommended a nutritional programme, which I’ve followed religiously, and prescribed colonic irrigation, oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, a thyroid hormone and a supplement that helps the body produce cortisol, the stress hormone.
‘I’ve lost nearly a stone-and-a-half and look like a different person. My hair looks healthier, my skin has almost entirely cleared up, the dark circles are gone. All my friends and family have said how much better I look.’ for scans that reveal problems with their ovaries they were unaware of.’
But are there dangers in tampering with the chemical make-up of our bodies? There are certainly concerns about HGH. While some believe the hormone can help turn fat to muscle, thicken skin and improve bone density, others warn about side-effects.
‘Although the initial responses to growth hormones looked positive, they have not been borne out by bigger trials,’ says Mike Besser, emeritus professor of medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and consultant endocrinologist at The London Clinic Centre For Endocrinology And Diabetes.
‘It can cause hypertension, fluid retention and diabetes, and there have been concerns about its links to cancer,’ he adds.
Conventional medical practitioners are also worried about this increase in using hormones for aesthetic purposes as it could mean patients being treated by untrained practitioners who are prescribing products that don’t work.
Professor Besser concedes that some conditions can be alleviated by rebalancing hormone levels, but he is unconvinced by the ‘natural’ hormones prescribed by many practitioners.
‘I am not aware of any scientific evidence for the benefits of these products, nor any evidence to suggest they are more effective than synthetic hormones. Any effect is probably a placebo one, or related to diet and lifestyle changes,’ he says.
‘Some people do suffer from conditions that need hormone treatment, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome which can cause bad skin and excess hair growth. But when there are conventional drugs supported by clinical trials, treating patients with unproven products is not a sensible solution.’
For more information, contact: Dr Tregear, 020 7323 9690, www. wimpoleskincare.com;
Dr Nairi, 020 7348 6380, www.hurlinghamclinic.com;
Professor Besser, 020 7034 6215, www. londonclinic.co.uk;
Dr Nabet, 020 7361 1995, www.somacentre.co.uk.
By CLAIRE COLEMAN
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