Why does the menopause cause prickly, itchy skin?
The hormonal changes associated with menopause are famously known to cause symptoms such as hot flushes, mood changes, and sleep problems. But these hormonal fluctuations can also bring on lesser-known symptoms, such as prickly and itchy skin, which can be distressing and, in some cases, may cause embarrassment.
Here, we take a look at how your skin may change during perimenopause and some years after.
What’s the difference between itchy and prickly skin?
Medically known as pruritus, itchy skin is a fairly common complaint amongst menopausal women. Although itching can occur throughout the body, it’s more likely to affect the face (especially your T-zone — your forehead, nose, and chin), neck, chest, limbs, back, and elbows (1).
You may also experience genital itching, also known as vulvar pruritus. If you already experience vaginal dryness — another common symptom of menopause — you’re more likely to experience vaginal itching.
Besides itching, you may also experience paraesthesia during menopause: a skin and nerve condition often described as feeling ‘prickly’, and characterised by tingling, numbness, or ‘pins and needles’ (2).
Some women may even suffer from a rare type of paraesthesia during menopause called formication, which can feel like insects crawling under the skin.
Does your skin change during menopause?
As you approach menopause, your levels of circulating oestrogen start to decline, but they do not do so consistently. As well as protecting heart health, fortifying your skeleton, and supporting sleep hygiene, oestrogen is also linked to increased collagen production, wound healing, skin thickness, skin hydration, and improved barrier function (functions that keep the outermost layer of the skin healthy) (3).
Collagen is the main structural protein found in skin and helps to maintain elasticity and firmness (4). However, your collagen production starts to decline from the age of 25, and the decrease in collagen can lead to wrinkles and sagging.
The decline in oestrogen during perimenopause can compound the effects of ageing. As oestrogen drops, so too does collagen and the natural oils in your skin, which can compromise your skin health.
To determine the impact of oestrogen levels on the skin, researchers often compare the skin of premenopausal women (who have normal levels of oestrogen) to postmenopausal women (who have low levels of oestrogen). One study revealed that around a third of perimenopausal and postmenopausal women reported increased skin sensitivity (5).
What causes itchy skin during menopause?
Low levels of oestrogen can cause the skin to become dry and irritated. This decline can also make the vaginal tissues thinner and drier. This can then lead to vaginal atrophy, which can leave the vagina painful and itchy, and may cause discomfort during sex.
Soothing itchiness during menopause
If you are going through perimenopause and are experiencing uncomfortable, itchy skin, there are certain things that you can try to help ease discomfort:
Avoid scratching — itching can damage and tear the skin, especially if it’s already inflamed or sensitive. Though it’s tempting to scratch, try applying a cool compress on the problem area instead. You might also consider wearing gloves at night to protect your skin.
Avoid hot showers or baths — hot water can strip your skin of its natural oils, so try using lukewarm water instead when bathing.
Always pat yourself dry after washing — rubbing your skin dry can exacerbate irritation. Instead, pat your skin gently with a soft, clean towel.
Use fragrance-free skincare — perfumes and scented skin products often contain harsh chemicals that can further aggravate the skin. Look for skincare that’s specially formulated for sensitive skin.
Wear loose, soft fabrics — choose loose-fitting, cotton clothes over synthetic fibres, which can cling to the skin and irritate it.
Stay hydrated — drinking enough water is vitally important for maintaining overall skin health.
Avoid nicotine and alcohol — these substances are known to dehydrate and age the skin.
Avoid harsh sunlight — damaging UV rays may worsen dry, irritated skin. Always wear a high SPF (suitable for sensitive skin) daily.
How long will my skin be itchy for?
Most people can ease itching with home remedies and lifestyle changes. If, however, your itchiness doesn’t improve with these measures, you should speak to your GP, who will advise on the best course of action.
Fortunately, menopause-related symptoms such as itchy or prickly skin generally get better with time and shouldn’t usually continue in postmenopause.
For more information on how the symptoms of menopause and how best to manage them, take a look at our educational Menopause hub.
nhs.uk. 2020. Itchy Skin. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/itchy-skin/
nhs.uk. 2020. Pins and Needles. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pins-and-needles/
Raghunath. RS, Venables. ZC, Millington. GW. The menstrual cycle and the skin. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015;40(2):111-5.
2020. What Is Collagen? Available online: https://www.livescience.com/collagen.html
Falcone D. et al., Sensitive skin and the influence of female hormone fluctuations: results from a cross-sectional digital survey in the Dutch population. Eur J Dermatol. 2011 Aug;27(1):42-48.
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.