A Touchy Skincare Discovery
plus, how to care for a complexion under siege
Welcome HNTFUYF-ers! We’re currently deluged with a Niagara Falls-like cascade of new readers, so throw on your recyclable souvenir poncho and enjoy the scenery. Free blowouts after we dock for everyone who taps the little ❤ above.
By the way, today’s the last day to support HNTFUYF at the winter sale price of $40/year; if you’re so inclined, please tap the button below. Thank you!
Okay, we’re done tapping for the moment. Let’s pivot to a touchy-feely story about oxytocin, also known as the “love” hormone. If you’re the type who doesn’t like to be touched, settle into that capacious armchair in the corner. I’ll get to you in a second. But if you’re a hugger, a hand-holder, a massage-lover, or a snuggler (whether that means with a partner, a pet, a buddy, a baby, or even—hey you in the armchair—yourself), I have feel-good news for you.
A pilot study reported in Dermatology Times found that people with high levels of oxytocin had
more youthful healthier-looking skin. It seems our skin can produce oxytocin when caressed, which can “turn off” the cells that create low levels of inflammation, one cause of cells’ aging. Lower levels of oxytocin were correlated with high skin aging, leading to the conclusion that oxytocin has a protective effect on skin. The higher the recorded oxytocin levels, the better the subjects’ skin looked.
When my now appropriately large 39-year-old son was small, we’d sometimes sit on opposite ends of the living room couch and put one of our feet up against the other to compare sizes. When I initiated this game, my son's feet were the size of bunny feet, no bigger than the palm of my hand. By the time he would no longer indulge me, his feet were bigger than mine, more hobbit than rabbit. Following this exercise, we’d often trade foot rubs, which when I think about it seems like an unfair balance of power, as I basically trained him how to do it well. (I hope his wife and daughter appreciate that now.) Looking at the positive side, I think we may have been incidentally strengthening our connection...and possibly even enhancing our complexions. Another thing you can thank me for, Sonny!
Before we get to a reader question, a moment of renewed perspective. The Wall Street Journal reports (in a paywalled story 😠) that women well into their later decades—not only celebrities like Jane Fonda (at 85) and Helen Mirren (at 77), but also civilians—are having a moment as models in the beauty and fashion universe. When you’re at the age (as I am) that 50-year-olds begin to look like adolescents, it does feel meaningful to see models in their 70s and 80s—as long as the images aren’t photoshopped to hide the accumulation of years. The more of this, the better! But will it have an effect on our culture’s rampant ageism? 🤷🏻
And now, as if we needed a reminder that aging is a privilege, a reader question about skincare after breast cancer treatments.
Q: I was diagnosed at 42 with estrogen receptor+ breast cancer, the most common type. I’m now 48 and on estrogen-suppressing medications and have had my ovaries removed.
Sadly, I have too many friends and acquaintances who’ve been diagnosed before entering menopause, so we get a jumpstart on the aging process (no bioidentical hormones for us). What’s the best way to maintain healthy skin during recovery?
A: First, HNTFUYF wishes you a continued robust recovery and a thank you. Your question is undoubtedly important to other women experiencing similar issues. It happens that HNTFUYF DermDiva, Heidi Waldorf, is the perfect person to respond.
“As a breast cancer survivor and cosmetic dermatologist, I’m well acquainted with this issue,” said Waldorf. “I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at age 43. My treatment included chemotherapy and then estrogen-suppressing Tamoxifen for 10 years. I was thrown abruptly into menopause and had my share of the unmistakable signs and symptoms!
“The reduction of ovarian estrogen (estradiol, the primary pre-menopausal estrogen) leaves us with estrogen called estrone, which is converted from other hormones outside the ovaries. Estrone is produced in smaller quantities and is less potent than estradiol; we can see the results of this on the skin. Because estrogen supports both the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin that acts as a barrier) and the dermis (the underlying area containing collagen, elastin, sebaceous glands, nerves, and blood vessels), the absence can mean skin dryness, thinning, wrinkling, laxity, and reduced wound healing.
“Estrogen also supports bone, muscle, and fat. So we might see facial volume loss, which can look like dropping brows, jowls, and lax skin on the neck.”
Let’s take a break here for a deep breath and to note that in spite of some of the unpleasant effects above, Waldorf looks like a very healthy 45 year old. And she’s 58. There’s a lot you can do to avoid the skin-related effects of diminished estrogen.
First of all, keep the skin barrier healthy!
Choose face and body cleansers that don’t strip the skin of natural proteins and lipids and that ideally help replenish moisture. Your skin should feel soft (not tight) immediately after washing. For cleansers, Waldorf recommends Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser, La Roche-Posay Lipikar Wash Ap+ Moisturizing Body & Face Wash, and even Dove bar soap.
Moisturize your face and body after washing. You can use a serum, cream, lotion or some combination. If you use a serum, be sure you apply a cream or lotion over it to seal in moisture. Among the serums Waldorf likes are Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hyaluronic Acid Serum and L'Oréal Revitalift 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum. As for moisturizers, she suggests Alastin Ultra Nourishing Moisturizer and their Ultra Light Moisturizer, along with La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer and La Roche-Posay Lipikar AP+M Triple Repair Body Moisturizer for Dry Skin (which works for both the face and body).
If you have sun damage or find standard moisturizers ineffective, use a moisturizer like AmLactin with lactic acid or alpha hydroxy acid to help cell turnover.
Remember that exfoliation can help remove dead skin cells—but if you don’t moisturize after exfoliating, you won’t break the cycle of flaking.
Second, anything that may prevent damage and improve skin health helps with menopausal skin, too. The basics include:
Retinoids (vitamin A derivative creams and lotions)
Antioxidants (like a vitamin C serum)
“For me, not having sun damage (I’m a second-generation dermatologist), never smoking, and always keeping my skin hydrated meant I didn’t see big changes in my complexion,” says Waldorf. “But the volume of my face plummeted! Injectable fillers brought my face back to life. So speak with your dermatologist about topicals and what procedures, if any, can help with your specific concerns.
“Most important,” says Waldorf, “celebrate being a survivor!”
And maybe, if you can swing it, honor that celebration with a massage.
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A Moment of Personal Horn-Blowing
HNTFUYF was recently included in a roundup of the “23 Best Health and Wellness Newsletters of 2023” by the (what else?) health and wellness website Ness. Thanks, Ness, and thanks to all you HNTFUYF-ers for inspiring me with your thoughtful questions and comments. xo
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have asked if I get a cut from sales when I mention a product. I do not. I only mention products I’d like to buy myself, and therefore think you might like, too. I share this so you know my recommendations are offered without obligation.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send your beauty-related questions to email@example.com. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.