March 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Estrogen Limits Skin Problems Women Have New Equation Of Supplements’ Risks, Benefits

From Wire Reports

Hormone replacement therapy apparently can help you save face.

Women who take estrogen supplements after the onset of menopause are less likely to have wrinkled and dry skin, according to a new study.

The finding adds another element to the complicated equation that menopausal women must solve about estrogen supplements’ risks and benefits. Some data indicate a somewhat elevated risk of breast cancer among women who have taken estrogen after menopause, but other studies document a pronounced reduction in heart disease and the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.

The new study found a strong protective benefit of estrogen for older women’s skin.

“Women who take estrogen are less likely to get wrinkled skin and dry skin with older age,” said Dr. Alison A. Moore, a geriatrics specialist at the University of California at Los Angeles, one of the study authors.

“This matters not only for cosmetic reasons, which are important in terms of self-esteem, but for medical reasons,” Moore said in an interview. “Dry skin can predispose people to itchiness, which can be disabling for older people and can predispose them to skin tears, which can be dangerous if they get infected.”

While the study confirms the belief - or at least the hope - of many doctors and patients, its authors note that earlier research on estrogen’s skin-preserving benefits has been inconclusive. Other studies involved far fewer women; another strength of this study is that all the women were assessed by trained dermatology residents.

Among the 3,403 postmenopausal women studied, those who had taken estrogen supplements were 32 percent less likely to have substantially wrinkled skin and 24 percent less likely to have the kind of skin dryness associated with aging.

Those figures take into account differences in women’s age, their body build and the amount of sun exposure - all factors known to affect the degree of skin aging. Cigarette smoking, which is known to elevate the risk of wrinkles, did not cancel out the beneficial effect of estrogen supplements, according to a substudy of 1,862 women.

The study appears in the Archives of Dermatology, a publication of the American Medical Association. It was funded by private foundations, Moore said, with no contributions from pharmaceutical or skin-products companies.

Moore said the only women for whom she would not recommend postmenopausal estrogen supplements are those with a personal history of breast cancer. “I would not say a woman should not take estrogen because of a family history of breast cancer,” she said.

Others had a more cautious attitude about the findings. Paula Doress-Worters, co-editor of “Ourselves, Growing Older,” said she is concerned the study will prompt some women to take estrogen supplements to prevent wrinkles, whatever the risk.

“When you mention wrinkling, that’s when you get people’s attention,” Doress-Worters said. “It’s kind of a sad thing that women are willing to live with all sorts of risks in order to have what they conceive of as a pleasing appearance.”

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