Hormones are compounds that play a very important role in the human body. These chemicals are used as signals, sent from the glands that produce them to various organs or tissues. They also contribute to homeostasis, which is the chemical balance in the blood stream. Hormones are divided in two types, named peptides and steroids.
The name comes from a Greek word that accurately describes the role of hormones as triggers for a wide range of chemical changes as the cells and tissues grow and expand.
Hormones are produced in the glands that are part of the body's endocrine system. They are simply released in the blood stream, where they flow until they reach one of their target cells. Every target cells reacts only with a specific type of hormone in the blood. As soon as the hormone binds to the receptor, it triggers a certain reaction from the cell. Hormones can change any aspect of cellular metabolism and can for example restart the production of energy or activate a specific gene. Some hormones only affect the target cells (autocrines), while others also influence other cells around them (paracrine hormones).
Virtually every aspect of our life and all body functions are regulated through hormones. These include vital functions such as digestion but also mental stress, the way we sleep, growth or sexual reactions.
Hormones are key to a healthy body, as long as their balance is maintained. This is not easy to achieve and often the level of a particular hormone is too low or too high. Hormone imbalance can have very serious health consequences and can happen at any age, requiring medical treatment.
Hormones become less effective with age, when a lower number is produced and they become less effective at transmitting their messages. This is known in medical terms as hormone miscommunication and can speed up the process of aging, by disrupting the entire endocrine system. Severe physical or emotional stress on the body can also cause hormone miscommunication.
The evolution of the skin during aging is largely caused by hormones. Many hormones are active at skin level and impact both skin tissues and other cells around them. These are produced in various body organs such as the adrenal glands, ovaries or thyroid glands.
Since hormones are a major cause of skin deterioration, a key focus of the medical and cosmetic industry is to develop products that can counter the effects of these hormonal imbalances on the skin. These products especially focus on the skin changes experienced by women as they reach menopause between the age of 40 and 50. Menopause reduces the production of a key female hormone named estrogen. This has a direct impact on the skin and also triggers other important changes, such as a weaker bone structure. The effects on the skin are immediately visible, as it starts to be covered in wrinkles and becomes increasingly dry.
As the skin dries up, it also becomes less elastic and a lot more brittle. This is due to the lower amount of collagen, a key compound needed for skin maintenance. The lower amount of estrogen also shrinks the network of blood vessels that feed the skin. The male hormone testosterone is also found in the body of women and decreases after menopause, although to a lesser extent.
Thyroxin, a hormone produced by the thyroid gland, also has a direct effect on the skin. The balance of thyroxin is very important since any variation is immediately visible. Low amounts of this hormone will make the skin thick and dry, while sweating is reduced. Increased amounts have the opposite effect, with the skin becoming warm, flushed and sweaty.
Testosterone, a hormone found in larger amounts in the body of males, is active at skin level by controlling the oil glands that produce sebum. Acne and other skin issues are also directly caused by testosterone imbalances. Some women suffer from the polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that greatly increases the levels of this hormone, causing acne, the growth of hair on the face, as well as unstable periods. Some types of birth control pills that increase hormone levels also prevent testosterone from influencing the skin, in order to prevent such unwanted effects.
Menopause also affects the hair. All women will experience their hair getting thinner but in some cases the consequences are dramatic. Scientists have discovered that the volume and strength of hair is directly impacted by the level of iron available to the body, as well as a hormone produced by the thyroid gland.
High levels of estrogen are beneficial for the hair, which is very visible for example at the end of pregnancy, when the hair of women gains in volume. This is because the hormone makes hair stay in the anagen phase, or the growth one. The opposite happens after menopause, when lower hormone levels speed up the transition to the telogen phase, and the hair falls off.
Another unwanted effect of menopause is the growth of facial hair, while the one on the scalp becomes thinner. This is because the level of estrogen decreases a lot more than the one of testosterone, the hormone that controls facial hair. Modern medicine can counter some of these effects, ask for the advice of your doctor or go see a dermatologist.