A basic understanding of the nature of hormone chemistry and resulting skin challenges at different stages of life is beneficial. It helps us as we progress from puberty to maturity, and learn how to care for our skin at each stage.

Of the five major classes of steroid hormones, estrogens are possibly the most significant in the role they play in skin health. Estrogen in our body is essential for the reproduction of collagen fibers. Collagen is responsible for maintaining the elasticity of our skin and other tissues. From about our mid-20s, estrogen levels begin to decline, which becomes evident as we age and skin sags, eyelids droop, jawlines lose firmness, and wrinkles begin to form. Texture changes also come with the breakdown of collagen and elastin.

The good news is that some topical estrogen creams as well as topical phyto-estrogens, (phyto-estrogens are from non-aggressive, plant-derived sources), help slow down the aging of skin by keeping up collagen production. Additionally, these phyto-hormones normalize oil gland production and reduce hormonal breakouts.

The moment estrogen levels drop, testosterone levels rise, resulting in an increase in oil-gland production. The decline in estrogen leads to surface dryness, which in turn traps the oil beneath the skin, often causing acne breakouts in menopausal skin. A regimen to address these challenges should include ingredients to increase collagen and elastin production as well as vitamins A and C topically.

Consult with your skincare professional or dermatologist regarding any special problems or concerns, for an in-depth exam and recommendations.

The second major category of hormones are the peptides, composed of strings of amino acids. In the skin they play a role in nearly every reaction from wound healing to anti-aging. It has been noted that short-chain peptide hormones are responsible for the most important advances in skincare since the introduction of topical retinoids in the late 1970s.

Short-chain peptides can be found in premium, therapeutic skincare products. Peptides used to be derived from animal or lab sources; there are now botanical sources for a more natural and result-oriented treatment.

The science of hormones, known as endocrinology, is complex. No organ system demonstrates the important role hormones play in our health more dramatically than the skin. Read product labels before purchasing, and know exactly what the ingredients are, and what action they will have on the skin and in the body. Also determine if the product is "cruelty-free," and what preservatives might be lurking within. An educated consumer is a healthy consumer. Maintaining beautiful, flexible, glowing skin decade after decade is possible for everyone.

Karen Keady is an esthetician in Sisters.