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It's All About Sex: Hormones and Skin Moisture

By: Johann W. Wiechers, PhD
Posted: August 20, 2008

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For years, I have been investigating skin moisturization, placing my corneometer on nearly every surface I could find. I measured neat raw materials applied to female and sometimes male skin. I also measured formulations and even the influence of production procedures, such as the influence of droplet size, on skin moisturization. The conclusion was a bit worrying because almost everything turned out to moisturize human skin.

There is a distinct correlation between beauty and skin moisturization. If everything moisturizes human skin, humans should all have less wrinkles and should have no problem finding partners. But when thinking in terms of evolution, most women produce their offspring before they even see wrinkles, so antiaging cosmetics to maintain and re-claim beauty occur after the fact. 

Going back to cosmetic science, I used to perform some skin moisturization experiments with near infrared spectroscopy. My colleagues and I were able to measure water in the skin non-invasively but we found that there was a link with some other peaks that we had not yet identified. Because one peak was more dominant in all spectra originating from men, and another was more dominant in all spectra obtained on women, we ordered some estrogen and testosterone and measured these chemicals.

Low and behold, the peak more prominent in the spectra of the male volunteers coincided with the peak of testosterone, whereas the peak more prominent in the spectra of the female volunteer coincided with that of estrogen. We were, however, interested in water in the skin and not primarily in sex hormones levels. That changed when we tried to correlate the presence and surface area of the water peak to that of other peaks.

We found that in men there was a good correlation between estrogen levels and the amount of water in skin, especially for the non-smokers, whereas the correlation with testosterone levels was reasonable at best. This meant that a male's "femininity" determined his skin hydration levels that subsequently determine, among other things, how well his skin looks. If a male smokes, his testosterone levels go up and his estrogen levels go down; thus, his skin hydration is reduced and his skin looks roughly 15 years older.