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Estrogen Cream No Match for Sun-Damaged Skin

Study of seniors finds it only boosts collagen in skin that has never been exposed

TUESDAY, Sept. 16 (HealthDay News) -- The hormone cream estradiol can repair aging skin, but only if that skin has never been touched by the damaging UV rays of sunlight, new research finds.

Decades of sun damage on the face and arms and other exposed areas seem to undermine the power of the cream, according to a study in the September issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

"Despite commonly held beliefs, estrogen was not able to raise collagen when the skin was damaged by sunlight," said study author Laure Ritti, a research investigator in the department of dermatology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. "Apparently, chronic exposure to sunlight breaks something in the way estrogen increases collagen, which makes damaged skin even harder to repair."

Unfortunately, these are the exact areas that are most in need of repair.

"There was a general belief that estrogen was good for the skin," Ritti explained.

But most, if not all, previous studies that had purported to show this looked at sun-protected areas of the skin, not sun-exposed areas.

"When we look for treatments for aging skin, we usually want to treat the face or hands or neck, in other words, sun-exposed areas," Ritti explained. "We decided to go ahead and carefully test these questions."

Researchers applied topical estradiol for two weeks to both sun-exposed areas on the forearm and non-exposed skin near the hip in 40 women and 30 men, average age 75.

A biopsy was taken from each volunteer 24 hours after the last treatment.

The cream stimulated collagen production in sun-protected skin areas but not in sun-damaged areas. The collagen-promoting effects were found in both men and women but were more pronounced in women volunteers.

Both types of skin, however, had similar levels of estrogen-receptor expression. Estradiol activity seemed to be the same, regardless of whether the skin had or had not been damaged by the sun.

The study was partially supported by Pfizer.

The authors acknowledge that treating volunteers for more than two weeks might have yielded different results in sun-exposed skin areas; additional studies would be needed to test this.

"What makes a hormone a hormone is that it is made in one place but works somewhere else in the body," said Dr. Doris Day, an attending physician in dermatology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "It's like a light switch, it's small but, when you turn it on, the whole room lights up. Estradiol cream is like a little switch, but we're only just beginning to understand the different parts of the body it affects and how it affects them. This is putting the science behind the anecdote."

More information

The American Academy of Dermatology has sun-safety tips.

SOURCES: Laure Ritti, Ph.D., research investigator, department of dermatology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor; Doris Day, M.D., attending physician, dermatology, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; September 2008, Archives of Dermatology

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