Think and Treat Menopause Beyond Estrogen Deficiency

i-On Skincare is pleased to announce our partnership with GenM, the menopause partner for 80 brands and counting. GenM empowers responsible and forward-thinking brands to understand and serve menopause across all areas of the business, helping them better cater toward menopausal customers and employees alike.  As the founder and president of i-On Skincare, I believe that our mission of empowering women with scientific innovation is well aligned with GenM’s mission. As a member of GenM’s collective, we will continue our decades-long work to improve the experience for those in menopause (around 1 billion globally). 

Menopausal care is centered on estrogen and sex hormones, which has not changed since 1960s. Menopause is still regarded as hormone deficiency syndrome. It is true that estrogen levels peak between age 25 and 30 and then gradually decrease as a function of age. This view has led to the medicalization of menopause and the development of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as a potential treatment. Medicalization means that something that was once considered a normal part of life becomes seen as a medical condition that needs to be treated. HRT involves taking hormones, usually estrogen and progesterone, to replace the hormones that are no longer being produced in the body during menopause. The idea behind HRT is to alleviate the symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings, by restoring hormone levels. 

Yes, HRT can ease some of the menopausal symptoms, but not all of them. For example, clinical trials show that HRT, either topical application ( ) or oral intake ( ), did not seem to have an impact on the development of wrinkles, sagging, texture, dryness, or the rigidity of the skin in most facial locations for postmenopausal women.  

The cessation of menstruation is the most telling sign of menopause. It is a defining characteristic of the menopausal transition. It marks the end of a woman's reproductive years. The importance of menstruation cessation is the sudden rise of iron in the body. Iron plays an important role in beauty and wellness. In 2009, we hypothesized that, in addition to estrogen deficiency, increased iron because of menopause could be a risk factor affecting the health of postmenopausal women ( ). Further studies on iron and menopause are clinically relevant and may provide novel therapeutic treatments.

Fourteen years have passed, and we have worked hard to develop de-ironizing inducer (DII®) technology to address iron in skin. As the most abundant transition metal in the human body, iron has well known oxidative reductive (redox) properties, capable of producing oxygen free radicals damaging tissue and skin.  Skin is the largest organ of the human body and iron is shown to be excreted through the skin ( ). When skin is exposed to UV radiation, blue light, air pollutants and other irritants from environmental sources, the result is increased oxidative damage, much like rust on metal.

Iron also has other special properties, like being able to form colorful compounds. For example, the color of iron in hemoglobin, an iron-containing oxygen-transporting protein in red blood cells, is red; the color of iron in ferritin, an iron storage protein for excess iron, is brown. Hemoglobin deposition due to micro blood vessel leakage can contribute to dark circles under the eyes and skin bruising, discoloration, and uneven skin tone underneath of the skin. Ferritin degradation caused by UVA exposure releases large amounts of iron which can form massive amounts of oxygen free radicals, leading to skin photoaging and sunspots ( ). The cessation of menstruation coupled with the deceleration of exfoliation limits the capacity to remove excess iron from the skin, resulting in duller, dingy, cloudier, and less luminous-looking skin in postmenopausal women. Thus, continued research on iron and product development in relation to iron and beauty and wellness will greatly benefit postmenopausal women. By addressing iron in menopausal symptom, this will likely increase self-esteem, productivity, as well as positive experience going through menopause. We expect that our partnership with GenM will accelerate expansion of innovative products that are beyond estrogen. We are also looking into integrating GenM’s M-Tick – the world’s first recognizable menopause friendly symbol – into our products and marketing. 

Dr. Xi, July 7, 2023