Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Early Menopause Caused By Makeup?

November 8th, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

It turns out that phthalates – chemicals found in cosmetics, hairspray, packaged food, household cleaners, and other common plastic items – are causing early menopause. At least according to one new study that is getting a lot of hype in the past week or two. A team of researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, MO, studied phthalate levels in blood and urine for over 5,000 women, and those women with the highest levels of pthalates apparently went into menopause an average of at least two years before others.

This study is definitely making news. British news sources are reporting on this study as much as U.S. news sources. Women’s reactions to online news stories about this study are mixed. Women hearing about this study are quick to comment online, saying either (1) how quickly they’ll be running out to buy more makeup (to launch themselves into menopause) or (2) discontinuing their use of makeup (to ward against the effects of pthalates). What I find interesting is how divided women are about whether early menopause is good. Reactions to reports on this study definitely show attitudinal differences among women in that women do not think uniformly about menopause or about the importance of using cosmetics. Women are not  thinking uniformly about how damaging phthalates are to our bodies either.

Of course, by all news reports of this study, phthalates also cause cancer, diabetes, and even feminization of boys (really?), so even if you think early menopause is a good thing you might want to hold off on consuming more phthalates.

What this study (and people’s belief in the study) also reiterates is the fact that our bodies are affected by what we eat, use, and do, as well as what we come into contact with, where we live, etc. Some of the articles reporting on this study focus in on the natural, healthy choices we can make when picking beauty products, household cleaners, prepared food, and other common household items. Who knew there was vegan makeup, for instance? This is all worth a second thought. Sure, we might all want to be done with menstruation sooner than later but phthalate-induced menopause should probably not be our goal.

September is Menopause Awareness Month, and Menopause Brings Dry Skin and Wrinkles?

September 13th, 2010 by Heather Dillaway
"My Blue Guard" by Flickr user Coffeelatte, CC 2.0

"My Blue Guard" by Flickr user Coffeelatte, CC 2.0

September is Menopause Awareness Month. If you do a web search on “Menopause Awareness Month,” the first things that pop up are about hormone therapies, pain, cramps, eye floaters, and other terrible symptoms that should probably be commemorated this month….or maybe not. Other websites that pop up are the websites for the American Menopause Association (and a press release about hormone therapies to use) and the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), which defines this month more appropriately as a month within which we need to “increase awareness about the importance of having accurate information to enhance women’s health at menopause and beyond” and “draw attention to the large public health challenge that menopause brings—and to reinforce that women and their healthcare providers must have accurate, unbiased menopause-related information to make informed decisions that will lead to improved health and quality of life both around menopause and beyond.”  I was happy to see these press releases from NAMS with these slightly more positive statements about what Menopause Awareness Month might mean or bring.

However, it is clear that anti-aging companies are also trying to co-opt/maximize their profit during Menopause Awareness Month (of course, not surprisingly at all). For instance, a September 1st press release indicates that “Vichy Laboratories, a division of L’Oreal Active Cosmetics, the vast majority of women over 50 reported experiencing notable changes in the condition of their skin during menopause. In fact, 53 percent reported that the most common issue they faced after entering menopause was dry skin, followed closely by an increase in wrinkles and a sagging neck.”

I find myself nothing but sad when I see things like this. First, studies like this make it seem like menopause is akin to dry skin, wrinkles, and sagging skin – things that are defined as problematic for the female physical appearance and that need fixing – and, thus, menopause itself becomes problematic. This is medicalization at its best. Second, there is no mention of the fact that these things might not be solely the result of menopause, but that perhaps middle-aged men and non-menopausal women might have them too. Thus, there is no problematizing of the equation of menopause, dry skin, wrinkles, and sagging skin. If anyone has ever read Anne Fausto-Sterling or people like her, she makes it clear that most of the “symptoms” we attribute to menopause are actually not exclusive to menopause and might just assigned to it arbitrarily. (How many conditions and life stages and every day activities produce dry skin and wrinkles, for instance?)

Third is the fear factor that is present in all of these studies and reports. Reports like this encourage women to go seek out expensive face creams to deal with their menopause and middle-aged status, rather than relish the fact that they’ve earned that dry skin or those wrinkles or that those dry skin patches and wrinkles are not that problematic after all. Finally, press releases like this narrow the scope of Menopause Awareness Month. While NAMS actually defines it much more broadly, we end up only thinking about the (seemingly always negative) “symptoms” of menopause rather than all of the other things that menopausal women might actually want to think about during this reproductive transition and midlife.

I, for one, would like to honor Menopause this month in a much broader, more positive way than this report about skin conditions does. Hurray for Menopause Awareness Month and menopausal women!

What was once mocked is now trendy

January 19th, 2010 by Elizabeth Kissling

Remember last fall, when half the Western world was shocked – shocked! – by The Guardian‘s publication of an Ingrid Berthon-Moine photo of a woman with menstrual blood on her lips? We’ll never forget.

Photo by Ingrid Berthon-Moine of model with bloody lips.

Apparently menstrual activists are just a few steps ahead of high fashion: Blood red lips are now considered “quite glam”.

Celebrities show off blood-red lips.

Perhaps Laura, my colleague here at re:Cycling and SMCR, is right: Menstruation IS coming out of the closet.

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.