Your Skin and Thyroid Are Intimately Connected
When your thyroid is not functioning properly, the skin struggles to do what it is supposed to: protect your body. Your skin and scalp are covered in thyroid hormone receptors that receive information about how much moisture should be in your skin, the amount you should sweat, and the speed and thickness of hair growth.
If you aren’t producing enough thyroid hormone due to hypothyroidism, you may notice some or all of the following symptoms in your skin and hair:
Sweat glands secrete moisturizing factors like lactate, urea, sodium, and potassium to keep skin hydrated. A healthy, moisturizing barrier forms when secreted sweat mixes with oil on the skin’s surface.
However, when your thyroid hormone production drops, body processes slow down and change, including sweat gland secretion. Skin without enough moisture can quickly become dry and flaky.
Hypothyroidism may cause the skin to appear pale due to abnormal dermal mucus and dermal water content. Additionally, an increase in dermal beta-carotene (provitamin A) may cause a yellowish pigmentation on the palms and soles.
On the other hand, too much thyroid hormone due to hyperthyroidism may cause smooth, thin skin or changes to the hair including fine hair or Alopecia, a condition characterized by hair loss.
There are very few studies that explain why hyperthyroidism causes these changes in the skin. The connection likely has more to do with autoimmunity than direct thyroid hormone action. Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder that can cause hyperthyroidism, and it may also result in a build-up of hyaluronic acid in the skin, which can cause the skin to thicken in places.
Testing Is Key to Treatment
If you experience skin symptoms, consider taking a thyroid blood test to understand how your thyroid is functioning. Many labs only look at thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is a hormone produced in the brain that stimulates the thyroid gland to produce the thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
But it's also critical to measure fT3, fT4, and TPO antibodies (antibodies that mistakenly attack healthy thyroid tissue) to understand the full picture of your thyroid health.
Should your results show that your thyroid is underactive (high TSH and low T3/T4), it is easily treatable for almost everyone. Optimizing your thyroid levels with thyroid hormone replacement medication is usually the first step in minimizing thyroid-related skin symptoms.
Beyond taking medication, you can support your thyroid function with nutrition and lifestyle modifications. Talk to a doctor who can assess your symptoms, history, and lab results to determine the best treatment plan for you.
Lifestyle Changes to Support Your Thyroid and Skin
Beyond taking a thyroid hormone replacement medication, you can support your thyroid with a few lifestyle changes.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet: The more dietary stress you put on yourself, the more likely you will experience inflammation that can interfere with your thyroid function. There is no specific eating method that people with hypothyroidism should follow. Still, studies show that certain foods can help control inflammation, like fatty fish, green leafy vegetables, and olive oil.