Background: There has been increasing interest in studying gender differences in skin to learn more about disease pathogenesis and to discover more effective treatments. Recent advances have been made in our understanding of these differences in skin histology, physiology, and immunology, and they have implications for diseases such as acne, eczema, alopecia, skin cancer, wound healing, and rheumatologic diseases with skin manifestations.
Objective: This article reviews advances in our understanding of gender differences in skin.
Methods: Using the PubMed database, broad searches for topics, with search terms such as gender differences in skin and sex differences in skin, as well as targeted searches for gender differences in specific dermatologic diseases, such as gender differences in melanoma, were performed. Additional articles were identified from cited references. Articles reporting gender differences in the following areas were reviewed: acne, skin cancer, wound healing, immunology, hair/alopecia, histology and skin physiology, disease-specific gender differences, and psychological responses to disease burden.
Results: A recurring theme encountered in many of the articles reviewed referred to a delicate balance between normal and pathogenic conditions. This theme is highlighted by the complex interplay between estrogens and androgens in men and women, and how changes and adaptations with aging affect the disease process. Sex steroids modulate epidermal and dermal thickness as well as immune system function, and changes in these hormonal levels with aging and/or disease processes alter skin surface pH, quality of wound healing, and propensity to develop autoimmune disease, thereby significantly influencing potential for infection and other disease states. Gender differences in alopecia, acne, and skin cancers also distinguish hormonal interactions as a major target for which more research is needed to translate current findings to clinically significant diagnostic and therapeutic applications.
Conclusions: The published findings on gender differences in skin yielded many advances in our understanding of cancer, immunology, psychology, skin histology, and specific dermatologic diseases. These advances will enable us to learn more about disease pathogenesis, with the goal of offering better treatments. Although gender differences can help us to individually tailor clinical management of disease processes, it is important to remember that a patient's sex should not radically alter diagnostic or therapeutic efforts until clinically significant differences between males and females arise from these findings. Because many of the results reviewed did not originate from randomized controlled clinical trials, it is difficult to generalize the data to the general population. However, the pressing need for additional research in these areas becomes exceedingly clear, and there is already a strong foundation on which to base future investigations.