The influence of female sex hormones on skin thickness: evaluation using 20 MHz sonography

Br J Dermatol. 1998 Sep;139(3):462-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2133.1998.02410.x.


Changes in skin thickness and echodensity during the spontaneous menstrual cycle, in women taking hormonal contraceptives and pregnant women were investigated by high-frequency (20 MHz) ultrasound. Women with a spontaneous ovulatory menstrual cycle (group I), women taking one-phase contraceptives (group II), women taking three-phase contraceptives (group III) and pregnant women (group IV) were measured at the following locations: proximal and distal forearm and lower leg on both sides. The skin was investigated during three phases of the menstrual cycle: days 2-4 (phase A), days 12-14 (phase B) and days 20-22 (phase C). Oestradiol and progesterone levels were determined at each phase. The pregnant women were investigated 2 weeks prepartal and 6 weeks after delivery. Group I showed a statistically significant increase in the skin thickness from phase A to phase B, but not from phase B to phase C. Group II showed no significant changes in skin thickness, whereas the skin thickness increased from phase A to phase B in group III. In group IV, the skin was significantly thicker prepartal than after delivery. The measured echodensity showed a negative correlation with skin thickness in group III and in pregnant women. We were able to demonstrate that the status of female sex hormones influences the thickness of the skin. These results can be explained by hormone-induced water retention in the skin. Sonography at 20 MHz is able to quantify these effects, which should be considered when performing ultrasound measurement in women.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / pharmacology
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Female
  • Forearm
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology*
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Skin / anatomy & histology*
  • Skin / diagnostic imaging
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Ultrasonography


  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol