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Soy phytoestrogen for aging skin- is it safe

Reviewed by Marta September 8, 2010 6 Comments

The other day Claudette posted a request for skincare product recommendations that would be safe and effective for someone recovering from breast cancer. She specifically pointed out that soy extract was controversial and she wanted to avoid. Only a week earlier, I had received a bottle of Soy Rejuvenating  Serum by Reviva Labs, aimed at menopausal skin and accompanied by a pages-long essay on why soy is an anti-wrinkle breakthrough.

So is soy friend or foe? The answer seems to be a bit of both, although neither conclusion is as clear as we might like them to be.

Soy isoflavones are a class of estrogen-like compounds – the isoflavones genistein and daidzein - that have become widely used among postmenopausal women as a ‘natural’ alternative to hormone replacement therapy (Duncan et al. 2003). However, scientists report mixed results.

Soy does seem to provide some relief from hot flashes. A study with patients taking soy extract had a 61% reduction in their daily hot flashes versus a 21% reduction with a placebo. The findings were confirmed by a larger 2009 study. However, other researchers say that soy protein and isoflavones have not been shown to lessen vasomotor symptoms of menopause, and results are mixed with regard to soy's ability to slow postmenopausal bone loss. (source)

The concerns that Claudette referred to arise from studies of on mice that have demonstrated the ability of genistein and soy proteinto stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner (Allred et al. 2001Ju et al. 2001). However, further studies have shown slightly different results.  Ju et al.(2006) reported that dietary daidzein only slightly stimulated the in vivo growth of estrogen-dependent human breast tumor. And a study in 2007 raised concerns about the consumption of isoflavone supplements but reported no problems were detected with a topical serum.

The evidence that soy may actually prevent certain types of cancer doesn’t seem to be convincing. It has been described as “meager and cautionary with regard to a possible adverse effect”, leading to the conclusion that isoflavone supplements in food or pills are not recommended (source). Ultimately, as the Linus Pauling Institute puts it: “the effects of high intakes of soy isoflavones on breast cancer recurrence and survival of breast cancer patients have not been well studied. “

So what of soy as a topical solution against aging skin? The theory is that estrogen reduction accelerates photoaging and the formation of wrinkles. Estrogen also affects secretion by the sebaceous glands.

There are a few studies that suggest that it is promising.  In 2004, European researchers found that soy extract resulted in increased collagen and HA synthesis and “appears to rejuvenate the structure of mature skin”.

Another test on pigs (their skin is similar to that of humans when it comes to getting sunburned) showed that topical isoflavones provide UV protection. However, the protection was less than that provided by a topical combination antioxidant standard containing 15% L-ascorbic acid, 1%α-tocopherol, and 0.5% ferulic acid.

Reviva’s Soy serum is still on my desk. Well, I haven’t yet come across evidence that a topically applied phytoestrogen increases the risk of cancer. So in conclusion, I’d be willing to give it a try.

  • November 22, 2016

    by Erin

    I had a complete hysterectomy following a diagnosis of uterine cancer. My doctor doesn't want me to eat any soy at all----and everything at the grocery store has soy in it. All candy, cookies, mixes, and bread contain it. So I am having to eat the very few specialized items at Whole Foods. I will give wal mart credit---they are getting a few items in. I just never realized how much soy is out there. We are simply eating it from the cradle to the grave. I dont think it bothers the vast majority of people at all. I don't even think it bothered me, but now I fear everything so try to avoid it and all the delicious foods that contain it.

  • March 22, 2011

    by Ms Wolfe

    About five years ago I completed a six-week RN/nutritionist-supervised food detox. As part of the process, I eliminated wheat, cow's milk products, and soy from my diet. As a result, I lost bloat and gas, 17 pounds, regular sinus infections and colds, and significantly reduced my springtime airborne allergies. The results were so remarkable that I will never go back to eating the way I used to. Am I 100% with it? no. Do I notice how awful I feel when I've strayed? YES and that more than anything helps me stick to it probably 90-95% of the time. (but sometimes, I just need a croissant)

    As for phyto-estrogens, I don't use them anymore. At 57, I am pretty much done with menopause except for some night sweats every once in a while. In my perimenopausal years, I used Vitex (Chaste Tree berry) and natural progesterone with good results. Around the same time as I was doing the food detox, my doc found some small fibroids. So I quit taking the supplements/hormones, and when I went for ultrasound followup three months later, there was no sign of the fibroids anymore.

    Since my skin is my largest organ, I just figure: if I won't put it ~in~ my body, I won't put it ~on~ my body. I really appreciate the ingredient lists published here, to help me sort out the products with wheat germ, soy, etc. so I can avoid those whenever possible.

    Thanks, Truth In Aging community, for the great website, tons of useful information, and all the knowledgeable contributors here!

  • September 9, 2010

    by primrose krasicki

    I read marta's article on soy with great interest.Despite the personal fact that liquid soy makes me really ill so i dont drink it. However !. Reading this interesting article,may I point out one health fact that was overlooked.Iam one for all health research. Personallyfor the last 15 years,I have had plenty of issues to deal with a parent whose survived bowel ,breast, and still going three years today with ovarian which is in remission.This is a usual cancer issue well known to oncolgists.Due to hip replacements& osteo, her breast oncologist was adamant that STAY on HRT which at aged 80 she has been using for 50 years.This is of course to block the development of osteoporous. The cancer issue of all patients is never the same as others.So yes its great that people use yam for menopause and better if it works.Or it doesnt work for another. But the user may, or may not eventually get a form of cancer.Due to the fact cancer cause is either genetic or disease born.Hence its a good idea to do the DNA tests Also immeditate diagnosis and treatment is imperative. This is well illustrated with cancer patients in their forties (particulary ovaraian) it may be agressive.However for cancer patients in their 70's and 80's its a far slower developing disease. And if they respond to treatment then it is a good outcome. But please do not forget that reaserch is vitally important. But you cannot conclude that the same results on cancer research matches every person becuase medically it doesnt.

  • September 9, 2010

    by Jaysie

    Junko - Yams might cause cancer? Egads. I've read about wild Mexican yam root that has estrogenic effects but I hope regular yams you find in the supermarket are different.

    Julie - I'm leery of soy because of articles like Marta's.

    I think Chinese herbalists who have grown up with and studied plant actives are really the only people who even remotely understand how to use them.

  • September 8, 2010

    by Junko

    Great article Marta. My sister just told me this weekend that she is using a YAM cream to help with PMS. She says it works, but is concerned that the jar says that it might cause cancer. I told her not to buy any more of it. I like that the company actually put a warning on the jar though.

  • September 8, 2010

    by Julie Kay

    Although results provide no clear answers to this dilemna, I love this article! Good one, Marta. When I (now I can say this) was menapausal and demonstrating the worse of the worse symptoms, I was encouraged from all fronts to add soy to my diet. I did and found no benefits whatsoever. Yet in facial potions, I do believe I see (or maybe I just like to believe) improvements from those with soy extract. My (and other) jury is still out.

    I am also happy you did this research for Claudette and encourage all women to pay rightous attention to what we do and apply inside/outside our bodies.

    I love TIA! Peace ~jk

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