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Progesterone Cream

Health Benefits, Uses, Side Effects & Tips

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Updated August 02, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Progesterone cream is a product typically used to improve women's health. A hormone found naturally in the body and produced mainly in the ovaries, progesterone is a key element of hormone replacement therapy (a treatment commonly pursued by midlife women experiencing menopausal symptoms). Typically made from soy or wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), progesterone cream is applied directly to the skin rather than taken orally as in hormone replacement therapy.

Uses for Progesterone Cream

Progesterone cream is said to alleviate menopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness) and protect against menopause-related bone loss. In addition, non-menopausal women sometimes use progesterone cream to fight fatigue, improve mood, increase libido, and fight weight gain.

Progesterone cream is also used to reduce signs of aging in the skin.

Benefits of Progesterone Cream

Here's a look at the science behind the purported benefits of progesterone cream:

1) Menopause

Research on the use of progesterone cream among menopausal women has yielded mixed results. In a 2007 report published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, for instance, investigators sized up the available studies on the use of progesterone cream for management of menopausal symptoms and protection against osteoporosis. Due to a lack of consistency in study findings (as well as a lack of credibility in certain studies), the report's authors concluded that progesterone cream is "an unsubstantiated treatment option" for women undergoing menopause.

In a more recent report, scientists found progesterone cream to be ineffective in treatment of menopausal symptoms. Published in Menopause International in 2009, the study involved 223 healthy postmenopausal women with severe menopausal symptoms. For six months, study members applied either progesterone cream or a placebo each day. While women given progesterone cream showed a significantly greater improvement in physical functioning and social functioning compared to members of the placebo group, progesterone cream was no more effective than placebo in treatment of menopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes and night sweats).

See Natural Approach to Menopause.

2) Skin Health

In a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology in 2005, scientists determined that progesterone cream may help increase skin firmness and elasticity. Involving 40 peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women, the four-month-long study also found that progesterone cream helped fight wrinkles.

Related: Collagen Supplements For Skin.

Side Effects

In some cases, use of progesterone cream may promote moderate weight gain and trigger a number of side effects, including drowsiness, nausea, headaches, and breast pain.

Since repeatedly applying progesterone cream to the same area of skin may lead to skin irritation, proponents suggest rubbing the cream into different areas with each use.

What You Need To Know Before Buying Progesterone Cream

There's some concern that some natural progesterone creams do not contain enough progesterone to be effective in alleviating menopausal symptoms or protecting against bone loss. Diosgenin, a phytoestrogen found in wild yam and soy, must be converted in a laboratory to progesterone (the body cannot convert diosgenin into progesterone on its own), so only preparations that have been made by chemically converting the phytoestrogen are believed to be active. Look for "progesterone USP" on the label or for help in finding an effective progesterone cream, consult a qualified health care professional.

Alternatives to Progesterone Cream

A number of natural remedies show promise for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. For example, there's some evidence that black cohosh, soy, and red clover may help reduce hot flashes. Certain foods may also help.

Where To Find It

Widely available for purchase online, progesterone cream is sold in many drugstores and natural-foods stores.

Sources

Benster B, Carey A, Wadsworth F, Vashisht A, Domoney C, Studd J. "A double-blind placebo-controlled study to evaluate the effect of progestelle progesterone cream on postmenopausal women." Menopause Int. 2009 Jun;15(2):63-9.

Elshafie MA, Ewies AA. "Transdermal natural progesterone cream for postmenopausal women: inconsistent data and complex pharmacokinetics." J Obstet Gynaecol. 2007 Oct;27(7):655-9.

Hermann AC, Nafziger AN, Victory J, Kulawy R, Rocci ML Jr, Bertino JS Jr. "Over-the-counter progesterone cream produces significant drug exposure compared to a food and drug administration-approved oral progesterone product." J Clin Pharmacol. 2005 Jun;45(6):614-9.

Holzer G, Riegler E, Hönigsmann H, Farokhnia S, Schmidt JB. "Effects and side-effects of 2% progesterone cream on the skin of peri- and postmenopausal women: results from a double-blind, vehicle-controlled, randomized study." Br J Dermatol. 2005 Sep;153(3):626-34.

Leonetti HB, Longo S, Anasti JN. "Transdermal progesterone cream for vasomotor symptoms and postmenopausal bone loss." Obstet Gynecol. 1999 Aug;94(2):225-8.

Wren BG, Champion SM, Willetts K, Manga RZ, Eden JA. "Transdermal progesterone and its effect on vasomotor symptoms, blood lipid levels, bone metabolic markers, moods, and quality of life for postmenopausal women." Menopause. 2003 Jan-Feb;10(1):13-8.

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