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What Is Topical Estrogen?

By Jami Yontz
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Topical estrogen is a type of cream, spray or patch that is applied directly to the skin and contains the hormone estrogen. There are many methods of introducing synthetic or natural estrogen hormones into the body. Many women find that applying estrogen directly to the skin or vagina is much more convenient for their lifestyle than getting regular injections, inserting vaginal rings or taking pills. Topical estrogen is used by most women when they begin menopause as a form of hormone replacement therapy to counteract the symptom of the body no longer producing enough estrogen naturally. Other women increase their body’s estrogen levels to increase their sex drive or improve the appearance of their skin. 

There are three types of estrogen produced by a woman’s ovaries — estrone, estriol and estradiol. These hormones are responsible for the development of female characteristics, such as the development of breasts, and it works to increase the woman’s metabolism and provide natural lubrication for the vagina. During menopause, the production of estrogen decreases, and this can cause changes in the woman’s mood, metabolism and sex drive. Many women choose to use hormone replacement therapy to counteract the effects of a decreased level of estrogen being produced. 

Topical estrogen creams are available by prescription, or they can be purchased over the counter. The types of cream include conjugated equine estrogen vaginal cream, estradiol cream and bioidentical cream. Conjugated equine estrogen cream is made from a pregnant horse’s urine, and the cream is delivered by inserting a tube applicator, which contains the capsule of cream, into the vagina. 

Estradiol cream is created from plant sources, such as soy, that contain high levels of this type of estrogen. Bioidentical creams, or custom compound creams, are created to mimic the woman’s natural hormone blend. Many of these types of topical applications contain varying levels of estrogen, which can cause problems in some women. 

Estrogen patches are a popular option for many women. These patches are applied to a woman’s stomach, and they deliver the hormone in small doses each day. A new patch is applied every so often, such as every two days or once a week, depending on the type used. 

Topical estrogen also comes in a spray format. Most sprays come with a specific applicator that delivers a certain amount of the hormone in each dose. The estrogen is sprayed on the inside of the arm one to three times daily. Most physicians recommend that a woman who is taking an estrogen replacement supplement be supervised by a physician, because there are risks and harmful side effects associated with topical estrogen.

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Discussion Comments
By ddljohn — On May 24, 2014

I used a topical plant-based estrogen cream for a while after I went into menopause. I don't know if it was just me, but the cream did not do anything. I ended up switching to estrogen supplements and they have worked much better. My hot flashes are almost entirely gone which is such a relief. Hot flashes are definitely the worst part about menopause.

By burcinc — On May 23, 2014

@stoneMason-- Both types work well. My sister uses the topical cream and I use patches and we are both happy. The one my sister is using is non-vaginal cream. I believe she applies it on her arm. The cream should give specific directions about where it can be applied. But there are certainly estrogen creams that do not have to be inserted into or applied on the vagina.

I use the patches. The previous brand was not good, the patches would not stay on longer than a day although they had to stay on for two days. So my doctor switched me to a different one and these have no problem staying on. I apply the patch on the upper part of my leg.

By stoneMason — On May 23, 2014

So which type of topical estrogen is best? I'm thinking about using either the patches or the cream. But I don't want to use vaginal cream. There are estrogen creams that can be applied to other parts of the body correct?

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