Progesterone Cream Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives

22 Nov.,2022

 

Progesterone Powder

Progesterone cream is a type of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It may help reduce menopause symptoms, signs of skin aging, and bone loss that can lead to osteoporosis.

Progesterone cream contains natural plant-based compounds from soybeans and wild yams (Dioscorea villosa). It's easy to find and is sold over the counter.

Other hormone replacement options are progesterone pills, suppositories, vaginal gels, and medicated patches that you place on your skin. However, some women want to avoid synthetic (artificial) progesterone. In that case, progesterone cream can be a possible alternative.

This article provides a list of progesterone cream benefits and discusses the side effects that can come with using it. It also includes dosage information along with what to look for in a progesterone cream product.

Verywell / Hilary Allison 

Progesterone Cream Benefits

Progesterone is a type of hormone that your ovaries produce. Its primary role is to help regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.

During menopause (when periods stop completely) progesterone levels drop suddenly. This change in hormones triggers many physical and emotional symptoms. It can also lead to bone loss and can cause your skin to lose elasticity, firmness, and strength.

Progesterone cream may help improve the lives of women with menopause by:

  • Reducing hot flashes and vaginal dryness

  • Fighting fatigue

  • Improving mood and sleep
  • Relieving skin dryness, wrinkling, and thinning

  • Preventing osteopenia (loss of bone density)
  • Increasing libido (sex drive)
  • Reducing weight gain

Despite the health claims, research into progesterone cream has produced mixed and conflicting results.

Menopause Symptoms

A review of studies examining the effects of progesterone cream on menopause was published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2007.

The researchers reported that they didn't support progesterone cream as a treatment option for women going through menopause. The available studies had mixed results, and the authors concluded there wasn't enough quality evidence to back up treatment claims.

Another study published in Menopause International in 2009 found that progesterone didn't treat menopausal symptoms. The study involved 223 post-menopausal women who had severe menopausal symptoms.

Half of these women were given an oil-based progesterone called Progestelle. The other half received a placebo (sugar pill). After 24 weeks, both groups experienced the same amount of menopause symptoms (such as hot flashes and night sweats).

On the other hand, another study found that a progesterone cream called Pro-gest may be as effective as progesterone pills. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2005 compared progesterone cream and oral progesterone (taken by mouth).

In the study, 12 post-menopausal women were divided into two groups. One group applied Pro-gest twice a day, while the other group took a 200-milligram (mg) oral dose of progesterone once a day. After 12 days, both groups had the same level of progesterone in their blood. The study didn't assess symptoms, so it's hard to tell if the blood levels affected menopause symptoms at all.

Skin Health

Research on using progesterone cream for skincare has had more positive results.

An older study published in the British Journal of Dermatology reported that progesterone cream led to firmer and more elastic skin. The study looked at 40 women who were perimenopausal (transitioning into menopause) or postmenopausal (after menopause). The women used either a a 2% progesterone cream or a non-progesterone cream.

After four months, the women who used the progesterone cream had:

  • Fewer wrinkles
  • Less visible eye wrinkles
  • Less visible "laugh line" wrinkles
  • Firmer skin

Bone Density

More research is needed to compare the effects of progesterone cream and progesterone pills on bone loss. Very little evidence shows whether creams or pills are better at preventing or slowing loss of bone density.

In fact, whether progesterone has a role—either pills or creams—in preventing bone loss at all has been questioned.

A review of five studies examining progesterone and bone loss was published in the Journal of Osteoporosis in 2010. The study authors concluded that progesterone therapy barely improved bone density in postmenopausal women on its own.

Progesterone did prevent bone loss in pre-menopausal and peri-menopausal women. However, it was more effective when combined with estrogen than on its own.

The same study suggested there was no difference in bone mineral density in women who used progesterone cream when compared to women provided a placebo.

How Long Does It Take for Progesterone Cream to Kick In?

Progesterone cream does not work immediately. How long it takes to work depends on several factors, including how much progesterone your body needs. Early research shows it could take between 24 and 48 weeks of using progesterone cream daily to see improvements in menopause symptoms.

Risks of Using Progesterone Cream

The FDA considers progesterone cream a cosmetic product, but that doesn't mean it should be used without consideration.

Progesterone cream may have the same effect on your body as progesterone pills, so it's important to consult with your doctor before starting treatment.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects from progesterone cream depend on the product you use. Some women will be very sensitive to the active ingredient; others will not. In certain cases, the cream can lead to moderate weight gain.

It may even trigger mild side effects, like:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Breast pain

Don't assume progesterone cream is weaker than progesterone pills, especially with long-term use. Some women experience side effects after using the cream for several months.

These include:

  • PMS-like symptoms (cramps or bloating)
  • Oily skin
  • Acne
  • Hirsutism (excessive body hair growth)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Abnormal blood clotting

You may experience skin irritation if you regularly apply progesterone cream to the same area. To prevent this, rub the cream into different areas every time you use it.

Be careful if you have a soy allergy. Remember that some progesterone creams contain soy. The soy in these creams is likely highly processed, which means that the soy protein is broken down to the point that it's probably not allergenic. Still, you may want to choose a wild yam-based product instead.

The safety of progesterone cream for pregnant or breastfeeding women hasn't been studied. Progesterone cream should never be used on children. If you are using or planning to use progesterone cream, talk to your healthcare provider first.

Contraindications

Progesterone cream may interfere or interact with other medications you are taking. When discussing progesterone cream with your healthcare provider, be sure to inform them about any other prescription or over-the-counter drugs, herbal products, or vitamins that you are taking.

In addition, progesterone cream may not be recommended for people with:

  • Undiagnosed abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • A history of stroke, heart attack, or blood clots
  • Breast or endometrial cancer
  • Liver disease

Dosage and Preparation

Progesterone cream is sold in various strengths, ranging from 25 milligrams per milliliter (mg/mL) to 250 mg/mL. Recommendations can vary based on the brand of cream you're using.

However, healthcare providers may suggest that 25 mg/mL per day is enough to manage hot flashes. A progesterone cream dose of 75 mg/mL may lead to the same progesterone levels as taking a 150 mg or 200 mg oral dose.

Some healthcare providers will suggest applying the cream once a day for six days and skipping every seventh day if you're using it to prevent hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

Where Do You Apply Progesterone Cream?

You can apply the cream to your neck, inner thigh, forearm, lower abdomen, or vaginal area. If you are using another hormone on your skin, like testosterone, don't apply the progesterone cream to the same part of the body.

What to Look For

You can find progesterone cream online and at many retail drugstores. When choosing a cream, only buy one with "progesterone USP" on the label.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates and tests medicinal drugs to make sure they are safe and effective. However, the same doesn't apply to progesterone cream and supplements.

The FDA doesn't test or regulate over-the-counter remedies like progesterone cream. Because of this, the quality can vary between products, including the types of inactive ingredients and plant-based progesterone used.

Although they are becoming more popular, it's too soon to recommend progesterone creams or ointments for health purposes. Speak with your healthcare provider if you're considering using progesterone cream. They can help you fully understand the benefits, risks, and limitations of treatment.

Alternatives to Progesterone Cream

The hormone progesterone is naturally made in your body. While there are no foods that contain progesterone, several nutrients can support your body in making more, including:

  • Vitamin C: Some research shows that taking vitamin C supplements regularly can significantly boost your progesterone within a few months.

    You can also get vitamin C through foods, such as oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, and bell peppers.
  • Zinc: This mineral helps your pituitary gland make more follicle-stimulating hormone, which then stimulates ovulation and tells your ovaries to make more progesterone.

    Foods rich in zinc include oysters, shrimp, red meat, and cashews.
  • Magnesium: A 2015 study published in the journal Menopause found that magnesium supplements reduce menopausal hot flashes by helping the body balance estrogen and progesterone levels.

    Magnesium-rich foods include cacao, kale, black beans, and cashews.
  • Vitamin E: This powerful antioxidant plays an important role in female reproductive health by supporting the release of follicle hormone followed by progesterone.

    Almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, and broccoli are great sources of vitamin E.
  • Good cholesterol: Your body uses cholesterol to make progesterone, estrogen, and vitamin D.

    Sources of healthy HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol include coconut oil, turkey and red meat, eggs, and yogurt.

Summary

Progesterone cream is an alternative hormone replacement therapy. It may help reduce menopause symptoms and prevent bone loss.

Although it seems like progesterone cream is weaker than pills, it's really not. Be wary of using doses that are too high. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine the right dose for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is progesterone cream used for?

    Progesterone cream is a type of hormone replacement therapy used to manage uncomfortable symptoms of menopause.

  • Does progesterone cream boost fertility?

    Low levels of the hormone progesterone may indicate infertility or irregular ovulation. Some research shows that using progesterone cream may boost fertility in women undergoing in vitro fertilization.

  • How is progesterone cream made?

    The progesterone used in creams comes from diosgenin, a plant-based estrogen. This hormone is naturally found in wild yam and soy. The diosgenin is chemically converted to progesterone in a lab. That progesterone is then used to make progesterone cream.

  • What are progesterone boosters?

    Some companies try to promote wild yam products as natural progesterone "boosters." Despite these claims, your body can't convert diosgenin found in wild yam into active progesterone. Avoid these products.