Health Benefits of Progesterone Cream

Does the popular hormone cream live up to the hype?

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, or artificial, progesterone. In that case, progesterone cream can be a possible alternative.

This article takes a closer look at the benefits and side effects of using progesterone cream.

Health benefits of progesterone
Verywell / Hilary Allison 

Health 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 hormone change 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 study found that the cream didn't fail at treating symptoms. Still, they based their conclusion on 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).

However, recent studies have shown that another progesterone cream called Pro-gest may be just as effective as progesterone pills. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2018 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 200mg oral dose of progesterone once a day. After 12 days, both groups had the same level of progesterone in their blood.

Recap

Earlier studies suggest that progesterone cream can't treat menopause symptoms.

On the other hand, a newer study found that a progesterone cream called Pro-gest had a strong impact on progesterone levels in the blood. Because of this effect, researchers question whether it should be sold over the counter.

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. In the study, 40 peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women used either 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 osteopenia (loss of bone density).

In recent years, the role of progesterone in even preventing bone loss 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 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.

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 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. The soy proteins should be majorly processed, but you may still 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.

Recap

Talk with your healthcare provider before using progesterone cream. It may have the same effect on your body as progesterone pills. Some people experience PMS-like symptoms, depression, or anxiety while using the cream.

Dosage and Preparation

Progesterone cream is sold in various strengths, ranging from 25 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 150mg or 200mg 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. 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.

Recap

Use the progesterone cream only as prescribed. Don't go over the recommended dose. Just like with other types of hormone replacement therapy, more is generally not better.

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.

Other Questions

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.

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.

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Additional Reading
  • Dalal PK, Agarwal M. Postmenopausal syndromeIndian J Psychiatry. 2015;57(Suppl 2):S222–S232. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.161483