1. Your cycle
  2. Health
  3. Symptoms and diseases

Flo Fact-Checking Standards

Every piece of content at Flo Health adheres to the highest editorial standards for language, style, and medical accuracy. To learn what we do to deliver the best health and lifestyle insights to you, check out our content review principles.

Progesterone Cream: A Useful Guide

Progesterone is a naturally occurring sex hormone produced in the ovaries, so it’s found in much higher levels in the female body than the male body. It plays an important role in reproductive health. 

Reasons to use progesterone cream 

Low progesterone levels can cause issues during menstruation, conception, and pregnancy. Progesterone cream is a popular over-the-counter treatment that helps restore the body’s hormonal balance. But are these creams really effective? What are the benefits and side effects? Read on to find out.

Balanced progesterone levels are important for female reproductive health. Progesterone prepares the uterus for pregnancy by triggering its inner lining (the endometrium) to thicken and helps a fertilized egg to implant. It also prevents the muscles of the uterus from contracting and rejecting an implanted egg.

When progesterone drops, there are a variety of ways to boost your levels — including using progesterone therapy.  

Progesterone or progestin (synthetic progesterone) comes in several forms:

  • Pills
  • Vaginal creams
  • Vaginal suppositories
  • Intrauterine devices or intrauterine systems

Progesterone therapy can help with multiple health concerns. These include:

  • Treating infertility: Since progesterone plays a key role in preparing the uterus for pregnancy, low levels can prevent the uterine lining from becoming thick enough for implantation. Even after the fertilized egg attaches, muscular contractions can still lead to rejection. Progesterone therapy, including progesterone creams, may be considered as a treatment option.
  • Maintaining pregnancy: Low progesterone levels during pregnancy can potentially lead to a miscarriage, and your doctor may recommend using progesterone therapy in this case. However, different progesterone creams vary significantly in the amount of progesterone they contain. Also, the safety of progesterone cream has not been established in pregnant or breastfeeding people. Only a health care provider can prescribe progesterone at the exact dose that will be absorbed.
  • Alleviating menopausal symptoms: Progesterone creams are often marketed as a treatment for hot flashes, sleeplessness, sagging and wrinkled skin, and low bone density. But multiple studies have shown that progesterone is not effective at improving all of these symptoms. Progesterone cream can be used with estrogen in people who still have their uterus to lower their chances of endometrial cancer. Despite their popularity, it is too soon to recommend progesterone creams for treating symptoms of menopause. If you're considering using progesterone cream, consult a health care provider to evaluate the risks and limitations of treatment.

Low progesterone symptoms

If your body is producing less of this hormone, you may notice the following symptoms of low progesterone:

Progesterone cream for menopause

The drastic drop in sex hormones during menopause can lead to hot flashes, anxiety, depression, a loss of bone density, and sagging skin. Although progesterone therapy may help alleviate these symptoms, medical research has not found any clear evidence of its effectiveness.

Progesterone cream: Advantages and disadvantages

Although progesterone creams are widely marketed as a viable treatment, research has offered mixed results about their benefits. Furthermore, progesterone creams are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there are no set standards for their formulation and concentration. But do the advantages of using progesterone cream outweigh the disadvantages? Let’s take a look.

What is progesterone cream?

Also known as topical or transdermal progesterone, progesterone creams and gels apply the hormone directly to the skin, where it can be quickly absorbed. It has not been approved by the FDA but is still available without a prescription. 

Progesterone creams are made by extracting a chemical called diosgenin from foods such as soy and wild yams. When produced in this way, they are known as bioidentical progesterone cream and natural progesterone cream. They have the same chemical makeup as the progesterone produced by the human body. It may be applied twice a day anywhere on the skin (usually behind the knees and elbows), but be sure to consult a health care provider about the right dosage for you.

Progesterone cream benefits

The effectiveness of progesterone creams has not been adequately tested in a clinical setting. Current research sends mixed messages about the benefits of progesterone creams. In many cases, its application does not significantly increase progesterone levels. 

As a result, these treatments may not improve symptoms of low progesterone. However, some studies have shown alcohol-based progesterone creams have higher rates of absorption than water or gel-based creams. For postmenopausal women, some evidence suggests a link between improved skin health and firmness and the use of progesterone cream.

Progesterone cream side effects 

Since progesterone creams are fat-soluble (which means they dissolve in fat and are stored in your body’s tissues), long-term use can cause a buildup of too much progesterone. It can remain in the body for a long time, potentially causing numerous problems. The possible side effects of progesterone cream include: 

  • Weight gain
  • Swelling
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Severe nausea
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bloating
  • Sleepiness and fatigue

Ways to increase progesterone naturally 

There are other ways to try to increase your body’s progesterone levels:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Excessive weight can cause your body to produce more estrogen, leading to a hormonal imbalance. Maintaining a healthy weight for your age and height can help resolve hormone issues.
  • Exercise in moderation: Excessive exercise encourages your body to produce higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which actually discourages the production of progesterone. Moderate exercise is recommended in such cases.
  • Reduce stress: Finding ways to manage stress can help keep progesterone levels healthy. Enjoying hobbies, reading, meditating, and spending time with friends and loved ones can be helpful ways to deal with stress.
  • Eat zinc-rich foods: Zinc is a mineral that controls the pituitary gland, which makes crucial reproductive hormones. A zinc deficiency can slow the production of these hormones, including progesterone.
  • Eat vitamin B6-rich foods: Studies have shown that increased consumption of B6 can boost the body’s progesterone levels while also reducing estrogen levels, restoring hormonal balance. Add chickpeas, whole grains, and fish to your diet to up your B6 intake.

Progesterone is a key hormone for ensuring reproductive health. While progesterone creams are widely marketed as a treatment for menopausal symptoms and low progesterone levels, little medical research supports their effectiveness.

In fact, their long-term use can cause side effects such as bloating, severe nausea, changes in heartbeat, and more. Further research is needed to better understand the advantages and disadvantages of progesterone creams. 

If you have low progesterone levels, maintaining a diet rich in vitamin B6 and zinc and a low-stress lifestyle may be beneficial. To determine whether progesterone options are a good fit for you, contact your health care provider. If you develop low progesterone levels during pregnancy, your health care provider can help you determine the best treatment for you.

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Sex Hormones and Your Heart.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/bioidentical-hormones-help-or-hype.

Holzer, G et al. “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.” The British journal of dermatology vol. 153,3 (2005): 626-34. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2005.06685.x

“Bioidentical Progesterone Cream for Menopause-Related Vasomotor Symptoms: Is It Effective?” Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-Assessed Reviews [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK126986/.

Stanczyk, F Z. “Treatment of postmenopausal women with topical progesterone creams and gels: are they effective?.” Climacteric : the journal of the International Menopause Society vol. 17 Suppl 2 (2014): 8-11. doi:10.3109/13697137.2014.944496

Files, Julia A et al. “Bioidentical hormone therapy.” Mayo Clinic proceedings vol. 86,7 (2011): 673-80, quiz 680. doi:10.4065/mcp.2010.0714

“Progesterone.” Progesterone | Hormone Health Network, www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/progesterone.

Read this next