How and Why Does the Skin Age?
Each year, every one of us celebrates a birthday. As we celebrate, we become another year older. Each time my birthday comes and goes, I find myself thinking about the fact that even though I am another year older, I don't feel any different than I did the day before. I probably don't look drastically different than the day before, but over time I do. As the years go by, my fashion sense may change, my hair style may change and gradually I begin to age. There are many things that happen to our bodies as we age, but I think the part of aging that bothers us the most, especially women, is the aging of our skin. So what happens as the skin ages and why does it occur?
According to Wikipedia, aging is defined as “the process of becoming older” or the “accumulation of changes in a person over time.” Human cells, including the ones in our skin, age according to a genetic “clock” contained in our DNA. So some of us will age faster than others just because of our individual genetic clock. Skin changes are one of the most visible signs of aging and are due to factors such as environment, genetics and nutrition, but the greatest factor is sun exposure(2). Some of the most common signs of skin aging are sagging, wrinkles, redness, growths and texture changes(1). There was a time when I was pleased with the way my skin was aging. I had very few wrinkles and I was often complemented about looking younger than I actually was. Eventually I noticed a few wrinkles here and there, but there were never enough to bother me. But a few years (and a few kids later!) I started to noticed more of those tell-tale signs of aging and to be honest, it finally did start to bother me. I don't consider myself to be outwardly superficial, nor do I feel any pressure from society or the media to look young and beautiful forever. But I do enjoy looking younger than my actual age and who doesn't like a nice compliment every now and then? As a child I always looked forward to being a grown-up and although there are some advantages to getting older, aging skin and looking older is not one of them. So for myself, seeing a visual reminder of getting older every time I look in the mirror tends to be very frustrating!
Our skin is made up of three layers: the outer (epidermis), middle (dermis) and inner (subcutaneous) layer. As we age, the outer layer becomes thinner, is easily damaged and its ability to heal itself decreases(1). Pigment containing cells, called melanocytes decrease in number, but increase in size. This results in the appearance of spots, such as age or liver spots in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. Skin becomes weaker and loses elasticity because of changes in the skin's connective tissue and blood flow decreases. Many of these changes are more pronounced in skin that has been exposed to the sun. In the middle layer, blood vessels become more fragile causing the skin to bruise more easily. Glands produce less oil leading to dry, itchy skin(2). I spent many years working in the sun. Because melanoma is prevalent in my immediate family, I was always conscious about protecting my skin. I was especially diligent about protecting the skin on my face because I knew I wanted to do as much as I could to prevent any premature aging. I knew the wrinkles would happen some day, but I wanted that “some day” to be a long way away!
There are actually two types of skin aging: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic aging is the type of aging that occurs over time regardless of external factors. For example, after the age of 20, one percent less collagen is produced by the body. Changes to the collagen and elastin make these fibres thicker and looser causing a loss in the elasticity of the skin. This leads to wrinkles and sagging. Skin exfoliation decreases by 28% resulting in an accumulation of dead cells. In our 30s, moisture transfer from the dermis to the epidermis slows down and fats cells shrink, which you think would be a good thing, but it actually makes our skin look thin and dull. In our 40s, we no longer produce collagen and in our 50s skin becomes dry and is easily bruised or damaged (3). Cortisol, which is a steroid hormone released by the body as a response to stress and low blood glucose levels damages the collagen in our skin and this damage speeds the process of aging(1).
Extrinsic aging is the type of aging that can be controlled because it is caused by environmental damage. Skin damage such as, thickened skin, skin cancer, freckles and sun spots result in rough, wrinkled and uneven toned skin. These changes are caused by free radicals which are created by environmental factors such as pollution, smoking and UV radiation(3).
If skin aging is inevitable as we become older, what can we do to combat the effects of premature aging on our skin? I know there are some things I cannot change about how and why my skin ages, but there are certainly things I can do to put off the typical signs of aging for as long as possible. Because so much damage is caused by the sun, one of the most important things we can do is reduce sun exposure by preventing sunburn, using proper sunscreen and wearing protective clothing. Proper nutrition and adequate amounts of fluid are also important(3). We can also protect our skin from damage that causes premature aging by using anti-aging products and supplements that are now readily available. Both the Kalaya Renew and Monika Schnarre iampure anti-aging creams are designed to give your a skin a more youthful appearance. They offer intensive wrinkle repair, aid skin tightening and provide essential hydration to the skin. So while there are several intrinsic factors we cannot control, it is definitely reassuring to know that there are things we can control to protect our skin from aging too quickly.