How Does Skin Age?

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Normal healthy skin has a nice epidermis with a smooth outer layer that acts as a good barrier to water and environmental damage. Skin color and tone is even and unblemished. Components such as collagen (which provides skin firmness), elastin (which supplies skin elasticity and rebound) and glycosaminoglycans or GAGs (which keep the skin hydrated) are all abundant.

The two types of skin aging

Internal Aging

Internal Aging is the normal aging process that takes place over the years irrespective of external influences. Wrinkle formation as a result of internal aging is unavoidable, but it will always be slight.

After the age of 20, a person produces about 1 percent less collagen in the skin each year. As a result, the skin becomes thinner and more fragile. The fibroblasts (and their DNA) that produce collagen and elastin are prone to UV radiation damage. As they weaken, that DNA makes less and/or defective collagen or elastin. There is also reduced performance of the sweat and oil glands.

Glycosaminoglycans GAG’s are large sugar-like molecules that plump and fill the skin when they bind with water. As you age, they become less effective and don’t suck up water as efficiently. This decrease in water means that the skin becomes dull and dry. These older glycosaminoglycans can link up with proteins and cause yellowing (or browning) of the skin, a process called glycation.

External Aging

External Aging is a result of sun and environmental damage (smoking and exposure to pollution, for example). How your skin ages also depends on a variety of factors: your lifestyle, diet, heredity and other personal habits. The skin secretes fat (lipids). Fatty acids called ceramides protect the outermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum. The ceramides ensure the skin is hydrated and less vulnerable to irritation. These fatty acids form a protective coating. Ceramide concentrations reduce with aging and when you wash your face and body with fat emulsifiers like soap.

Over time, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light damages certain fibres’ in the skin called elastin. The breakdown of elastin fibres’ causes the skin to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to snap back after stretching. The skin also bruises and tears more easily and takes longer to heal Due to sun exposure the skin becomes thinner, duller, less vibrant, the skin becomes thinner and more translucent as you age, hence capillaries show. Visible capillaries increase from years of sun exposure. Photoaging sign such as wrinkles, age spots, and uneven pigmentation may develop, especially if you weren’t careful about sun protection. Your skin produces less oil in your 40s, leading to dryness, plus cell turnover is slower which dulls your appearance.

Post the age of 50, you may experience deepening facial lines and wrinkles, due to the loss of subcutaneous fat and moisture (and as usual, sun damage). When skin elasticity decreases, your skin loosens, particularly around the jaw line and eyes. If you are postmenopausal, the drop in estrogen can make your skin thinner, dryer and more irritated. Rich moisturizers will decrease water loss, but may lead to unnecessary dependence on them. Vitamin A and E creams increase your skin’s water content.

External aging shows up as thickening of the cornified layer (the outer most epidermal layer), precancerous changes such as lesions (abnormality in the tissue) called actinic keratosis or solar keratosis, skin cancer, freckle and sun spot formation, and excessive loss of collagen, elastin, and GAGs. These processes give the skin the appearance of roughness, uneven tone, brown patches, thin skin and deep wrinkles. As the skin loses its elasticity, gravity causes sagging of the eyebrows and eyelids, slackness and fullness under the cheeks and jaw (jowls and “double chin”), and longer ear lobes. Facial movement lines become more evident after the skin starts losing its elasticity (usually as people reach their 30s and 40s). Horizontal lines may appear on the forehead, vertically on the skin above the root of the nose (glabella), or as small curved lines on the temples, upper cheeks and around the mouth.

Sleep creases result from the way the head is positioned on the pillow and may become more evident after the skin starts losing its elasticity. Sleep creases are commonly located on the side of the forehead, starting above the eyebrows to the hairline near the temples, as well as on the middle of the cheeks. Sleeping on your back may improve these sleep creases or prevent them from becoming worse. Smokers tend to have more wrinkles than non-smokers of the same age, complexion, and history of sun exposure.

Some experts believe that years of repeated yo-yo dieting i.e. losing and gaining back large amounts of weight can damage the skin. Repeated stretching of the skin may damage the elastic structure that gives skin its youthful, firm tone.

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