Skin aging is an unfortunate reality of life that everyone will face. It’s important to know how the skin ages so that you can get ahead with prevention in order to age as gracefully as possible. One of the best ways to understand aging skin is to know the science.
There are 3 layers that compose the human skin: the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue. The Epidermis is also known as the surface of the skin. It is rich in keratin and provides water-resistance, environmental toxin resistance, as well as skin firmness. It is the primary layer where dead cells are shed and where melanin (skin pigment) is found. The second and thicker layer of the skin is the dermis. This critical layer is composed of nerves, fats, blood vessels, elastin, and collagen fibers. Elastin and collagen within this layer help to provide elasticity as well as smooth texture to the skin. The third layer of the skin is the subcutaneous layer which is primarily composed of fat. This fat helps to hold in heat and provide fullness to the skin.
Intrinsic aging is the type of aging that takes place through the years despite any external influences. It is our natural aging process. Once we’ve hit a certain age (for most around 20) we have reached the peak of our collagen production. This is the point at which we really will start to see collagen loss and the effects of this aging process. In fact, in our 20s, we actually start to lose about one percent of our collagen every year. The collagen and elastin fibers we have start to become thicker, more brittle, and more loose, resulting in the wrinkling and sagging we see when we look in the mirror. To add to our challenge, in our twenties, the skin’s exfoliation process slows by up to 28%, causing higher amounts of dead skin cells to accumulate and stick together for longer periods of time. This increases the appearance of impurities in the skin and leads to clogged pores. Once we reach our thirties, we will also begin to see the loss of moisture from the dermis to the epidermis. These changes can make the skin look dull and thin. As we move into our forties, collagen production essentially ceases. Collagen and elastin fibers break, thicken, stiffen, and lose their elasticity. This results in deeper wrinkles and more defined aging lines. Finally, as we enter our 50s, the skin continues to lose moisture and become more susceptible to damage, bruising, and broken capillaries. In women, menopause will also cause a decrease in estrogen levels, leaving the skin drier, thinner, and less toned.
A second type of aging is extrinsic aging. Unlike intrinsic skin aging, extrinsic skin aging can be controlled by how we care for the skin. It is a result of environmental and lifestyle damage. Extrinsic aging appears as a thickening of the outermost layer of epidermis, precancerous changes, skin cancer, formation of freckles and sunspots, and significant losses of collagen. As a result of extrinsic aging, the skin becomes more rough with more dramatic tonal changes and added wrinkles.
Free radicals are the primary cause of these changes in the skin. When free radicals accumulate in the skin, chemical structures and biological functions are forever altered. Environmental influences, such as pollution, smoking, sun damage, alcohol, and poor diet, all generate free radicals. The good news is that we can neutralize a lot of this extrinsic aging by changing our lifestyle. Incorporating antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and carotenoid pigments, can help protect us from these free radicals. Reducing alcohol consumption, eating more nutrient rich foods, and avoiding sun exposure without sunscreen protection can all help as well. Sun damage is one of the most powerful accelerators of skin aging. That is why it is so important to protect the skin whenever in the sun. Using a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF minimum of 35 is a good way to help prevent from this unnecessary damage. Chemical peels, good quality skin care products, and non-invasive lasers can also all help to rebuild collagen, prevent damage, and improve the skin’s appearance.