During our early adolescent and teenage years, most of us rarely think about our skin and the aging process that will one day affect the condition and appearance of our skin. However, after our early 20s, aging changes will begin to show up in the skin; changes which will progress as we age into our 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.
It’s never too late to begin taking care of your skin and protecting it from future damage. Although your skin will continue to age as you get older, you can take certain precautions and use certain products to help keep your skin looking healthy, refreshed, and youthful.
How Does Skin Change With Age?
As we approach our 30s, our body’s production of collagen and elastin (two substances that give the skin firmness and elasticity) begins to slow down. The collagen and elastin also begin to loosen and unravel which results in skin that sags and has poor elasticity. A young person, with plenty of both collagen and elastin, has firm, smooth, unwrinkled skin. As that person ages, the loss of collagen and elastin causes the skin to become looser and less supple.
At the same time, fat cells beneath the skin may begin to disappear. With the loss of this supportive fat, collagen, and elastin, plus the pull of gravity, the skin begins to sag and form wrinkles. The skin also loses the ability to moisturize itself and retain moisture with age, leading to skin that is drier, possibly with itchy, irritated patches.
With age also comes the appearance of those familiar lines and wrinkles that we associate with older skin; frown lines (those between the eyebrows) and crow's feet (lines that radiate from the corners of the eyes) begin to appear as a result of permanent small muscle contractions.
Your Habits, Your Skin
In addition to the natural processes that occur in our bodies and skin as we age, other long-term habits can cause damage to our skin.
Sun exposure is the most damaging external factor that affects the condition and health of our skin and is the primary cause of prematurely aging skin (called photoaging). In fact, many of the features we associate with aged skin are actually caused by sun exposure, and not by the natural aging process. Photoaging can cause a number of skin conditions, including:
•Liver spots (a.k.a. age spots)
•Dilated blood vessels
Smoking cigarettes is also harmful to the skin. Smoking causes the blood vessels in the top layers of the skin to narrow (constrict), which reduces the blood supply, reduces the amount of oxygen available to the skin, and reduces the removal of waste products and dead cells. This process contributes to the reduction in collagen and elastin and prevents Vitamin A from bonding with skin cells to repair skin damage, leading skin to have a grayish or bluish cast and a leathery texture. Smoking also restricts circulation, taking away the rosy blush of young skin. The facial expressions smokers make when smoking may also cause wrinkles, with wrinkles appearing around lips pursed around a cigarette and around eyes that squint to keep out smoke.
Common Signs of Aging Skin
When skin ages and accumulates damage from sun and other habits, a number of skin conditions may result including:
Lentigines - Also known as "age" or "liver" spots, lentigines are flat, brown spots that usually show up on the face, hands, back and feet. These spots are not dangerous (and are not a sign of liver disease). If, however, you notice a dark, flat area with irregular (not rounded) borders, see a dermatologist to ensure that it is not a melanoma.
Bruises - Older skin bruises more often than younger skin and takes a much longer time to heal. Bruises that don't heal after a week or so should be seen by a dermatologist.
Wrinkles - As skin becomes less elastic, it begins to sag, particularly around the eyes, mouth, forehead, and cheeks.
Telangiectasias - Often called "broken capillaries," telangiectasias are visible, dilated blood vessels in the face, usually caused by sun damage.
Actinic keratoses – These are rough, warty, reddish or brownish growths, caused by sun damage and are often a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer).
Cherry angiomas- These are red, protruding growths on the body caused by dilated blood vessels. They are harmless and occur in about 85% of those over middle-age.
Seborrheic keratoses – These are brown or black raised spots, or warty growths on the skin’s surface.
Keep Your Skin Looking Younger
It's best to start protecting your skin during childhood, however, anyone at any age can begin to take the necessary precautions to help protect the skin, keep it looking young and healthy, and hopefully slow down the affects of aging. Following are some tips on how to achieve younger looking skin.
Minimize Sun Exposure – Minimizing sun exposure is the most important thing you can do to protect your skin and keep it looking young. Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 15 when outdoors, and protect the face with a brimmed hat. Try to avoid sun exposure from approximately 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, which is the most hazardous time for UV exposure.
Protect Skin From Dryness - Aging skin can be dry, flaking and itchy. Use a moisturizer containing petrolatum or lanolin immediately after bathing. Also, use milder soaps and consider bathing less often and using less drying warm water to bathe rather than hot water.
Drink Plenty of Water- Drinking water throughout the day ensures proper hydration of the body and helps to reduce skin dryness. Doctors and nutritionists recommend drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water every day.
Eat a Healthy Diet- Eating a healthy, balanced diet will benefit your body as well as your skin. Fruits and vegetables are particularly important for preventing premature skin aging since they contain many antioxidants.
Exercise- Exercise promotes capillary functioning which can decrease premature aging. It also increases oxygen to the tissues which keeps skin looking young and healthy
Stop Smoking - Quitting smoking at any age reduces further damage to skin.
Following are some common active ingredients in over-the-counter products that can help keep your skin looking young and healthy:
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) - These acids produce a mild sloughing (peeling) action, taking off the top layer of skin and exposing the fresher skin underneath. AHAs are usually derived from fruit or from dairy products, and many moisturizers now contain them. They are safe to use on the face. These are sometimes called "lactic acid" if they’re derived from dairy products.
Retinol - Related to Vitamin A, retinol is contained in many skin creams, and may temporarily cause tissues of the face to swell very slightly, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Antioxidants - Topical antioxidant vitamins such as Vitamins C and E can help support against the sun's ultraviolet rays and smoking. This can help skin appear smoother and more glowing.
Ammonium lactate - The combination of lactic acid mixed with ammonium hydroxide, ammonium lactate is used to clear up dry, scaly patches on the skin.
Ceramide - This substance is beginning to play a large part in creams intended to make skin look younger. Ceramide helps the skin hang on to its natural moisturizing lipids.