So you’ve seen all those adverts about anti-ageing but aren’t convinced that you need to start? But you’ve got those first signs of ageing? Maybe a few unwanted laughter lines around your eyes? A few little wrinkles appearing above your lips? Just enough to worry you when you look in the mirror; maybe its time to think about anti-ageing?
Or perhaps you are older; your skin is visibly ageing; wrinkles are forming, its less firm and the first signs of sun spots are starting to appear? But you’ve never really bothered with anti-ageing. Is it too late? Or maybe your skin has already aged; deep wrinkles have formed, your skin is dry and has become saggy? Can the damage be reversed?
This is the first in a series of blog posts on anti-ageing, in which we will look at what causes ageing and what it does to your skin. We will try to focus on why anti-ageing is so important, because the good news is, it’s never too early or too late to start looking after your skin. Changing your diet, drinking more water, giving up smoking, being aware of what you put on your skin and starting an anti-ageing skincare regime can profoundly change the way your skin ages and can potentially reverse existing damage.
So first, lets take an overview of your skin, what happens as you age and what will happen if you do nothing!
Lets start with an overview of your skin. An average adults has about 2.7 kilograms of skin cover 1.7 square meters, making it by far your largest organ. Your skin does many things. It contains nerve receptors that allow you to feel touch, pain, and pressure. It provides a barrier to helps control your body’s fluid and electrolyte balance and it helps control your body temperature, whilst protecting you from the environment. To say your skin is a vital organ is something of an understatement!
The top layer of skin is called the epidermis. It protects the underlying skin layers of your skin from the outside environment and it contains the cells that make keratin, which waterproofs and strengthens your skin. The epidermis also has cells that contain melanin, the dark pigment that gives your skin its colour. Other cells in the epidermis allow your to feel the sensation of touch and provide your body with immunity against bacteria.
The very bottom layer of your skin is the hypodermis. It contains the fat cells, or adipose tissue, that insulate your body and help it to conserve heat. The layer between the epidermis and the hypodermis is the dermis. It contains the cells that give your skin strength, support, and flexibility. As you age, the cells in the dermis lose their strength and flexibility, causing your skin to lose its youthful appearance.
Located in the dermis are sensory receptors. They allow your body to receive stimulation from the outside environment and experience pressure, pain, and temperature. Small blood vessels provide your skin with nutrients and essential minerals, as well as removing waste products. As you age, these blood vessels become less efficient, starving your skin of vital nutrients and minerals.
Sebaceous glands produce the oil in the skin, which keeps it from drying out. The oil from the sebaceous glands also helps to soften hair and kill bacteria that get in the skin’s pores. These oil glands are all over the body, except on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
Your skin changes over time for many reasons, including environmental factors, genetic makeup and nutrition. The greatest single factor, though, is sun exposure. You can see this by comparing areas of your body that have regular sun exposure with areas that are protected from sunlight. So what is going on? Well, first we need to look at two key building blocks of your skin; collagen and elastin. Each layer of your skin contains connective tissue with collagen fibres to give support and elastin fibres to provide flexibility and strength.
Collagen is a structural protein and is a principal component in skin, cartilage and connective tissue. There are several subtypes of collagen and each part of your body can have a different mixture of these collagen subtypes.
We are born with an abundant supply of collagen in our skin. As a baby, your skin would have been plump, firm, smooth and rosy in colour, thanks to all of that collagen in your dermis. But your skin stops producing collagen in your mid to late twenties. Then, from around thirty, the collagen levels in your skin start to steadily decline, just when those first fine lines and wrinkles appear on our face. After age thirty, your skin collagen level drops 1%-2% every year. By forty, we have lost 10%-20% of our collagen. By fifty, you will be down 20%-40%. By the time you hit sixty, well, you get the picture. And it isn’t pretty.
Apart from the natural ageing process, the three biggest enemies of collagen are the three S’s: smoking, sun and sugar. The greatest single factor is sun exposure, which you can easily see by comparing areas of your body that have regular sun exposure with areas that are protected from sunlight.
Smoking and sugar destroy collagen. Smoking releases toxic free radicals into your skin which destroyed collagen, whilst sugar molecules attach to collagen proteins, stiffening them and stopping them from working properly.
Elastin is the connective tissue in your skin. which allows it to stretch and recoil. In the skin, most elastin is in the dermis, the springy middle layer. The building block of elastin is a protein called tropelastin and there is only one tropelastin gene in humans (compared to lots of genes for collagen). Tropelastin is pretty cool and can stretch eight times its molecular length before recoiling back again.
Your elastin production starts to decline while you are very young and by middle age we hardly produce any at all and rely on what was generated in the first few years of life. The good news is that it is one of the longest lasting proteins in your body. The problem is that any damage — from UVB light, for example — is inefficiently repaired and so your skin gradually loses its elasticity well before your reach your 70s.
Changes in your elastin tissue reduce your skin’s strength and elasticity. This is known as elastosis. It is more noticeable in sun-exposed areas (solar elastosis). Elastosis produces the leathery, weather-beaten appearance common to farmers, sailors, and others who spend a large amount of time outdoors.
As you get older, the epidermis or outer skin layer of your skin thins, even though the number of cell layers remains unchanged. The number of pigment-containing cells (melanocytes) in your epidermis decreases, while your remaining melanocytes can increase in size. Your aged skin may look thinner, paler, and almost translucent. Large pigmented spots, including age spots, liver spots, or lentigos, may appear in your sun-exposed areas.
The blood vessels of your dermis will become more fragile. This leads to bruising, bleeding under the skin, cherry angiomas, and similar conditions. The slow degradation of blood vessels starve your skin of essential minerals and nutrients.
Sebaceous glands produce less oil as you age. Men experience a minimal decrease, most often after the age of 80. But women gradually produce less oil beginning after menopause, making it harder to keep your skin moist, resulting in dryness and itchiness.
Your subcutaneous fat layer thins so it has less insulation and padding. This increases your risk of skin injury and reduces your ability to maintain body temperature. Because you have less natural insulation, you can get hypothermia in cold weather.
Your sweat glands produce less sweat. This makes it harder to keep cool. Your risk for overheating or developing heat stroke increases. Growths such as skin tags, warts, rough patches (keratoses), and other blemishes are likely. You may have an increased risk of skin injury , because your skin is thinner, more fragile, and you lose the protective fat layer. You also may be less able to sense touch, pressure, vibration, heat, and cold.
Ageing skin repairs itself more slowly than younger skin. Wound healing may be up to four times slower. This contributes to pressure ulcers and infections. Diabetes, blood vessel changes, lowered immunity, and other factors also affect healing.
So now we’re starting to understand what causes skin ageing and what the consequences are when you are older. Sure, it may be decades away, but meantime, you you really want all those wrinkles. Look out for our next blog, in which we will look at the first steps to anti-ageing skincare.