Have you ever noticed this?
It seems to me that while young people have a sort of blank slate beauty to them, older faces are much more interesting. As you grow older and have more experiences, your face records the story.
But it can be unsettling when the face that has been looking back at you in the mirror for 40+ years is now starting to change in noticeable ways.
What’s going on?
The most natural process in the world
As you age, every organ in your body starts to change, but the one you can see, your skin, is the one that most people fret over.
There are two aspects to how your skin changes as you age. One, intrinsic aging, you have little or no control over. It’s a normal part of aging.
The other factor, known as extrinsic aging, is how your lifestyle and environment change your skin. This is an area you have more control over. And since these factors affect not only your appearance, but your health, they’re worth paying attention to.
Intrinsic aging is controlled mostly by your biology. The biologic changes you see on your skin mirrors the intrinsic processes going on elsewhere in your body.
When you’re in your 20’s, it takes 28 days for a new skin cell to reach the outer surface of the skin.
By the time you’re in your 40’s and 50’s, that number jumps to 45 to 60 days.
By age 60 and beyond, it can take up to 60 to 90 days for new skin cells to reach the surface.
As we age our telomere length shortens. Telomeres are the protective caps on our chromosomes. They naturally shorten with each cell division, and over time that causes our skin cells to turn over more slowly.
The layer between the epidermis(outer skin layers) and dermis(deeper skin layers) begins to flatten which makes your skin thinner.
In the dermis (deeper skin layer), the cells that produce collagen and elastin begin to slow down production. This means less collagen (the protein that gives your skin it’s firmness and plumpness) and elastin (the protein that gives your skin its bounce and keeps it from tearing when it’s stretched).
This slow down actually starts in your 20’s and decreases about 1% a year . After menopause, you lose more collagen each year.
You also produce fewer glycosaminoglycans. These are the molecules that attract water and lubricants to your skin.
You can see why so many skin products are designed to encourage collagen and elastin. And why hyaluronic acid is such a good ingredient for your skin.
Much later in life, the blood vessels walls in your skin begin to thin which leads to easy bruising.
The fat layer under your skin (hypodermis) also thins which can make bruising worse and also give a sunken look to your skin.
The rate of intrinsic aging varies for each person. It’s influenced by your sex, genetics, skin color, and even varies on different areas of your own body. Thinner skin (like around your eyes) ages first.
If you find this section kind of depressing, remember that intrinsic aging accounts for only about 10% of the signs of aging you see in the mirror.
The other 90% of the signs of aging on your face are due to environmental factors like the sun.
All of your organs undergo intrinsic aging, but your skin is hit twice- both from the inside out and the outside in.
As part of its job to protect you from the outside world, your skin is assaulted by the UV rays of the sun, air pollution, smoke, and artificial light from your screens. It takes the hit and protects your internal organs from ever being touched by these hazards.
Exposure to the UVA and UVB rays of the sun is by far the biggest factor contributing to aging your skin before its time. UVA rays penetrate deep into your dermis and cause damage to your skin cells DNA through oxidative stress. It also damages collagen and elastin, causing it to break down faster.
Smoking is another major factor. Smoking damages collagen and elastin. Nicotine narrows your blood vessels which reduces oxygen and nutrients to your skin.
Your diet is so important to your skin. While vitamins, minerals and nutrients are important to support your skin and a healthy glow, sugar is dietary public enemy number one.
Sugar and processed foods damage proteins and cause them to link to one another in an abnormal way. This is known as cross-linking..
The lumpy proteins caused by cross-linking in your skin cause stiffness and inflexibility. Cross-linked proteins prevent your skin from absorbing nutrients and water, which leads to wrinkles, sagging, discoloration.
Stress, both emotional, dietary, and environmental (exposure to pollution and toxins) increase a process called oxidative stress (another word for free radicals). Free radicals set off an inflammatory process that damages your skin.
Just like those blueberries ripening in your fridge, oxidative stress causes your skin to deteriorate over time.
Some oxidative stress is unavoidable. Free radicals are produced by the normal and necessary metabolic processes of your body. But a lot of oxidative stress can be avoided or mitigated. Avoiding toxins whenever possible and practicing stress reduction techniques can really help.
That’s why our lifestyle choices are more important than ever
Through them, we have the ability to have some control over how we look and feel.
There are steps you can take to help your skin look and feel great while it undergoes the natural and inevitable aging process. Here are some suggestions:
- Stay active
- Wear sunscreen every day even if you’re not going to be outside or it’s cloudy
- Spend time in nature
- Eat a diet rich in antioxidants and colorful fruits and veggies
- Avoid sugar and highly processed foods
- Get enough rest so your body has time to repair damage
And of course, have an effective consistent skin care that protects, nourishes and restores your skin.
The goal is not to stop aging. It can’t be done. The goal is to take good care of yourself so you can be healthy and active and enjoy your life to its fullest. And to feel good about yourself while you’re doing it.