Skin is the largest organ of the body making up one-sixth of its total body weight. Skin has many functions including temperature regulation, preventing loss of fluids and electrolytes, providing sensation, immune surveillance, and providing a protective barrier between the body and outside environment. Thus, it’s vital that we do our best to keep our skin healthy and youthful.
Skin aging is related to genetics, but also greatly influenced by exposure to sunlight, pollution, smoking, nutrition, and frequent contractions of muscle like squinting and frowning, and our general health. Sun exposure, smoking, and pollution generate free radicals, which are damaging to the skin.
Unhealthy or aged skin is more prone to disease and infections, as well as drying and itching. Skin disorders are very common among people aged 65 and over.
Sun Exposure: a Cause of Skin Aging
Ninety percent of skin cancers are related directly to sun exposure. Most of these cancers are diagnosed after the age of 45. While, some sun exposure is healthy and necessary for vitamin D production, excess sun exposure leads to premature skin aging.
Sunlight accounts for up to 90% of skin damage related to skin aging. Ultraviolet radiation is the culprit in the damaging effects on skin from sunlight. Skin cancers are associated with UV-B exposure, but UV-A can damage the dermis of the skin and lead to premature aging.
Skin aging or damage from the sun is sometimes known as photoaging.
Ethnic groups with higher levels of skin pigmentation (African-Americans, and Asians) have lower incidences of skin cancer and skin that age more slowly than groups with lighter skin.
Smoking: Kills Skin Too
Tobacco smoking affects the appearance and structure of the skin. Smoking hinders blood flow to skin limiting the amount of oxygen and nutrients necessary for good health. Thus, skin in smokers often looks grey. Smoking also damages the collagen and elastin fibers resulting in skin that is hard and looks leathery. Skin in smokers can look to 10 to 20 years older than in a non-smoker. Smoking contributes to premature wrinkling as well.
Depletion of the ozone layer of the atmosphere along with environmental pollution can damage the skin, primarily through genetic changes.
Declining estrogen levels in women and testosterone levels in men leads to thinning of the skin and a loss of subcutaneous fat in the skin. This contributes to poor wound healing and increases the risk of injury to skin from mechanical forces.
Treatments for skin aging consist of various creams, derma; fillers, chemical peels, and procedures like microdermabrasion, laser, and photodynamic therapy.
Antioxidants protects are tissues from free radical damage and can be found in fruits and vegetables. Therefore, proper nutrition including adequate water consumption is vital for optimal skin health.
Many topical products now exist to help limit the effects of aging on the skin. Some of these products are designed to limit the harmful effects of sun exposure, while others help minimize wrinkles. Sunscreens provide protection from the sun.
Cosmeceuticals are products that improve appearance in addition to providing a therapeutic effects. Cosmeceuticals contain a variety of active ingredients. Some contain the exfoliate alpha-hydroxy acid, which also stimulates collagen production. Others contain antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E, CoQ10, and alpha lipoic acid. Green tea and grape seed extracts are found in botanical compounds. Substances like Paeoniflorin (PF), 1,4-Dihydroxy-2-methoxy-7-methylanthraquinone, and dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) seem beneficial in reducing wrinkles. DMAE may help sagging skin, which many substances do not address.
Dermal fillers typically last 3 months. Fillers contain collagen, or hyaluronan and are delivered through various injection techniques. Botox injections relax the muscles reducing wrinkles, but do not address skin damage from sun exposure.
Microdermabrasion is used to treat skin surface irregularities and fine wrinkles. It involves the spraying of fine crystals use to abrade the skin. Chemical peels can be used to treat wrinkle of various depths, and typically involves 3 to 5 treatment sessions for best results.
Lasers vaporize damaged cells and can reduce fine wrinkles and other skin imperfections. Photodyamic therapy has been used to treat certain cancers and is being investigated more and more to treat dermatological problems. Photodynamic therapy involves use of a light activated medication, such as 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) and exposure to a light source. It stimulates pro-collagen production and increases epidermal (outer layer of the skin) thickness.
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