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The Science of Skincare: The Skin Aging Process

Know the process. Fight the process.
Know the process. Fight the process.

The visible hallmarks of age include thin, sagging and wrinkled skin. While changes in skin’s structure are inevitable, the rate at which these changes occur and their outward expression are heavily impacted by lifestyle and skin health product choices.

Natural Skin Aging

The human body is actively growing until about the mid-twenties. When growth is complete, the processes to replace damaged cells and generate new ones gradually slow down. At the same time that cellular growth, repair and replacement is declining, cells are experiencing the cumulative effects of years of UV radiation, exposure to environmental toxins, poor nutrition, etc.

When the need for cell repair and replacement outweighs the body’s ability to perform those functions, aging becomes visible on and through the skin. Common signs of aging skin include:

Thin skin

Although the number of keratinocytes that comprise the epidermis does not change, cells are actually thinner. The deepest (subcutaneous) layer of skin composed mostly of vascular adipose tissue thins, too. The decreased insulation makes it harder for the body to regulate temperature as well as makes skin more fragile and vulnerable to bruising and other wounds.

Age spots

As we age, the number of melanocytes decreases. Fewer pigment-producing and carrying cells contribute to the pale, translucent appearance of aged skin. At the same time, the remaining melanocytes increase in size. The larger deposits of pigment appear as age spots.

Dry skin

Sebaceous glands in the dermis layer of the skin produce less oil as we age. The result is dry and, often, itchy skin.

How Skin Ages at the Molecular Level

The rate at which our body repairs and reproduces cells is not the whole story of the aging process. Skin’s appearance—texture, tone, coloration—is also determined by extracellular components, primarily the protein-based compounds collagen and elastin.

Collagen is a type of connective tissue that helps support skin—i.e., give skin its shape.

Elastin is a fibrous connective tissue that gives skin its ability to stretch and resume shape—i.e., its elasticity.

Over time, skin experiences elastosis, a chemical change through which elasticity is lost. That chemical change is the result of molecular (i.e. free radical) assaults on collagen and elastin fibers and/or the cells that produce them.

When free radicals bond to healthy extracellular components, they denature the protein building blocks. The altered chemical structure allows proteins to be cross-linked to sugar (glucose) molecules in a process called glycation. Glycation alters the chemical structure and physical properties of collagen and elastin. Glycated collagen and elastin compounds form long, brittle chains that can no longer provide support or elasticity to the skin.

The amount of radical oxygen species present in the skin will affect the rate at which glycation happens, and thus the rate at which skin texture suffers. Lifestyle choices that introduce more free radicals to the body and/or impede the body’s ability to neutralize radical oxygen species speed up the aging process. Such lifestyle choices include:

  • Smoking
  • Poor diet
  • Inadequate sleep

Anxiety/poor stress management may be both a cause and a contributing factor to poor diet choices and compromised sleep, making it a contributor to accelerated skin aging as well.

Healthy Skin Aging

It is not possible to completely eliminate free radical exposure or stop the glycation process. However, healthy lifestyle choices, a proactive skin health regimen and quality products can help slow the natural aging process and reverse some of the signs.

To ensure that your skin has the nutrients it needs for cellular repair, replacement and to neutralize radical oxygen species:

  • Eat a balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Stay hydrated
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get adequate sleep

You can also topically deliver many of the vitamins, minerals and compounds your skin needs to maintain youthful firmness and elasticity. Research has shown that antioxidant technology help combat free radial assaults and inhibit the glycation process. To get the most benefit from your anti-aging skin care products, make sure they use high-quality ingredients and are formulated for your skin type.

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