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We would all like to think we look younger than we actually are. It is depressing that natural changes in the skin as we grow older are frequently considered unacceptable and embarrassing. In the USA alone, more than $12 billion is spent each year on cosmetics to mask or prevent the signs of ageing. We might think this is due to our youth-fixated western society, but throughout history anti-ageing potions and lotions have been applied to the skin. Here under are some facts about ageing skin:
- British women use anti-wrinkle cream less than French, Spanish or German women
- In the UK, more than £800 million is spent on skin care each year
- The French call brown age spots ‘les médaillons de cimetière’ (cemetery medals)
- Cleopatra used red wine, now known to contain alpha hydroxy acids, on her face
- Cleopatra used milk in her bath now known to contain lactic acid
- The Ebers papyrus, an ancient Egyptian papyrus from 1550 BC, has a recipe to cure wrinkles, made from pistachio nuts, wax, poppy seed oil and grass
Here we look at some skin ageing facts, and a few easy ways that we can ensure our skin does not give our age right away.
Skin ageing: The basic facts
Ageing is unavoidable fact of life – everyday we are all getting older. However, it is not age itself that bothers us, but the visible signs of ageing that can make us feel old despite the fact that we feel young and vital. The health and look of our skin – whether on our face or on our body - plays a huge part in how old we feel and is seen as the most common indicator to others of our age. The skin is the body’s largest organ, our skin is hugely influenced by our body’s general well-being – if our body is not healthy, it is often reflected by our skin.
The structure of our skin
There are two main layers of skin:
This is the outermost layer visible to the eys. In most parts of the body the epidermis is about 0.1 mm thick but on the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands it can be 1mm thick or more. The main skin cell that makes up the epidermis is called the keratinocyte, because it produces a tough protein called keratin. Keratin is also the protein from which nails and hair are formed. It gives skin much of its resistance to physical wear and tear and makes skin waterproof.
Keratinocytes arise in the deepest level of the epidermis and new cells are constantly being produced. As this happens the older cells migrate up to the surface of the skin and eventually are worn off. On average it takes about 28 days for a new keratinocyte to migrate to the surface and to be shed. Skin scales are the result and it is perfectly normal for all people to lose about a gram of skin each day in this way.
Keratinocytes change in the their size and shape from square cells at the base of the epidermis, gradually becoming flatter towards the surface, by which time they have also lost their internal structure. In healthy skin these surface cells lie closely together in overlapping fashion, which adds to their protective function.
The dermis lies immediately underneath the epidermis and is about four times thicker. It contains numerous specialized supporting tissues as well as blood vessels, nerves, hair roots and sweat glands.
Throughout the dermis other types of protein, notably collagen and elastin, give it strength and flexibility. A reduction in these proteins with age is normal and contributes to the more fragile skin of elderly people.
Hair arises from root structures called follicles that run the whole depth of the dermis. The hair shaft travels through the epidermis to appear on the skin surface. Along the side of each hair follicle is attached a small gland that produces an oily type of sweat that coats the hair. In the deep dermis there are different types of sweat gland that connect to the surface of the skin through narrow, spiral-shaped sweat ducts – what we normally call the ‘pores’ of the skin.
Below the dermis we see the subcutaneous layer which is the fatty layer underneath the skin (‘subcutaneous’). It can vary considerably in thickness from person to person depending mostly on whether they are overweight.
So what are the signs of ageing skin?
Some of the signs of ageing skin and why they occur are:
- Thinning and wrinkling of the skin: When we age, thinning of the skin occurs as the rate of cell production slows in the epidermis. The dermis may also become thinner, and these changes in both layers result in skin being more likely to crepe and wrinkle. Older skin is often described as being more thin paper-like
- Sagging: Sagging occurs in ageing skin as less elastin and collagen are produced. With this lower level of elastin and collagen, skin eventually yields to the forces of gravity, causing sagging and drooping
- Age spots: Pigment cells contained in the epidermis called melanocytes, tend to increase in certain areas, mainly those areas like the backs of hands which have been exposed to the sun, and cluster together, forming what are known as age or liver spots
- Dryness: ageing skin has fewer sweat glands and oil glands. This can make skin more prone to dryness-related conditions such as roughness and itching
Whilst these effects are likely to happen to all of us, the rate and extent to which skin ageing occurs is only partly influenced by our genetic factors. Environmental exposure play significant role on skin ageing as well as lifestyle factors. Below is the list of these factors:
UV rays emitted by the sun (and specifically UVA rays) destroy the collagen and elastin in our skin. UV rays also act as a accelerator for the production of skin pigment (melanin), resulting in the appearance of sun spots or age spots. Some dermatologists suggest that as much as 90% of problems associated with ageing are the result of sun exposure. Regardless of the precise percentage, if you are looking for proof of the effects of sun, simply compare the skin on your face and back of hands with the skin on a part of your body not often exposed to the sun (your bottom).
Smoking causes several undesirable effects on skin, as the nicotine from cigarettes narrows the blood vessels and prevents blood from circulating to the tiny blood vessels in the upper layer of the skin. In addition smoking break down collagen, which is responsible, along with elastin, for keeping skin elastic and strong. A smoker’s skin is characterised by more wrinkles and a sallow/slightly grey complexion, resulting from poor blood circulation.
Stress & lack of sleep
We all suffer from occasional stress, and our skin can be one of the first organs to show external signs of internal stress: dryness, sensitivity, spots and excess oil are all symptoms. Getting enough sleep is also important, as it is while we are sleeping that our bodies and skin have time to repair and rejuvenate.
Pollution & the environment
Living in a polluted environment means that our skin becomes coated in filth, blocking our pores. Continually moving from centrally heated to air-conditioned atmospheres can also cause problems, with skin being alternatively dried and re-hydrated.
Slowing the ageing process
There is no shortage of cosmetic options available which promise to provide you with younger looking skin, from anti-ageing creams at one end of the spectrum to cosmetic surgery at the other. Hereunder you will find important advice of how to slow the skin ageing process:
- Protect your skin from exposure to the sun: cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and apply a sunscreen with minimum SPF of 15
- Avoid smoking and smoky atmospheres
- Drink plenty of water: to keep the body and skin well hydrated. Water is essential to transport nutrients around the body, to replenish cells, and for dissolving and eliminating toxins
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet: as important for healthy skin as it is for a healthy body. Individual vitamins are particularly beneficial for healthy skin: for example, Vitamin A to encourage generation of new cells; vitamin C for building new collagen; Vitamin E, working in conjunction with selenium, an antioxidant found in foods such as fish, red meat and nuts, to protect against pollutants
- Exercise regularly: by simply walking whenever you can, you will get the blood flowing, delivering oxygen to your complexion
And finally, see some advices on using skin anti ageing home remedies or using clinically proven anti ageing device.
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