Anti-aging is all-the-buzz. You’ve heard the phrase, “40 is the new 20.” People are enjoying longer lives and want their appearance to reflect their good health and vibrant state of mind. Still, the aging process begins when we enter the world and the effects are increasingly evident throughout our lives. Since “anti-aging” is impossible, it is aging gracefully that we all strive for. By embracing a healthy lifestyle and using specific nutrients both topically and internally, slowing the natural aging process has become a goal shared by people from their 20’s to their 80’s.
Although theories abound about the underlying causes of aging, research shows that there are actually two distinct types of aging. Intrinsic (internal), which is caused by the genes we inherit, and extrinsic (external), caused by environmental factors, such as exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. More and more evidence is pointing to these two causes working together, although it hasn’t been determined which has more impact. While aging affects every organ in the body, our focus is on the largest of them all – the skin.
Not only is skin the largest organ in the human body, it is also one of the most important. Because it interfaces with the environment, skin plays a key role in protecting against pathogens and excessive water loss. Its other functions are insulation, temperature regulation, sensation, synthesis of vitamin D, and the protection of vitamin B folates. We tend to take our skin and its many roles for granted while focusing on our internal organs, forgetting that our skin provides a visual reflection of our emotional and physical well-being.
Skin is composed of two primary layers, each with their own sub-layers. The epidermis covers the body, serving as a protective barrier against the environment and infection. The top layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, is made of dead, flat skin cells that shed about every 2 weeks. The dermis is the layer of skin beneath the epidermis and consists of connective tissue and elastin. The average square inch of skin holds an amazing 650 sweat glands, 20 blood vessels, 60,000 melanocytes, (pigment producing cells) and more than a thousand nerve endings.
Intrinsic, or natural aging, is a continuous process that normally begins in our 20’s. Within the skin, collagen production slows, and elastin, the substance that enables skin to snap back into place, becomes more rigid. Dead skin cells do not shed as quickly and turnover of new skin cells may decrease slightly. A number of extrinsic, or external, factors often act together with the normal aging process to prematurely age our skin. Most external premature aging is caused by sun exposure.
“Photo-aging” is the term dermatologists use to describe aging caused by exposure to the sun’s rays. Scientific studies have shown that repeated ultraviolet (UV) exposure breaks down collagen and impairs the synthesis of new collagen. The sun also attacks elastin. Over time, cumulative sun exposure sets the stage for wrinkles, brown freckles, broken capillaries and dryness. Ultraviolet light not only damages the DNA in the cells of the skin, it inhibits the mechanisms that repair damaged skin cells.
Contrary to popular belief, a sunscreen with SPF does not necessarily prevent DNA damage because SPF ratings measure only the effectiveness in blocking UVB rays. But in fact, UVA rays, once thought to be harmless because they produce no burning, actually penetrate much deeper into the skin leading to much more damage to DNA and other skin structures. Vitamins A, C, and E, protect skin cells from free radical damage caused by UV light exposure and are believed to do more to prevent and repair DNA damage than even the strongest sunscreen.
Other external factors that age our skin are repetitive facial expressions, poor diets, lack of exercise, gravity, sleeping positions, and smoking. Internally, declining hormones contribute to the aging of the skin. Estrogen provokes collagen and a moisture factor known as hyaluronic acid. Men tend to have thicker skin than women due to the dominant hormone testosterone. However, in later years, the lack of estrogen in women and testosterone in men contribute to aging skin in both genders.
Stress, an unavoidable part of life, also plays a role in premature aging. Cortisol, released by the adrenal glands during times of stress, causes a loss of collagen and accelerated skin aging. Studies have shown that our emotions, particularly stressful ones, can unleash a torrent of free radicals and stress hormones such as cortisol that not only age our skin but cause a wide range of allergic and inflammatory skin ailments. It is estimated that between 30% and 60% of visits to the dermatologist are related to skin problems that result from psychological factors.
Science also substantiates the role that free radicals play in skin aging. The protein collagen is particularly susceptible to free radical damage, and when this damage occurs, it causes the collagen protein molecules to break down and then link back up again in a different way known as cross-linking. Collagen cross-linking and age both contribute to the normally mobile collagen shrinking and becoming stiff. We can feel the effects of cross-linking in our joints and ligaments, and see it in our faces and necks.
Changes in your skin begin early in life however fine lines, dryness, thinning skin, etc. are typically not visible until our 30’s. By about 40, lines and wrinkles, decreased skin thickness, and uneven skin tone become more noticeable. In our 50s, the visible signs of aging seem to accelerate. The aging process has been unfolding for years, but the changes can seem sudden and dramatic. Collagen and elasticity are diminished, hormones decline, and the underlying fat padding begins to disappear causing sagging skin. As we approach our 60’s, the shape of our face and our appearance changes.
We are the sum of our experiences and lifestyle choices. With the wisdom that comes with age, advances in anti-aging research, and the availability of scientific studies, we can recognize the things we wish we had done differently. For example, if we had known then what we do now, we probably wouldn’t have covered ourselves in Baby Oil before spending the day in the hot sun. Unfortunately, the past can’t be undone, but, regardless of your age, it’s never too late to make positive lifestyle changes that will slow the aging process and enhance the appearance of your skin.
Healthy living delays many of the body changes that aging brings. Eating a nutritious diet goes a long way toward insuring good health. If you smoke and you quit at any time, you will decrease the chances of having a heart attack. Your skin will look much better too, with lines becoming smoother. Exercising or becoming more physically active improves lung function, sending more oxygen throughout your body to nourish your cells. Antioxidants, especially vitamins A, C and E, used both internally and topically, can partially reverse some aspects of skin aging.
Scientific evidence indicates that, in addition to proper nutrition and health care, the daily topical application of antioxidant rich creams play an important role in the preservation and rejuvenation of skin.
o Use high quality moisturizers with anti-aging properties each morning and night, rich in antioxidants. Vitamins A, C, and E, protect skin cells from sun exposure and are believed to do more to prevent and repair DNA damage from ultraviolet rays than even the strongest sunscreen.
o It’s good to moisturize the entire body after showering to keep it supple, hydrated, and protected.
o Calm the nervous system, ease stress that leads to sustained cortisol levels, support adrenal and thyroid health and balance your hormones with a high quality bio-identical progesterone cream.
Nourishing the skin with topical ingredients is important, but in addition it is essential that you feed your skin nourishing foods and drinks.
o Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E, bioflavonoids, and the minerals selenium, zinc, and manganese provide protection against damaging free radicals and help to repair, renew, and revitalize skin.
o Essential fatty acids (Omega 3, 6 and 9) are required by the skin to maintain a moist youthful appearance.
o A sluggish thyroid, common as we age, manifests as dry, flaky skin. Nutrients and foods that support the thyroid such as sea vegetables, seafood, fish, and iodized sea salt, can help restore proper thyroid function and reverse skin aging.
o Limit processed foods from your diet. Processed foods tend to contain high levels of sodium, sugar, fat, color and preservatives.
o Eat foods that are natural such as whole grains, fresh or frozen vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Choose organic foods whenever possible.
o Use hormone free meat and dairy products when possible to reduce your intake of pesticides and hormones.
o Keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of pure water every day.
o Eat foods that are high in antioxidants to help protect against oxidative damage and free radical attack of all body cells including the skin. Think the colors of the rainbow such as cantaloupe, spinach, berries, and cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, and sprouts).
o Reduce the use of sugar, white flour and saturated fats. Highly acidic and spicy foods effect skin health too. Spicy foods, for example, are believed to contribute to broken capillaries.
o Take a good, whole food, multivitamin formulation with antioxidants, particularly vitamin C, vitamin E, and the “skin vitamin”, A. The minerals zinc, selenium, copper, and manganese provide protection against damaging free radicals and the increased cellular energy helps the skin repair, renew, and revitalize.
o Supplement with 2,000 IU’s of vitamin D daily, especially if you are avoiding the sun. The skin cannot synthesize vitamin D as efficiently as we age making people aged 50 and older at increased risk of developing vitamin D insufficiency.
o Foods rich in nucleic acids such as sardines, salmon, tuna, shellfish, lentils, and beans, help improve cell energy.
o Adopt a good skin care regimen morning and night. Cleanse, tone, exfoliate and moisturize.
o Learn to reduce and manage stress. Stress reduction techniques can decrease the release of pro-inflammatory stress hormones and chemicals and often results in skin that looks and more youthful.
o Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
o Get plenty of restful sleep. Avoid wrinkle producing sleeping positions.
o Limit alcohol consumption to one drink daily.
o Avoid more than a cup or two of beverages with caffeine daily.
o Get plenty of exercise. Breathe deeply to increase oxygen flow throughout the body.
Dermatologists recommend comprehensive sun protection to prevent premature aging caused by the sun. Comprehensive sun protection includes:
o Research shows that topically applied antioxidants, especially vitamins A, C and E, provide significant protection from the harmful rays of the sun.
o Avoid deliberate tanning, including the use of indoor tanning devices.
o Wear protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves, when outdoors during the day.
o Apply sunscreen year round. Sunscreen should be broad spectrum (offers UVA and UVB protection) and have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and be applied 20 minutes before going outdoors. Choose a chemical free sunscreen to avoid harmful, endocrine disrupting ingredients commonly used such as: Octyl-dimenthyl-PABA, Benzophenone-3, Butyl-methoxydibenzoylmethane, Octyl-methoxycinnamate, and 4-methyl-benzylidene.