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Friday, January 18, 2013

The Simple Science of Aging

'00-12' photo (c) 2008, J.K. Califf - license:
Aging is one of life’s great mysteries. In elementary school, everyone learns about Ponce de Leon’s quest for the fountain of youth. Unfortunately, he never found it, but dermatology has come a long way in the hundreds of years since. This post will explain the aging process and how to slow down its physical manifestations. Have questions? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll answer them there.

Collagen and Elastin
Skin is the largest organ in the human body. For that reason, it manifests changes that occur on the outside and inside over time. Collagen and elastin are integral parts of the skin, as they provide its supportive structure and elasticity. As we age, collagen starts to break down and it becomes more difficult for our skin to build it back up. Elastin also starts to break down, giving the skin the inability to bounce back once stretched.

Fat…is important!
Aging skin begins to lose fat under the surface, which makes the skin much thinner and gives it a wrinkled appearance. That means that if you get a cut or an ulcer, your skin will take longer to heal than it did before. The skin can rip or bruise more easily than it did after minimal trauma. Sun damage and the release of free radicals (from smoking for example) accelerate this process.

Subcutaneous Tissue
OK, you probably aren’t very familiar with this term. Bear with me. The loss of subcutaneous tissue can also change the appearance of skin by altering skin structures such as pores, follicles and oil glands, making them look bigger or more prominent. These skin structures also become less efficient, meaning that we sweat less with time. Some people notice that their skin is more fragile – meaning that it's more sensitive to light, heat and extreme temperatures.

Combined Natural Effects
With all the combined effects of tissue loss and skin structure break down, the signs of photo-aging, such as sun freckles, moles and liver spots, become more noticeable. The incidence of skin cancer also significantly rises with age. This is especially true after the age of 50 or if you've had years of prolonged sun exposure or a genetic condition that predisposes you to skin cancer. Skin can also show signs of internal illness that become more pronounced over time. Regular skin exams are recommended, at least every year, to evaluate the skin and all of the changes that occur with age.

So how do you avoid or slow the process?
Check out the rest of our blog posts or leave a comment here. Here are a few quick tips:
  • Wear sunscreen of at least 30 SPF every day to avoid damaging sun exposure.
  • Moisturize! Even if you have oily skin, moisturizing helps your skin keep its elasticity longer, which prevents wrinkles and other signs of aging.
  • Eat right. Check out this blog post on the best foods for skin health for a few tips.
  • Choose your makeup wisely and, if it’s too late to prevent, cover up your signs of aging. This blog post will help you determine which products are right for you. 

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