It’s a fact of life abhorred by many but as we age, so does our skin. It is part of the natural ageing process which, although it can’t be stopped, can be slowed. Diet, sun exposure, pollutants, smoking and stress all contribute to the speed at which our skin begins to exhibit signs of ageing. We investigate why the skin ages and what we can do to slow the ageing process.
Intrinsic skin ageing
Also called chronological ageing, this is the skin’s natural ageing process which occurs over time due to the body’s diminishing physiologic functions and capacities, regardless of external factors. After the age of 25 we begin to gradually produce less collagen, less elastin, and the sweat and oil glands work less effectively, all of which results in thinner, drier, less supple skin which has a propensity to sag and wrinkle.
Dead skin cells also do not shed as quickly and cell turnover in general is sluggish, meaning that the fresh, glowing skin we enjoyed in our twenties gradually becomes a thing of the past. Genes and lifestyle factors both play a part in the speed at which intrinsic skin ageing occurs.
Extrinsic skin ageing
The skin is the body’s largest organ and an essential barrier which protects it from the environment. Over the years of a person’s life it faces a huge amount of abuse and extrinsic skin ageing is caused by those harmful external environmental factors, i.e.:
- Sun exposure - photo-ageing occurs due to repeated, unprotected exposure to the sun’s powerful rays, resulting in age spots, leathery skin, fine lines, loose skin and a blotchy complexion. Collagen breaks down, elastin levels decrease, and the body’s ability to produce new collagen is impaired.
- Habitual facial expressions - facial movements cause grooves to form beneath the skin, which is why lines form when we make each expression. As our skin loses its elasticity with age and can no longer spring back, these lines become permanent as wrinkles.
- Smoking - cells exposed to toxic cigarette smoke are less able to break down old skin cells and create new replacement skin cells, and collagen production can be reduced by up to a massive 40%. Dragging on cigarettes will also lead to wrinkles caused by habitual facial expressions (see above).
- Pollution - free radicals generated from industrial pollutants, vehicle emissions and smoke accelerate the ageing process by severely damaging skin cells.
Slowing the aging process
Although it is impossible to halt the process of skin ageing completely there are things that we can all do to dramatically slow it down. Protecting the skin from the sun, trying not to frown or screw up the face when concentrating, and quitting smoking all help to prevent extrinsic skin ageing, as does a good skincare routine and a healthy diet containing plenty of antioxidants to neutralise harmful free radicals. Intrinsic ageing is harder to slow but investing in creams with scientifically proven results is key.