• Protects you from ultraviolet radiation and environmental irritants;
• Prevents the moisture inside your body from escaping;
• Helps regulate your body temperature;
• Eliminates wastes; and,
• Acts as the first line of defense against diseases and infections.
Because it performs so many functions, and is so exposed, your skin is often the first to show early signs of aging.
How Aging Affects Your Skin
Your skin is made up of three distinct layers, all of which help it perform its many functions.
• The epidermis is the outer layer. It is made up of cells that overlap and stack on top of each other like tiny plates of water. When the epidermis is healthy and intact, it is water-tight and also prevents bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances from getting inside your body. The epidermis also contains melanin which contributes to your skin color and filters out UV radiation.
• The dermis is the middle layer. It is the thickest layer and is made up of collagen, elastin, and fibrillin, which give the skin its strength and shape. It contains several structures like nerve endings for sensation, sweat to help regulate body temperature, blood vessels to feed the skin nutrients and regulate body temperature, and hair follicles. The dermis also contains glands that release an oily substance called ceramides, which moisturize the epidermis, and help form the barrier against water and foreign substances.
• The hypodermis is the bottommost layer. It contains blood vessels to feed the skin and regulate temperature, fat cells for insulation, and connective tissue to anchor the skin to your body.
As you age, the layers of your skin stop functioning as well as they should. For example, the glands in the dermis could stop making enough ceramides, causing the epidermis to dry and crack.
Several factors can determine how quickly your skin ages, including as lifestyle, skin tone, ethnicity, and heredity. However, one major factor is UV radiation.
Although the skin is designed to be a UV filter, it is not immune to the effects UV radiation. Long-term exposure to UV radiation can damage all of the cells and structures in the skin, such as melanin cells, collagen cells, and even the glands that make ceramides. In the best case scenario, the damage prevents the cells and structures from functioning properly, leading to wrinkles, cracks, dark spots, and other signs of aging. In the worst case scenario, it can lead to cancer.
Protecting Your Skin
The best way to protect your skin is to avoid direct sunlight as much as possible, and wear sunscreen whenever you do go out into the sun. Stay hydrated, so that your sweat and oil glands have enough water to do their jobs, and moisturize your skin often.
If your skin is already showing signs of aging you could try one or more of the following:
• Anti-aging cleansers, moisturizers, and serums that contain products that stimulate collagen production, such as peptides and Retin-A;
• Phytoceramides. Phytoceramides are plant-based versions of the ceramides your skin naturally produces. Used topically, phytoceramides are supposed to hydrate the skin, and repair wrinkles and other signs of aging. Phytoceramides are available in the US as a dietary supplement, but they might not be available in all areas. You might have to talk to a dermatologist or skin specialist about where to buy phytoceramides.
• Skin fillers, such as natural collagen. Skin fillers help fill in the creases and lines caused by collagen loss in the skin, and some of them also help stimulate your natural collagen production.
• Microdermabrasion or skin peels. Both skin peels and microdermabrasion both remove some of the cells in the epidermis which immediately reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and stimulates collagen production to help keep wrinkles at bay.
• Laser skin resurfacing. Laser skin resurfacing uses pulses of light to plump up the skin and fill in wrinkles, lines, and ridges, and stimulate collagen production.
• Your doctor or dermatologist. You should always consult your physician if you feel that your skin is aging too quickly, of if you are concerned that some dark spots and age marks are the sign of a more serious issue – especially if you have a family history of skin cancer.
This is a blog post by Nancy Evans.