Why Skin Ages: The Science Bit
Dreaming of the skin you had when you were age 12? Hard truth: it’s never going to return. And that’s OK because lines and wrinkles are a fact of life. But why? Read on for the science behind why your skin ages…
Growing old is all part and parcel of, well, growing old. But this doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to get annoyed by every new wrinkle, dark spot, saggy body part and gray hair. Knowing how they got there, however, is all part of accepting your body and working with what mother nature gave you.
So, let’s get all sciencey for a minute, shall we? Don’t fret, we’re not talking Sheldon Cooper levels of science, but a bit of knowledge about why your skin ages won’t go amiss now, will it? (And remember, if there's ever anything else you want to know about your skin and/or our products, please shout!)
The first thing you need to know about skin aging is that there are two different types that work together to determine how quickly and the extent to which your skin shows signs of visible aging, namely intrinsic and extrinsic aging.
What Is Intrinsic Aging?
Determined by genetics, intrinsic aging (aka chronological or natural aging) happens over time and is totally out of your control. This means that whatever you do and however much you care for your skin, this type of aging will happen. It's called nature.
So, why is this the case? Well, many factors come into play, but it’s mainly because production of all that good stuff beneath the surface of your skin starts to slow down and degrade as you age. This includes: collagen which strengthens and plumps your skin; elastin which makes it springy and pliable; natural oils which keep it soft and supple; glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) and hyaluronic acid for hydration, and ceramides which protect your skin and help retain moisture. Studies show that after the age of 20, for example, your skin starts to produce 1 percent less collagen every year. All this ‘slowing down’ works to make your skin thinner, drier, more delicate, more prone to damage and less likely to heal so quickly.
But that’s not all. You naturally lose fat below the skin’s surface as you get older and this often manifests itself in loose skin around your jawline, sunken eyes and/or less plump cheeks. Bone loss – which starts to slowly happen at age 40 – also plays its part, causing the skin around your mouth and chin to become puckered and wrinkled.
The good news is that despite intrinsic aging being completely out of your control, it only plays a small part in what you see in the mirror. That's where extrinsic aging comes into play – the true bad cop in this story…
What Is Extrinsic Aging?
On top of the whole Mother Nature, Father Time thing comes extrinsic aging – a far more controllable, but way more powerful beast.
Extrinsic aging is the process that takes place as a result of environmental and lifestyle stressors. The main culprit here is the sun (no surprise there) which is why extrinsic aging is often known as photoaging. However, there are plenty of other offenders that play their part. Pollution, emotional stress, alcohol, smoking, a poor diet, lack of sleep, you know the drill…
Every factor involved in extrinsic aging causes what’s known as oxidative stress on the skin – a process in which the balance of antioxidants (your skin’s natural defense mechanism) vs free radicals (damage-inducing molecules) gets thrown way off. This onslaught of free radicals then attack and break down important proteins in the skin’s dermis including collagen and elastin, which is a one-way ticket to premature skin aging such as fine lines, wrinkles, thin skin, lack of radiance, sun spots and sagging.
On top of all that, lack of sleep and emotional stress also increase the levels of cortisol in your body which encourages inflammation in your skin, further depletes collagen and elastin, and plays havoc with your barrier function – the top protective layer of your skin that keeps essential moisture in and damaging toxins out. Compromise this important protective barrier and you’re asking for trouble in the form of dryness, dehydration, inflammation and itchy skin.
All this spells disaster for the youthfulness of your skin.
So, Can You Protect Your Skin Against Intrinsic and Extrinsic Aging?
When it comes to intrinsic aging, no. But extrinsic aging? Absolutely. Lifestyle-wise try to sleep more, booze less, don’t smoke, eat better, stay out of the sun and be less stressed. And yes, we know these are easier said than done, but trust us, they’ll go a long way to enjoying a more youthful-complexion – especially if you simultaneously kick-start an effective, anti-aging skincare routine.
To do so, treat your skin with care (no zealous scrubbing on a daily basis, capeesh?) and introduce an antioxidant serum into your regimen to help protect your skin from environmental damage. Anything containing vitamin C is going to be super effective at neutralizing free radicals, specifically those bad boys produced from the sun and the harmful effects of the ozone. Apply yours every morning to clean skin before moisturizing for the best results.
Sunscreen with a broad-spectrum protection of SPF 30 or more is also an important step in your routine. And yes, you do need to apply it all year round. No discussion.
Finally, never forget to moisturize – no matter how oily you think your complexion is. Moisturizing helps strengthen and maintain that protective barrier we talked about earlier making it vital for the health and look of your skin.
At any age.
About Georgia Gould
Georgia is an award-winning beauty writer who has been in the business for over 20 years. British-born, she began her career as a magazine beauty editor in London before moving to San Francisco, CA in 2012 where she now continues her love as a freelance writer and editor. As well as her editorial work, Georgia has created content for many high-profile beauty brands, including Clarins, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Simple and TRESemmé. Her passions include retinol (obviously), golfing, skiing and walking her beloved Schnauzer, Dave.