Aging comes with a lot of awesome perks like wisdom and lower insurance rates, but our bodies do a lot of changing too. There are many extrinsic and intrinsic factors at play, so our skin does not look the same at 60 as it does at 40, or even 20. This complex subject is not always something we embrace, but understanding how our skin works and the structural changes that transform it over the years can help us make informed choices about our skincare routines and the products we buy.
Let's talk openly about how our skin ages.
While this article will primarily discuss the natural age progression of the skin, it is important to know the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic aging, and how they differ.
Extrinsic Aging & Intrinsic Aging
Extrinsic aging is aging by many external factors; it is also known as photoaging. These factors can include climate, sun exposure, smoking, excess alcohol, diet, stress and more. These factors cause changes at a cellular level, causing changes in skin to happen faster. Skin that is free of factors involved in extrinsic aging tends to stay smoother because these factors do not exist to break down collagen, and damage skin. Our lifestyle choices completely determine extrinsic aging and its effects can be prevented.
Intrinsic aging begins in the early twenties and is influenced by internal physiological factors alone. Also referred to as chronologic aging, intrinsic aging describes the natural changes our bodies go through as we age. Intrinsic aging is determined by heredity, making it completely predetermined and unpreventable.
Structural Skin Changes Associated with Extrinsic Aging
Wrinkles, also known as rhytides, are depressions in the skin’s surface that may be coarse or fine, depending on their depth. They are created by the loss of subcutaneous support, the fatty tissue between your skin and muscle.
The leading cause of wrinkles is sun exposure. As we have written about before, there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Tanning itself is a sign of the sun damage, as the darkened skin is evidence that the sun's ultraviolet rays have penetrated and damaged the skin's support structure. Wrinkles are caused over time by this repeated damage. Stop sun damage in its tracks and prevent wrinkles by incorporating a good sunscreen into your skincare regime.
Smoking also contributes to wrinkles through the production of free radicals which are once-healthy oxygen molecules that are now overactive and unstable. These free radicals damage cells, leading to premature wrinkles.
Changes in skin color happen throughout aging. Our skin color is a composite of red, blue, yellow and brown as a result of red oxygenated hemoglobin, yellow carotenoids and flavins and the brown melanin pigment of our skin.
The dark, depigmented areas of skin known as hyperpigmentation spots occur over time due to erratic melanocyte activity as a result of UV exposure. The increased yellow coloration in aging skin is caused by a decrease in the brown melanin pigment along with a decline in the red and blue-colored capillaries. In smokers, the toxins in cigarettes cause a more rapid breakdown of elastin, also contributing to the yellowing of the skin. This skin discoloration is often accompanied by an increase in broken veins and visible capillaries.
Hypopigmentation also occurs due to a reduction in the number of melanocytes after age 30, causing the skin to lighten. This leads to a reduction in melanin (hypopigmentation) and greater sensitivity to UV exposure.
Changes in Elasticity and Collagen
The loss of the elastic tissue (elastin) in the skin with age causes the skin to hang loosely. The collagen and elastin fibers break, thicken, stiffen and lose their elasticity. The thinning of the epidermis causes the skin to become more transparent. This happens both naturally and due to factors like smoking, sun exposure, and climate.
While dehydration of skin does occur through intrinsic aging, external factors such as prolonged UV exposure, climate, smoking and even dietary choices affect it as well. Sunburned areas of skin are severely dehydrated and require a lot of additional moisture to prevent drying and cracking. Smoking reduces vitamin A levels and skin hydration by causing oxidative stress so that insufficient oxygen is supplied to the skin. Low-fat diets can dry out skin through the lack of Essential Fatty Acids. Other environmental factors such as extreme cold and air pollutants also dry out skin and contribute to premature aging.
One Key Difference Between Aging in Men and Women
From texture and thickness to oil production and facial hair, men and women have completely different skin types and often seem to age at different rates. The International Dermal Institute reports that male skin is less susceptible to signs of aging. Testosterone actually thickens the skin, making men’s skin 25 percent thicker than the skin of women. Throughout life, men also have a higher collagen level than women. This difference between the ratio of collagen to the thickness of skin leads researchers to believe that this higher collagen density accounts for why women seem to age faster than men of the same age.
Intrinsic Aging: The Skin’s Transformation Through the Decades
For women, the twenties are often lauded as the skin’s best years. Great collagen support creates skin that is glowing and firm, the subcutaneous fat around the apples of your cheeks is firm and perky, the constant breakouts and abundant blackheads we suffered through in high school for the most part fade away, and there is a reason for that. For women, the estrogen begins to peak in their twenties bringing with it radiant skin. For some women, this all goes out the window with monthly hormone fluctuations causing breakouts around their monthly cycle.
For men, it is a little different. The cells in the sebaceous glands have more positive receptors for androgens, causing them to produce more sebum which in turn causes continuing breakouts well after puberty and into the twenties.
In our thirties, our metabolism begins to slow down. While this often makes us think of our waistline, our skin is just as affected by these changes. A slowing metabolism decreases collagen and elastin production, causing the skin to thin, looking less firm and plump. Uneven skin tone and broken capillaries in the face become more visible.
The effects of skin damage will also start to show in our thirties. Sun-damaged pores become larger and more noticeable, sunspots and age spots may begin to appear. Deeper wrinkles around the eyes and mouth begin to occur, and the skin under the eyes becomes more sensitive and delicate.
Both men and women lose about one percent of their collagen per year starting around age 30, but men also begin to experience a one percent loss of testosterone every year after 30 which may be accountable for the changes in the skin and hair during a man’s later years.
In our forties, the natural life cycle of our skin cells starts to slow down. Women will begin to see wrinkles deepen, becoming more defined and noticeable. Dryness increases and elastin levels become even lower, causing the skin to begin to dull and sag. The face starts to lose more subcutaneous fat around the mouth and chin and along the jawline.
Our skin’s most dramatic changes begin to occur during the golden years. The fifties bring increasingly drier, rougher skin, especially in women who are experiencing menopause. Due to the sudden decline in estrogen levels, a significant reduction in collagen occurs, causing a major difference in the skin’s elasticity. The epidermis begins to thin, sunspots will start to appear, wrinkles and fine lines begin to settle, and thanks to gravity, the skin around the eyes and jaw start to sag.
Because men don’t experience the significant hormonal changes women experience at this age, their skin continues a more gradual aging process despite experiencing the yearly loss of collagen.
Throughout the sixties and beyond, our skin continues to lose its elasticity and firmness. The continued reduction of subcutaneous fat, bone, and muscle, in conjunction with relentless gravity, deepen wrinkles and furrows. Our skin seems actually to droop causing the cheeks and eye sockets to appear more hollow. Facial wrinkles and furrows deepen, especially the smile lines face called the nasolabial folds. The skin on the neck also becomes thinner, allowing underlying separated muscle bands to appear more clearly.
How to Keep Your Skin Looking Youthful Throughout the Decades
Exercise promotes healthy circulation throughout the body that helps keep skin healthy and vibrant. The increased blood flow carries oxygen and nourished cells throughout the body, carrying waste and free radicals away from working cells.
Adjusting your skincare regime to your changing body can also help your skin maintain its youthful appearance. Although there is no magic in a bottle that can stop aging, there are many products available on the market to increase collagen, decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and keep the skin hydrated and healthy.
Aging has many factors beyond our control, but there are many things we can do to keep our skin healthy, youthful and glowing for as long as possible. Avoiding smoking, sun exposure and other environmental pollutants that contribute to premature aging are a great place to start.
The team at BioElementis does the research to keep you informed about the latest in skincare and the science behind how it works. Do you have questions? We'll find the answers!