Aging Skin: Signs and Causes

Woman with aging skin
We all know that aging is inevitable. It’s just a fact of life. To quote Truvy, the salon owner and ‘glamour technician’ from Steel Magnolias, “Time marches on, honey. And sooner or later, you realize it’s marching across your face.”
But what really causes aging? And how much can we actually do about slowing the aging process? These questions have been asked for as long anybody can possibly remember and then some. Anti-aging and Cosmetic sciences have focused on this issue and made some remarkable strides, both in learning about the causes of aging and in devising ways to slow its progress.
Causes of Aging:
All aging in the body can be categorized into one of two distinct types of aging: Intrinsic Aging, caused by genetic programming, and Extrinsic Aging, caused by environmental factors. These two types of aging can often work in combination to result in premature aging.
Intrinsic Aging – the “natural aging process” usually begins in a person’s mid-20s. The skin’s production of collagen slows and the elastin in the skin has less spring. Dead skin cells shed less quickly and new cell turnover slows. While these changes do start in the mid-20s, the signs of these changes don’t usually become visible for decades. The following are some signs of Intrinsic Aging:
• Fine lines and wrinkles.
• Thin, transparent skin.
• Loss of underlying fat layers, resulting in sunken cheeks, hollowed eyes, and loss of firmness in the neck and hands.
• Bones shrink, leading to sagging skin.
• Inability to sweat sufficiently to cool the skin.
• Graying hair, hair loss and unwanted hair.
• Thinning of the nail plate, developing ridges and loss of the lunula (half-moon).
Because an individual’s genes control the natural aging process, some people may find their first gray hair or crow’s feet in their 20s, while others may be 40 with no visible grays or wrinkles at all. For the same reason, some people may find that certain areas of the body show signs of aging earlier than others. A woman may not notice any signs of gray, or wrinkles on her face, yet discover that her hands are looking more and more like her mother’s as weeks pass.
Extrinsic Aging – the aging caused by external sources affecting the body, is made up of many factors which can work in combination to age the skin faster than what would be “normal” based on an individual’s genetic make-up. The most common cause of extrinsic aging is sun exposure, but there are other factors. Some of these are repetitive facial expressions, sleeping positions, gravity, and smoking.
Sun: Unless protected, even a few minutes of exposure to the sun each day of a period of years can create noticeable changes in the skin. Skin cancer, freckles and age spots aren’t the only risks. Sun exposure is also responsible for spider veins on the face, rough and leathery skin, fine wrinkles, loose skin, blotches in the complexion, and thick, wart-like, rough, reddish patches on the skin called actinic keratoses.
Dermatologists call the aging caused by sun exposure “Photoaging”. The amount of photoaging that occurs depends largely on a person’s skin color and their history of exposure to the sun. Persons with fair skin are more susceptible to photoaging effects than those with darker skin. The fair-skinned individual with a certain amount of sun exposure could develop serious effects from photoaging, while the darkest skinned person might only develop fine wrinkles and a mottled skin tone from the same exposure.
Photoaging occurs over a span of years. As you expose your skin to the sun, the skin loses the ability to repair itself and the damage accumulates. The exposure to the UV rays in sunshine breaks down the collagen in the skin and impairs the skin’s ability to make new collagen.
Facial Expressions: For many years women were urged to perform facial exercises to maintain a youthful appearance. If you’re one of these women, stop doing it now. Studies have shown that repetitive facial movement actually leads to fine lines and wrinkles. Each time we use a face muscle, a groove forms beneath the skin’s surface which is why we see lines form with each facial expression. As our skin ages, and we lose elasticity, the skin stops being able to spring back and these grooves become permanent lines and wrinkles.
Gravity: That immense and wonderful force that keeps us from flying off the planet at it spins in place and zooms around the sun is constantly pulling on our bodies. The changes in our bodies related to gravity become more pronounced as we age. Somewhere around our 50s when our skin’s elasticity begins to decline dramatically, we see the tips of our noses begin to droop, the ears to elongate, our eyelids to fall, jowls to form and the upper lip to disappear while the lower lip becomes more pronounced.
Sleeping Positions: Studies have shown that people who have “favorite” sleeping positions and use them for years on end tend to develop lines and wrinkles, called sleep lines. As aging progresses, these lines become etched into the skin and no longer disappear when upright. The direction these wrinkles follow depends on the way the face is “crinkled” when pressed against the pillow.
Smoking: Cigarette smoking causes biochemical changes in the body that accelerates the aging process. A person who smokes 10 or more cigarettes per day for a minimum of 10 years is much more likely to develop deeply-wrinkled, leathery skin than a non-smoker. Long term smokers also tend to develop a yellowish cast to their complexion. Additionally, a 2002 study showed that facial wrinkling, while not yet visible to the naked eye, can be seen under a microscope in smokers as young as 20 years old.
Preventing The Aging Process:
There is nothing that can be done to stop (or even to slow) the Intrinsic Aging process of the body, but much of the Extrinsic Aging can be prevented by following some simple tips:
• Avoid deliberate tanning, this includes sun lamps and tanning booths or beds.
• Stay out of the sun between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. whenever possible. These are the hours when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
• When you have to spend time outdoors during the day, wear protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves.
• Always wear a broad spectrum sunscreen (one that offers both UVA and UVB protection). This sunscreen should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. You need to apply it to any exposed skin 20 minutes before going outside. You should reapply the sunscreen after sweating or being in the water, and you should wear it all year around.
Finally, there are many treatment options available to treat the visible signs of aging. If your aging bothers you, see a dermatologist and discuss the options that are available and find the ones that best suit your needs and your lifestyle.
Stacy - Master Cosmetologist   ©
Photo: Rustle/Shutterstock