Why Does Skin Age? Part II: 11 Tips to Slow Aging

Grandmother & Granddaughter

In my last post I explained that skin ages due to both intrinsic (genetic) factors and extrinsic (environment and lifestyle) factors. Today I’m sharing 11 tips to slow aging in your skin. Notice I didn’t say “stop” aging. That can’t be done. Granddaughters turn into grandmothers. For now, anyway.

  1. Avoid the sun. No single factor is more important to prevent aging than avoiding excess sun exposure. Ultraviolet light breaks down the elastin and collagen in your skin, causing brown discoloration, thinning of the skin, and ultimately wrinkles. Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on your face and hands every day.
  2. Stop smoking. Smoking deprives your skin of oxygen, releases damaging oxidizing free radicals and causes wrinkles, dullness, and sallowness. It is a sure contributor to aging. Find a way to quit this summer.
  3. Lose weight. Gaining weight causes excess heavy fat to develop on your face. This will stretch your skin and pull down your cheeks and jowels, aging your face. Have you ever said that someone who has lost a lot of weight looks a lot younger? There is a reason why.
  4. Go low-glycemic. A low-glycemic diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is healthy for your body and your skin. Research has shown that sugary or high glycemic carbohydrate foods can contribute to aging.
  5. Eat less. We know that animals who adhere to a calorie restricted diet age much more slowly than those on a normal diet. Eating 1/3 fewer calories is difficult but would be likely to slow all aging, including your skin.
  6. Control your stress. Chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can damage your organs including your skin. Meditate, exercise, travel, keep a journal. Do whatever it takes to reduce the stress pounding on you.
  7. Sleep on your back. Sleeping on your face or on your side causes wrinkles overnight. The weight of your head on your pillow can also limit the blood flow, depriving your skin of blood and oxygen overnight. Night after night this can lead to permanent wrinkles. Try to train yourself to sleep on your back.
  8. Cut back on alcohol. Drinking alcohol causes dehydration and can lead to damage of your skin over time. Although it does not cause rosacea, it can lead to unsightly red blood vessels on your face that quickly age you.
  9. Wear make-up appropriately. Wearing too much makeup can actually harm your skin by clogging pores and causing excess dryness. Thick foundations and shimmery makeup make you look much older especially if it cracks or settles into existing fine lines and wrinkles. As you age, a lighter touch and natural shades are most flattering.
  10. Moisturize. Your skin is under constant assault from the elements — wind rain, humidity, hot, dry weather and arctic air all damage your skin leading to wrinkles and dullness. Fight back by applying a facial moisturizer every day to protect your skin. Moisturizers also plump up skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines.
  11. Stop squinting. Whether you’re squinting to avoid the sun or to see your computer monitor, repeatedly contracting your eye muscles will cause permanent wrinkles over time. Wear dark sun glasses every day, and be sure there’s no glare on your computer screen at work or at home.

Photo credit: FCC, Jenny818

Why Does Skin Age? Part I: Genetics

The Aged Beauty

A 91-year-old woman who comes to me every few months for treatment of skin cancers came to me recently. While I was removing a basal cell from her scalp, she volunteered: “I should have died at 85.”

“Why would you say that? I asked.

“Just look at my skin,” she said. “There’s nothing left to it. My joints are shot, my heart doesn’t beat right, the bowels don’t work. We just weren’t meant to live this long.”

Mind you, this is from a woman who still drives in to see me. She has managed to stay healthy but has not avoided aging.

Aging is most common disease I see. Billions of dollars are spent each year to conquer and unconquerable foe.

So why does our skin age? And why in this technologically sophisticated world haven’t we figured out how to stop aging?

Skin aging results from both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic factors are your genetic makeup — your skin color, texture, and elasticity you inherited from your parents — and cannot be modified.

  • Aging begins in your 20′s
  • Loss of elastin leads to lax skin and the formation of wrinkles.
  • Dead skin cells don’t shed properly leading to scaly skin.
  • Loss of natural skin fats lead to dry, itchy skin.
  • Loss of collagen and elastin leads to thin, papery skin on the hands and arms and  vertical ridges around your lips.
  • Loss of underlying fat leads to hollowness under the eyes, sunken cheeks, and sunken backs of hands.
  • Gray hair and loss of hair develop.
  • Nails become thin, brittle, and easily breakable. The loss of nail lunula (the white part of the nail) occurs and nail ridges develop.

Extrinsic factors are things within your control that also lead to aging including sun damage, smoking, sleeping habits, and diet. These are all factors that can be modified. And in my next post, I’ll share my best anti-aging tips with you.

Photo credit: FCC, alex proimos

Seeing Spots: Brown, Liver, Age and Sun Spots

Veronica Lake

Recently, while I was in Providence, RI my father-in-law pointed to the flurry of brown spots on the back of his hand and asked, “Are these liver spots?”

They’re not liver spots or age spots. Brown spots on the back of your hands are sun spots caused from excess sun exposure and aging. They have nothing to do with your liver.

They appear most commonly on the back of your hands, your face, and your forearms and are usually benign. The best prevention against developing sun spots is sunscreen and clothing.

The best treatments for removing sun spots are cryotherapy (having a dermatologist freeze them off with liquid nitrogen) or laser treatments. Bleaching creams and Retin-A do little to remove sun spots, while at-home treatments such as lemon juice and baking soda scrubs do nothing. Once the spots are removed, you must wear sunscreen or they’ll come back.

Or you could do like Veronica Lake did and wear glamorous long cotton or silk gloves. Course I don’t think I’ll recommend that to my father-in-law.

Photo credit: FCC, RobertHuffStutter

What Causes Premature Graying?

Guppy 2

Stress. Cigarettes. Junk food. Bad karma. None is responsible for premature graying. For that you can blame Mom or Dad.

Hair turns gray because the pigment cells stop making pigment, or color. Melanocytes are cells responsible for skin and hair color and are found everywhere in your skin and in the base of each hair follicle. In everyone, these hair-based melanocytes eventually peter out. For most people this begins around the age of thirty-five. By age 50, 50% of people are 50% gray.

Some people go gray sooner. If you’re gray before 20 years old, it’s called “premature graying.” This is almost always hereditary. If you’re prematurely gray, talk with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Photo credit: FCC, Werwin15

The Secret To Looking Young From A Dermatologist

Grace Miller* is a 76 year-old woman who came to see me for a skin screening exam. I knew her age and history because I perused her electronic medical record at my desk before I met her. She was a midwestern girl who came to San Diego years ago with her husband, who was in the Navy, and decided to stay rather than fight another Chicago winter. He has since passed-away and she now lived alone in the house they built overlooking the Pacific.

She had sandy-brown hair and sparkling blue eyes and wore a beautiful gold sweater and stone necklace. Dangle earrings sparkled under the exam lights. Her appearance belied her age — she looked 20 years younger than 76.

She had a few crows feet around her eyes and lines around her mouth. Her eyelids were slightly overhanging and her neck had soft wrinkles. Her jewerly and designer bag suggested that she had the means to live comfortably. She laughed when I asked her what her secret was to looking young. “I’ve used Oil of Olay for as long as I can remember,” she admitted, but that was all. As I examined her, she thought aloud about my question:

She avoided excess sun, but never wore sunscreen.

She never smoked.

She walks regularly, but does not adhere to any prescribed diet.

She has never used antioxidant, antiaging, or antiwrinkle creams.

She has never had Botox.

And she looked fabulous.

“The secret,” she replied after thinking it through, “I guess it’s not wasting a lot money trying to look young, but spending plenty of money to look beautiful.” I’ve got to write that down, I thought.

No antioxidant cream, low glycemic diet, sunscreen, or cosmetic procedure will stop you from aging. Anti-aging, aging backwards, age-defying, and age reversal are unreal concepts and false promises made up in board rooms on Madison Avenue.

Do you want to know the secret to looking young? Walk away from the antioxidant cream counter and walk into the shoe section. If you want to look young, then be beautiful — it is a much better use of your money.

*Grace Miller is not her real name.

**I received no free women’s shoes to write this post.

Photo: Litmuse (flickr)

Twins Show That Aging Is Not All in Your Genes

simon whitaker twins

Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed how much you’re starting to look like your mother or father? It happens to all of us: much of aging is determined by the genes we inherited from our parents. Continue reading

Facials Don’t Treat Wrinkles

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Last week one of my patients complained that she gets facials every month for her wrinkles, but that she still has prominent wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. “What,” she asked, “is she doing wrong?”

Facials are the third most popular treatment in spas after nails and massage. They come in many flavors like: mineral masks, steam treatments, microdermabrasions, LED light treatments, blu-light, and even oxygen facials.

Facials can be beneficial; they extract clogged pores, exfoliate dull, scaly skin, and give you a deep, invigorating cleansing, leaving your face smooth and silky. But facials cannot treat wrinkles, broken blood vessles, or brown spots.

Facials are done by aestheticians who are not licensed to practice medicine. Aestheticians cannot administer treatments that penetrate the skin or have  biologic effects (by definition, this would be considered medicine and must be administered by a licensed practitioner such as a physician or registered nurse).  Deeper problems such as wrinkles require invasive treatments which cross the line from cosmetics to medicine.

Facial massages or electrostimulations, which are supposed to tone your skin, don’t. Toning or building muscle requires intense and repeated activity. Just like building biceps, firming musles on your face would require working out. The problem is that wrinkles on your face are caused by contracting muscles — crow’s feet are caused by contracting muscles around your eyes; frown lines are caused by furrowing your brow; lip lines are caused by contracting the muscles around your mouth. Any treatment then that firms facial muscles would only make wrinkles worse.

Other treatments such as oxygen facials and mineral treatments have no evidence to support them, (unless you count “Madonna said so” as evidence). Save your money and have your daughter apply a mud mask the next time you go to the beach.

Photo: Arkansas Shutterbug (flickr)