Why Does Skin Age? Part I: Genetics

Skin aging results from both intrinsic (genetic) and extrinsic (environment and lifestyle choices) factors. Intrinsic factors cannot be changed, but extrinsic factors can.

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

What Causes Premature Graying?

Premature graying is almost always caused by genetics. Stress does not cause gray hair.

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