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

Skin aging is caused by intrinsic (genetic) factors and extrinsic (environment and lifestyle) factors. Here are 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

Should I Get a Base Tan Before Vacation?

I just got back from a conference in Hawaii. Did I get a base tan first? No. Why? Because it does more harm than good.

Tanned skin is damaged skin. Even if the base tan helps prevent sunburn, you had to damage your skin to get that tan in the first place. Using artificial tanning to rush a tan before you get on your flight can be even more damaging.

Go to Hawaii, swim with the dolphins, lounge by the pool. Cover up, wear sunscreen, sit in the shade. Your skin needs a vacation too.

Photo: J Benabio, MD

Pin It

Baby Skin Needs Extra Sun Protection

Baby skin is especially vulnerable to sun damage. Here are five tips to keep your baby safe this summer.

Baby skin is sun-sensitive

Everyone wishes they had baby skin. It feels so soft and smooth; it’s perfectly adapted to induce us adults to want to clean their diaper, no matter how many times they dirty them. Like their big eyes and cute noses, baby skin it part of the whole package of being adorable. But like their eyes, their skin, however beautiful, is immature. Baby skin is thinner, has less natural moisturizers and has fewer pigment cells, making it more vulnerable to the environment than adult skin.

This is important especially in summer. How often do you see babies running around on the beach with just a diaper on? Although they seem indestructable, they are more vulnerable than the adult holding the pail and shovel.

Studies have shown that up to 83% of babies get sunburned their first year of life. This is our fault, not theirs. Sunburns at an early age can increase the risk for melanoma skin cancer on the trunk later in life. Sun exposure is also a poor way to get vitamin D for infants because most will get far more damaging sun than they need to make vitamin D — we adults tend to over cook them.

Here are five tips to keep your baby safe this summer:

1. Newborns up to 6 months should be kept out of the sun. Cover them up with light clothing and hats, and put the top down on the stroller.

2. Babies 6 months and older should not be exposed to the sun between 10am and 2pm. When they are outdoors, they should have sunscreen on all exposed skin. Because their immature skin can absorb chemicals more easily, choose sunscreens with zinc and titanium with an SPF of 30 or more. Chemical or spray sunscreens can burn their eyes which will be sure to make for a cranky baby at the beach.

3. Be sure to apply the sunscreen near their hairline, on their ears and at the edges of clothing — areas often missed by well meaning moms.

4. Choose sunscreens that are white or opaque; it’s easier to see where you’ve applied the sunscreen, and he’ll look cute anyway.

5. Be sure your baby is getting 400 IU of vitamin D everyday, then she won’t need any sun for her vitamin D.

Photo: Limaoscarjuliet, Flickr

Dermdoc Drills Down Vitamin D in High Def!

You know the sun makes vitamin D. Did you know that it does so in just minutes?

After a few minutes of sun, your skin stops making vitamin D.

After a few minutes of sun, your skin starts making skin cancer.

Lying out at the beach or the pool for hours this summer will do far more damage than good.

What do you think, should Dr. Oz be worried? (Or should I stick to podcasts?)

What do you think about the sun and your vitamin D?

If you have trouble with the HD, then click here for the YouTube video.

Can You Be Allergic To the Sun?

You know that the sun increases the risk of skin cancer for most people. You probably don’t know that for some people, the sun is the source of a terrible itchy rash — they’re allergic to the sun.

The radiation from the sun triggers some response in everyone’s skin. In some, the radiation triggers an immune reaction, leading to red, itchy, burning bumps. There are several diseases that are caused by sun which lead to rashes. Here are a few:

Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE): This is the  most common. It is usually characterized by tiny, itchy red bumps that develop on the arms, neck and face hours after sun exposure. It is often seen in the spring and occurs more frequently in young people.

Actinic Prurigo: This is seen as itchy red bumps that occur mostly in children who are sensitive to the sun. Like PMLE, it occurs mostly on the face (including lips), arms, and hands. It can be more severe than PMLE and can lead to scarring in rare instances.

Chronic Actinic Dermatitis: This usually affects adults. It starts in areas exposed to the sun, but can spread to other areas. It is often terribly itchy and can be triggered by sunlight even though car windows.

Solar hives (urticaria): These are itchy pink whelts that develop within minutes of sun exposure. The rash develops quickly and fades quickly but can be intensely itchy. Antihistamines such as Zyrtec (ceterizine) or Benedryl (diphenhydramine) can help.

There are other sun-induced diseases, including ones triggered by medications. I’ll write about them in a future post. In all of these conditions, the most important thing to remember is to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. If you develop an itchy or burning rash after sun exposure, then see your physician for an exam and for advice.

Photo: Sandman (flickr)

Does The Sun Cause Melanoma?

Yes. Isn’t the answer obvious? Doesn’t everyone know that the sun causes melanoma? Not so fast.

There are many people who think we dermatologists are needlessly frightening everyone. They argue that the sun is good for you because it boosts your vitamin D levels and that dermatologists are subsidized by the sunscreen industry. They argue that melanoma can occur in places that are not sun exposed (like the bottom of your feet), that sunscreens have never been proven to prevent melanoma, and that people who get sun every day, like farmers, are actually less likely to get melanoma. They’re right.

So, then does the sun cause melanoma? Yes. Melanoma is a potentially deadly skin cancer. Like other cancers (breast, lung, colon), there are many risk factors. Think of melanoma as a destination — the hell of skin cancer. There are many roads to that destination even though the final resting place is the same.

People who have light skin or a family history of melanoma have a much shorter route to arrive at melanoma. It takes less time and less environmental factors for them to get melanoma. People who have very dark skin have a very long road to melanoma; it is unlikely that they will arrive there in their lifetime. Older people are much more likely to develop melanoma than younger people (they have been travelling the road for much longer). Sun exposure, especially sun burns, pushes you farther down that road.

Brilliant research from people like Dr. Michael Stratton in the United Kingdom has shown that most of the mutations found in melanoma tumors are unquestionably the work of ultraviolet radiation damage to the DNA. We also know that people who use tanning beds before the age of 30 are 75% more likely to develop melanoma that those who do not.

The sun does have health benefits, but unfortunately it also is the main driver pushing us down the road to melanoma. Each person has to think about how far along the road to melanoma he or she is starting at to determine how careful to be with the sun.

Everyday in dermatology we see people who unexpectantly find themselves in a place they did not think possible — they have melanoma. Many don’t understand how they got there; it has been a long road. Stop and think about where you are along that journey. What are your risk factors of melanoma? It is never too late to stop and turn around.

Photo: Eduardo Amorim