Till approximately the third decade of life, the word ‘ageing’ has positive connotations since it represents maturity. After that, it’s a word no one wants to hear as it represents degeneration…a reminder of the fallacy of everlasting youth. The one aspect of ageing that we are all concerned about is the changes that happen to the skin. This is because although the entire body undergoes a gradual physical and functional decline, in the case of the skin, the age-related changes are there for all to see.
Fortunately, there are ways in which we can slow down the clock. By understanding the mechanisms of skin ageing, we can delay the process, that too, with simple measures.
Slowing it down
The first thing we need to do is address the key factors that affect skin ageing.
Water is a major component of our body, particularly the skin. The skin appears dry and shrivelled in the absence of sufficient water.
To counter that, drink enough water every day to keep your skin soft and supple [although 1.5 litres is believed to be the norm, it’s not a golden standard and you drink as per your own body’s requirements]. You can consume fluids in the form of fruits, juices, milk shakes or butter milk, instead of just plain water. In summer, the fluid intake has to be more than in other months as we lose more water through increased sweating.
The skin needs a sufficient supply of nutrients such as vitamins [specifically vitamin A] and amino acids for effective functioning. Regular intake of these nutrients keeps it looking well-nourished and youthful for long. Those who pay scant attention to their dietary needs, allow the skin to age faster. How nutrients affect skin is evident in those with deficiency of iron and B-complex vitamins. This is because, haemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen to the cells of the entire body, including the skin.
So, include foods rich in vitamins A such as carrots, green leafy vegetables; protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, fish, milk and soya; and iron-rich foods such as dates and meat in your diet.
Also, crash dieting is a bad idea as it leads to skin sagging and stretch marks. Dieting should be a systematic and planned process, taken up under the guidance of an expert dietician.
Sleep is when the skin does its repairs. That’s why adequate sleep is an important prerequisite for healthy skin. Someone who does not get sound sleep for about six hours remains irritable and the impact is evident on the skin.
So, get enough sleep every day. Also, the quality of sleep is as important as the quantity. Adequate rest often reflects on the skin.
Regular exercise benefits the skin in multiple ways. It helps to tone muscles making the skin appear taut and even. The increased blood circulation during physical exertion helps to remove all impurities accumulated in the skin, making it healthier.
Make time for exercise, no matter what kind.
As we age, the skin becomes dry, making it prone to itching. Persistent itching leads to discolouration and thickening of the skin. Notice how some elderly have dry and cracked skin, especially over the legs and forearms. Hence, we need to hydrate the skin externally to keep it looking youthful.
Take regular baths and wash the face frequently to hydrate the skin’s surface. Apply moisturisers to maintain the skin’s barrier function. Use oily creams [such as those containing vaseline, paraffin, squalene] to prevent loss of water and resultant dryness.
Those who have tendency to dryness should avoid using harsh soaps and opt for soaps containing moisturisers and oils instead. This helps retain water in the skin, keeping it damp and supple.
Directly rubbing a bar of soap on the skin depletes the natural oils secreted by the already ageing skin. To avoid the soap from harming your skin, use small quantities of soap with plenty of water just to work up a lather or use diluted liquid body wash.
Maintaining a regular skin care routine is an important aspect of looking young and healthy.
The sun can be really cruel to the skin, accelerating ageing and robbing it of its lustre.
Use a sunscreen with a SPF between 15 and 30. This usually works for most Indian skin types. Apply the sunscreen 15 – 20 minutes before exposure to sunlight.
In disorders of liver, kidney, thyroid and diabetes, the toxic waste often gets deposited in the skin, disturbing its structure and function. Paying prompt attention to internal diseases prevents skin damage and minimises the effects of ageing.
Erasing the signs
Many men and women develop brown or greyish patches on the cheeks. They can use camouflage to prevent the discoloured patch from becoming visible. However, it’s important that they use sunscreen on a regular basis when exposed to the bright sun. Unfortunately, whitish spots that develop with age do not clear with any treatment and need to be left alone.
Fine lines and wrinkles
Sagging skin is the foremost sign of ageing. With increasing age, skin becomes thin and loses its elastic support from beneath making the surface layer thin, loose and crinkled. Before frank wrinkles appear, the facial skin is thrown into numerous tiny folds called fine lines. It is most conspicuous on the face, around the eyes, the chin and the neck. Ultraviolet light from the afternoon sun also makes it dark and weakens its elastic fibres.
Using creams containing retinoic acid and undergoing chemical peel treatment minimises fine lines and wrinkles. Botox injections help ease tense muscles thereby relieving wrinkles, albeit for a period of 6 – 12 months.
Microdermabrasion helps scrape off dead cells from the surface of the skin to give it a shiny, even appearance. Non-ablative laser resurfacing is another procedure used to heat up and tone the skin. However, its long-term results have not been established and are still being evaluated. All these procedures have a temporary effect and need to be repeated for sustained results.
Surgical techniques like thread-lifting and cosmetic face-lifting help tighten loose facial skin, making it look young.
Many of us develop tiny elevations on the face, which are loosely called ‘warts’ or skin tags. These are harmless growths that make the skin appear dark and dull. Such growths can be removed easily by a painless procedure called electrocautery or using laser beams.
Likewise, other skin disorders too should be treated promptly to prevent permanent marks and scars.
Finally, it needs to be understood that there is no way to obstruct the course of nature. What is genetically predetermined and the over-arching effects of our environment cannot be totally arrested, in spite of the current pace of scientific development in the field of dermatology and cosmetology.
So don’t run behind the illusion of permanent youthful appearance and exercise caution while consulting doctors for treatment. Simply subjecting oneself to various procedures without any strong scientific evidence based methods is an invitation for disaster.
Greying of hair is perhaps the commonest and earliest sign of ageing. Proper nutrition is essential to delay the onset of grey hair, although in most cases, the process is genetically programmed. Medical science is yet grappling with this issue and there is no definite treatment to stop or reverse greying. Using henna or hair dyes is the only option for people to camouflage their silver streaks. With the widespread practice of young people colouring their hair, usage of hair dyes is not seen as a drawback by older people.
Male pattern hair loss is another common complaint among patients that makes them look older than their age. It not only affects men but also women who have scanty hair in their frontal and central part of their head. Diet rich in minerals, particularly iron, zinc and biotin help to reduce the hair growth as well as initiate fresh growth.
Signs of ageing
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Thin and transparent skin
- Loss of skin fat [sunken cheeks]
- Shrinking of bones
- Dry skin due to lack of oil
- Inability to sweat
- Greying/white hair
- Hair loss
- Unwanted hair in women
- Thinning of the nail plate.
This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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