The ageing process is inevitable and though every cell in our body ages, it is the external appearance or the cutaneous changes that give away our age. We definitely cannot stop ageing, but can try and delay the process. Using protection from the sun, controlling muscle movements, limiting your exposure to stress, avoiding smoking and alcohol, eating right, regular exercising and getting enough sleep are some of the things we can start with.
These help fight against free radicals that build up in our bodies. These free radicals are imbalanced oxygen molecules that seek healthy cells to regain their balance, thus destroying them in the bargain. These free radicals are responsible for premature ageing as well as diseases [as deadly as cancer].
Meet the culprits
Our true skin or dermis is made up of elastin and collagen mainly; elastin providing the flexibility and collagen, the ‘volume or body’ to the skin. The free radicals damage the elastin thus making the skin lose its elasticity and suppleness. Damage to collagen bands make the skin dented, thin and prone to fine lines and wrinkles. It is therefore extremely important to start a crusade against these free radicals thereby increasing our immunity against them.
The other main reason of ageing is when the skin loses its volume and begins to droop and sag, making you look tired and older. Due to loss of volume, you get hollows around the eyes, the apples in the cheeks slide to the jowls [a fold of fatty flesh under the chin], lips get crinkled and inverted, and hands get bony with dry, thin skin and a lot of ropy veins.
Other factors that make you look more wrinkled are being too thin [the body consumes the facial collagen, which makes you look older].
Our lifestyle ultimately determines our health and the degree to which our body ages. Individuals under stress, who lack proper nutrition and who live sedentary lifestyles are unfit, unhealthy and are susceptible to premature ageing and disease. This results in suboptimal appearance and functioning. The body becomes biologically older than its chronological age.
Understand the changes
Some changes that our skin undergoes with with age are:
- Skin becomes rougher.
- Skin develops lesions such as benign tumours.
- The loss of the elastic tissue [elastin and collagen] in the skin with age causes the skin to hang loosely.
- Skin becomes more transparent due to the thinning of the epidermis [surface layer of the skin].
- Skin becomes more fragile. This is caused by a flattening of the area where the epidermis and dermis [layer of skin under the epidermis] come together.
- Skin becomes more easily bruised due to thinner blood vessel walls.
Subcutaneous [below the skin] changes
- Loss of fat below the skin in the cheeks, temples, chin, nose and eye area may result in loosening skin, sunken eyes giving you a ‘skeletal’ appearance.
- Bone loss, mostly around the mouth and chin, may become evident after age 60 and cause puckering of the skin around the mouth.
- Cartilage loss in the nose causes drooping of the nasal tip and accentuation of the bony structures in the nose.
Gravity, facial movement and sleep position are the secondary factors that contribute to skin changes. When the skin loses its elasticity, gravity causes drooping of the eyebrows and eyelids, looseness and fullness under the cheeks and jaw [jowls and ‘double chin’], and longer ear lobes.
Facial movement lines become more visible after the skin starts losing its elasticity [usually as people reach their 30s and 40s]. Lines may appear horizontally on the forehead, vertically on the skin above the root of the nose [glabella], or as small curved lines on the temples, upper cheeks and around the mouth.
Sleep creases result from the way the head is positioned on the pillow and may become more visible after the skin starts losing its elasticity. Sleep creases are commonly located on the side of the forehead, starting above the eyebrows to the hairline near the temples, as well as on the middle of the cheeks. Changing sleep position may improve these sleep creases or prevent them from becoming worse.
Dry skin and itching is common as we age. About 85 per cent of older people develop ‘winter itch’, because indoor air is dry. The loss of sweat and oil glands as we age may also worsen dry skin. Anything that further dries the skin [such as overuse of soaps, anti-perspirants, perfumes, or hot baths] will make the condition worse. If your skin is dry and itchy, see a doctor because this condition can affect your sleep, cause irritability, or be a symptom of a disease.
Free the free radicals
Our efforts should be focused primarily in lowering the levels of the free radicals. This can be done by increasing our antioxidant levels. Antioxidants flush away these toxins from our body. They are found in deep coloured fruits and vegetables like spinach, broccoli, carrots, mangoes, papaya and oranges, in their natural form.
Fruits and vegetables containing lycopene such as tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, and grapefruits are also ‘antioxidant-rich’. The richest source of these is wheat grass juice. Supplements of antioxidants are a combination of vitamin A, C, E and minerals such as selenium, manganese, magnesium zinc.
Reverse the process
Thanks to the advancement in medicine, science, technology and biogenetics, that reversing ageing or creating perfection through correction is no more only a dream.
The reversal of the ageing process can start if you:
- Use sunscreens at least 2 – 3 times a day regardless of the SPF.
- Moisturise daily depending on the skin type.
- Regularly apply a night cream that contains skin tightening, skin lightening and hydrating ingredients. It will impart suppleness, radiance and tautness to the skin.
The pattern of ageing differs physically and psychologically in men and women. Men get wrinkles more slowly than women, due to thicker facial skin, more oil glands and slower bone loss. Women start getting wrinkles at an earlier age because of thinner skin and also due to perimenopausal hormonal changes.
A youthful appearance at any age will reflect and reinforce our feelings of inner vitality.
Remember that appreciating the health and beauty of your skin will translate into feeling better about yourself, which in turn will enhance every area of your life. A youthful appearance begins with prevention.
So, enjoy what is bestowed upon you by nature, make the right choices, take proper guidance from experts and show off a healthy, glowing and young skin. After all, you deserve it!
Don’t get hyper
Skin hyperpigmentation is a condition in which patches of the skin become darker in tone than others. The skin discoloration results from too much melanin [a skin pigment] that creates deposits over the skin.
Hyperpigmentation is caused by two main factors—sun and hormonal changes during menopause. The ultraviolet rays causes over-stimulation of the melanocyte cells in the skin. The melanin cells clump together and show up as dark spots. Menopause results in decline of the hormonal level, which in turn affects the secretion of the colouring pigment melanin in our skin.
The treatment options include over-the-counter products that contain:
- Bleaching agents like hydroquinone, kojic acid, azelaic acid, arbutin, and ellagic acid
- Retinoids [retinoic acid]
- Vitamin C [ascorbic acid]
- Alpha hydroxy acids [AHAs].
Other ingredients like bearberry extract, liquorice extract and mulberry extract are also being studied for skin-lightening effects.
This was first published in the December 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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