The Battleground of Aging and How Anti-Aging Products Can Help
This is one battle I have to admit, I will lose. But I hope I can let it win slowly, very slowly. It is helpful to know what the enemy is first, and then how to fight it. Knowing what aging is, its causes and what can help slow the aging process is crucial to your skincare routine.
What are the Causes of Aging Skin?
Research shows that there are, in fact, two distinct types of aging. Aging caused by the genes we inherit is called intrinsic (internal) aging. The other type of aging is known as extrinsic (external) aging and is caused by environmental factors, such as exposure to the sun’s rays.
Intrinsic aging, also known as the natural aging process, is a continuous process that normally begins in our mid-20s. Within the skin, collagen production slows, and elastin, the substance that enables skin to snap back into place, has a bit less spring. Dead skin cells do not shed as quickly and turnover of new skin cells may decrease slightly. While these changes usually begin in our 20s, the signs of intrinsic aging are typically not visible for decades. Genes control how quickly the normal aging process unfolds. Some notice those first gray hairs in their 20s; others do not see graying until their 40s.
The Signs of Intrinsic Aging Are:
- Fine wrinkles
- Thin and transparent skin
- Loss of underlying fat, leading to hollowed cheeks and eye sockets as well as noticeable loss of firmness on the hands and neck
- Bones shrink away from the skin due to bone loss, which causes sagging skin
- Dry skin that may itch
- Inability to sweat sufficiently to cool the skin
- Graying hair that eventually turns white
- Hair loss
- Unwanted hair
- Nail plate thins, the half moons disappear, and ridges develop
A number of extrinsic, or external, factors often act together with the normal aging process to prematurely age our skin. Most premature aging is caused by sun exposure. Other external factors that prematurely age our skin are repetitive facial expressions, gravity, sleeping positions, and smoking.
The Sun. Without protection from the sun’s rays, just a few minutes of exposure each day over the years can cause noticeable changes to the skin. Freckles, age spots, spider veins on the face, rough and leathery skin, fine wrinkles that disappear when stretched, loose skin, a blotchy complexion, actinic keratoses (thick wart-like, rough, reddish patches of skin), and skin cancer can all be traced to sun exposure.
“Photoaging” is the term dermatologists use to describe this type of aging caused by exposure to the sun’s rays. The amount of photoaging that develops depends on: 1) a person’s skin color and 2) their history of long-term or intense sun exposure. People with fair skin who have a history of sun exposure develop more signs of photoaging than those with dark skin. In the darkest skin, the signs of photoaging are usually limited to fine wrinkles and a mottled complexion.
Photoaging occurs over a period of years. With repeated exposure to the sun, the skin loses the ability to repair itself, and the damage accumulates. Scientific studies have shown that repeated ultraviolet (UV) exposure breaks down collagen and impairs the synthesis of new collagen. The sun also attacks our elastin. Sun-weakened skin ceases to spring back much earlier than skin protected from UV rays. Skin also becomes loose, wrinkled, and leathery much earlier with unprotected exposure to sunlight. People who live in sun-intense areas, such as Florida, can show signs of photoaging in their 20s. In fact, some people who live in sun-intense areas develop actinic keratoses (AKs) and skin cancer in their 20s.
Facial Expressions. If you perform facial exercises to maintain a youthful-looking appearance, it is time to stop. Repetitive facial movements actually lead to fine lines and wrinkles. Each time we use a facial muscle, a groove forms beneath the surface of the skin, which is why we see lines form with each facial expression. As skin ages and loses its elasticity, the skin stops springing back to its line-free state, and these grooves become permanently etched on the face as fine lines and wrinkles.
Gravity. Gravity constantly pulls on our bodies. Changes related to gravity become more pronounced as we age. In our 50s, when the skin’s elasticity declines dramatically, the effects of gravity become evident. Gravity causes the tip of the nose to droop, the ears to elongate, the eyelids to fall, jowls to form, and the upper lip to disappear while the lower lip becomes more pronounced.
Sleeping Positions. Resting your face on the pillow in the same way every night for years also leads to wrinkles. Called sleep lines, these wrinkles eventually become etched on the surface of the skin and no longer disappear when the head is not resting on the pillow. Women, who tend to sleep on their sides, are most likely to see these lines appear on their chin and cheeks. Men tend to notice these lines on the forehead since they usually sleep with the face pressed face down on the pillow. People who sleep on their backs do not develop these wrinkles since their skin does not lie crumpled against the pillow.
Smoking. Cigarette smoking causes biochemical changes in our bodies that accelerate aging. Research shows that a person who smokes 10 or more cigarettes a day for a minimum of 10 years is statistically more likely to develop deeply wrinkled, leathery skin than a nonsmoker. It also has been shown that people who smoke for a number of years tend to develop an unhealthy yellowish hue to their complexion. Additionally, a study conducted in 2002 showed that facial wrinkling, while not yet visible, can be seen under a microscope in smokers as young as 20.
These signs can be greatly diminished, and in some cases avoided, by stopping smoking. Even people who have smoked for many years, or smoked heavily at a younger age, show less facial wrinkling and improved skin tone when they quit smoking.
Anti-Aging Ingredients or Products
Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
Technically is a product and not an ingredient, but stay with us here. If you're not using sunscreen religiously, there's just no point in wasting your time or money on any other anti-aging ingredients. It's a certifiable fact that sun exposure is one of the primary causes of all the signs of aging, from spots to wrinkles and everything in between. That makes adequate, daily sun protection is a MUST, which is exactly why broad-spectrum sunscreen is on this list.
The outermost layer of your skin is known as the skin barrier, and its primary role is keeping the good stuff (hydration) in and all the bad stuff (irritants) out. Ceramides are lipids that keep this barrier strong and healthy, sealing moisture into the skin. In terms of anti-aging, the more hydrated your skin is, the more youthful it will look. Because ceramides are great for helping keep irritants out, they're are also a good ingredient to seek out if you're prone to eczema. Since ceramides have basically no drawbacks, they're an effective ingredient for any skin type.
Collagen is one of the most important proteins in your skin, the foundation for keeping it strong and firm, like the box spring underneath a mattress. The problem is that our natural collagen production slows down as we age, and adding insult to injury, all kinds of external factors (ahem, sun exposure) also contribute to the breakdown of collagen.
Part of a group of acids known as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA), this one is distinct in having the smallest molecular size, so it can penetrate deepest into the skin, Glycolic acid features the traditional exfoliating benefits of any AHA, gently dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells to improve skin texture, tone, and pore size. But glycolic acid also has another unique anti-aging benefit, it boosts levels of both collagen and elastin in the skin, so it can help ward off wrinkles, too. The caveat? Glycolic acid can be irritating for some people, especially those with super sensitive skin or when used in high concentrations, so start using it gradually in order to give your skin enough time to get used to it.
Another type of AHA, this is usually derived from milk and is generally gentler and less irritating than glycolic acid. It's a common anti-aging ingredient in both mild peels (offered at doctor offices and medical spas) and many at-home exfoliating products, helping to leave skin more even and radiant. Plus, unlike many other exfoliating ingredients, which can be drying if not used properly, lactic acid has been shown to increase the natural moisturizing factors in the skin. Just keep in mind that it will make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so you want to be extra diligent and on top of your sunscreen game when lactic acid is a part of your anti-aging arsenal.
A fan-favorite in the hydrating ingredient world, hyaluronic acid acts like a sponge, drawing water to and then trapping it in the skin. This means that it not only moisturizes but can also help plump up your skin and fill in fine lines since it can hold up to a thousand times its own weight in water. (Though sadly, those benefits are only temporary.) Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring sugar in our body—we produce it on our own up until about the age of 20—so it's very inert and unlikely to cause any kind of skin complications. Just remember that in order for this anti-aging ingredient to work most effectively, there needs to be moisture present. In other words, if you slather it on parched skin while sitting in the middle of the desert, it's not going to work. Your best bet is to apply hyaluronic acid on either slightly damp skin, or to layer it with another moisturizer.
As popular as face oil have become, the concept can still be off-putting to some. But jojoba oil is one of the best skincare oils of the bunch. Derived from a nut-like pod of a plant, jojoba oil is biomimetic, meaning it acts like the oil naturally found in skin. It's non-comedogenic, so it won't clog pores, is moisturizing, and also soothing to dry, irritated, skin. Translation: There's no need to worry about breakouts. Jojoba oil contains vitamin E as well, which means it may have some antioxidant properties, and is anti-inflammatory, too. Bonus: It works equally well to hydrate your hair and scalp.
Also known as vitamin A, this is one of the most effective skin-transforming ingredients. It's part of a larger group known as retinoids, of which there are many prescription and over-the-counter options, though to keep things simple, they all work essentially the same way. One option is the botanical, Bakuchiol, (offered by BareLuxe) a promising retinol alternative for those who cannot tolerate retinol.
Retinol increases the rate at which your cells turnover—aka speeding up the exfoliation process—making it a great anti-aging ingredient for targeting fine lines and sun damage. For the same reasons, it's also good for combating blemishes, so if you're dealing with adult acne, that oh-so-fun double whammy of wrinkles and pimples, this one is for you. If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it kind of is. Retinol has some big negatives, namely that it can be very irritating for many. You can help minimize its unsightly side effects (redness, flaking) by working it in to your routine gradually and sandwiching it between two layers of plain moisturizer. You also only need a pea-size amount for your entire face—more is definitely not better in this case. Because it's rendered inactive when exposed to sunlight, be sure to save it for bedtime use only.
If you're dealing with any kind of redness or irritation, or a condition such as rosacea, niacinimide is a good pick. A form of vitamin B3, niacinamide helps calm inflamed skin, and it's generally well tolerated for all skin types. Plus, it has the added benefit of helping to brighten skin and target unwanted pigmentation.
The vitamin you take when you feel a cold coming on also offers a trio of benefits for your skin. Not only is it a great antioxidant, helping to neutralize the skin-damaging free radicals caused by exposure to environmental factors such as sun and pollution, but it also interferes with the production of excess pigment in the skin, helping to fade spots and discoloration. And if all that weren't enough, it also helps to stimulate collagen production (when used either topically or ingested, FYI). Some people can be more sensitive to vitamin C than others and may experience some irritation, and it's also very easily rendered inactive if exposed to sun and air. Look for vitamin C products housed in dark, opaque bottles, and stash them in a cool, dark place, like a drawer.