Some things in life are inevitable, and chief amongst this list is the aging process. Sadly, your silky smooth complexion won’t last forever, but there are a few ways to slow down the clock, to help keep those crows feet at bay.
To operate this metaphorical time machine, it helps to understand the science behind the aging of your skin. So, to give you a helping hand, we’ve put together a handy peak behind the dermatological curtain, which starts with the largest organ in your body – your skin:
It helps to think of your skin almost like a tiramisu – several layers that have different roles, but work together in tandem. Your skin is actually composed of three main layers, which are the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous tissue.
The epidermis is the skin’s outer-most layer, and acts as the first line of defense in your body’s immune system. It’s abundant in keratin, (the protein also found in your hair and fingernails), which is what gives it its rigidity and water-resistance. It’s also within this layer that dead skin cells are shed.
The dermis is found directly beneath the epidermis, and is a thicker section of skin – it’s composed of nerves, fats, blood vessels, elastin, and collagen fibers. Collagen occupies about 80% of this layer, which is a protein that provides the skin’s strength. Elastin on the other hand, is responsible for your skin’s elastic quality, enabling it to stretch back and forth like a rubber band.
The subcutaneous tissue is the deepest layer of your skin, and is almost entirely made up of fat and connective tissues. It mainly functions as an insulator, to help maintain your body temperature, but it also holds your internal organs in place, which is handy!
Over time, the way that these three layers behave and interact begins to change, thanks to two different types of aging: intrinsic and extrinsic.
Intrinsic aging is so called as it is a natural process that will occur over the span of your lifetime, regardless of any external factors. Surprisingly, it starts as early as your 20s, when your body starts to produce around 1% less collagen each year, whilst your elastin production also slowly diminishes.
On top of this, the transfer of moisture between the dermis and epidermis layers slows down, whilst the fat cells in the subcutaneous tissue start to shrink.
Over time, all of these shifts in the composition of your skin lead to the loss of its elasticity and structure, meaning the the skin will become drier, thinner and duller. As it attempts to stretch back and forth, the lack of elastin and collogen in the skin eventually leads to visible wrinkles, as it can no longer maintain its form.
You’ve guessed it – extrinsic aging is the exact opposite of intrinsic, and is caused by external factors. This type of aging is often the most visible, and crucially, the most preventable. The main culprits here are smoking, pollution, and sun exposure.
Smoking cigarettes pumps your body with nicotine, which actually narrows the blood cells in the epidermis. In turn, the skin becomes deprived of oxygen and begins to sag and wrinkle prematurely. This is exacerbated by that fact that each drag of a cigarette pulls on the orbicularis oris muscle around your mouth, (also known as the ‘purse string’ muscle) which creates those infamous smoker’s wrinkles.
As for environmental pollution, toxic air contains byproducts of oxygen metabolism, which are known as free radicals. These particles can cause significant damage to living cells and tissues in a process called oxidative stress. This process pulls electrons from other molecules in our body, altering the chemical structures in our skin and accelerating the aging process.
However, exposure to the sun is the biggest villain of all here, and is responsible for 80 percent of visible wrinkles. This is because the sun’s invisible UV rays can penetrate deep into the dermis layer, which causes breakdowns in the production of collagen and elastin. As these essential proteins break down, the skin begins to sag and wrinkle.
How to slow the clocks
Now that you’re in the know about the science behind wrinkles, you can arm yourself with some good habits, to give your skin a fighting chance against aging.
Sun screen – apply this whenever you’re going to be in direct sunlight for an extended period of time. Don’t let those UV rays attack your epidermis layer!
Moisturiser – intrinsic aging leads to a loss of moisture, particularly in your outer dermis layer. Dry skin can accelerate the appearance of wrinkles, so use a quality daily moisturiser every day to keep your dermis layer supple.
Water – it’s also important to keep yourself hydrated from the inside, and drinking plenty of water actually helps your skin to flush out those pesky free radicals.