It's Not Your Mother's Skin -- Or Is It?
Premature aging skin is not inevitable -- no matter what your parents looked like.
Is aging skin preventable? Sure, if you believe the ads for products that
claim to slow the aging process. But how much is your aging skin really under
With age, the skin suffers natural wear-and-tear, just like the rest of our
bodies. But much of what we think of as natural aging is in fact due to sun
exposure and other factors. That means it can be avoided -- and it's never too
late to start.
Normal Aging of Skin: Collagen, Elastin, and Sagging Skin
Underlying our skin is a fiber meshwork of collagen and elastin -- proteins
that keep skin firm. When skin is stretched, this protein matrix snaps it back
As we age, the fiber network weakens, and skin sags as it loses its support
structure. Other unavoidable forces contribute to aging skin, as well:
- Skin becomes thinner with age, and loses fat. The plump smoothness of our
skin as children is replaced by a rougher texture.
- Gravity relentlessly tugs on weakened skin, creating the droop of jowls or
"chicken fat" under the arms.
- Our genetic code contributes invisibly to the process -- leading to skin
that looks 50 at 80 in some people, the unfortunate reverse in others.
None of this so-called "intrinsic aging" of skin can be avoided. But
did you notice we haven't said anything yet about wrinkles?
Preventable Aging of Skin: Sun Damage
In fact, most of the skin changes associated with aging are avoidable. And
most of them are due to one cause: sun damage.
The ultraviolet rays from the sun penetrate into the skin. There, they
damage the elastic fibers that keep skin firm, allowing wrinkles to develop.
Sunlight is also responsible for age spots or "liver spots" on the
hands, face, and other sun-exposed areas.
The amount of wrinkles that develop, and how prominent they are, are largely
dependent on a person's lifetime sun exposure. While we can't go back and put
sunscreen on our carefree 10-year-old selves, we can stop the damage
that's happening now:
- Stop intentionally sunbathing. Any suntan means skin damage has
- Always wear sunscreen. Choose a product with sun protection factor (SPF) 15
or greater. The hands and face are the most frequently exposed -- cover
- Wear a hat with a brim.
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when its rays are the
Even with perfect sunscreen use, wrinkles can't be prevented completely.
Some wrinkling is hereditary, and a certain amount of wrinkles are natural to
Besides preventing sun damage, other habits can age skin prematurely. Slow
the aging process by eliminating these skin wrinklers.
How Smoking Damages Skin and Causes Wrinkles
Wrinkles occur sooner and run deeper in people who smoke, leading to
so-called "smoker's face." Decreased blood flow to the face, and damage
from toxic chemicals in smoke, are the likely causes. In addition, smokers tend
to squint to keep smoke from their eyes, which can cause wrinkles.
Crow's feet around the eyes, and droopy skin around the eyelids
("smoker's face") are common in long-time tobacco smokers. A desire to
protect your youthful looks is one more good reason to quit smoking.