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A Wrinkle in Time: Preventing Damage to Aging Skin

By Lissa Poirot

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

WebMD Feature

Like snowflakes, no two faces are identical, even on identical twins. The color of skin, eyes, and hair varies, as does the shape of people's eyebrows, cheekbones, lips, and noses.

How skin ages also varies. Knowing how your lifestyle and the environment affect your skin helps you choose the skin care routine that's best for you.

Skin Care 101: What Is Your Skin Type?

Dermatologists organize skin into six types with type I being the lightest and type VI being very dark. "People who are a four or above have more melanin in their skin, which protects them from the sun," says Columbia University dermatologist Monica Halem, MD.

People who have darker skin often look younger than their lighter-skinned peers. "A black African with skin type VI, for example, doesn't feel the aging effects of the sun as much as a blond-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned person of Scandinavian descent at a level one," Halem says.

More melanin, though, puts skin at higher risk of scarring and pigmentation problems. Also, people with darker skin are not completely safe from sun damage, so it's important to wear sunscreen, even if you have dark skin.

What Happens to Aging Skin

As you age, your body begins to slow production of collagen and elastin. This leads to fine lines and wrinkles. Add in sun exposure and gravity, and skin can sag. 

Your skin keeps changing as you get older. It becomes thinner, drier, and more fragile as skin's inner layer (the dermis) starts to thin. Fat beneath the skin in your cheeks, chin, and nose disappears, making skin sag. Facial hair increases and women going through hormonal changes may get acne.

For people with oily skin, breakouts may never stop as they age. But oily skin does have a plus: It wards off wrinkles better than dry skin because the oils keep skin moister and smoother.

Using moisturizer is one way to lessen the impact of wrinkles before they appear. If you have oily skin, you can keep your skin clear and less wrinkled with hypoallergenic moisturizers.

Your body's ability to fight free radicals that attack and damage cells and collagen also slows with age. Antioxidants work to protect skin of free radicals and improve its appearance, repairing damage and moisturizing the skin. Antioxidants are found in vitamins C, E, and A, which should be a regular part of a healthy diet. Many skin care products now include these antioxidants in their formulas as well.

The Glaring Facts of Sun Damage

Past sun damage catches up with you in the form of age spots and wrinkles -- no matter what your skin type. "Some of this happens naturally with age, but you don't want to accelerate the wrinkling process," dermatologist Marilyn Berzin, MD, says.

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