If asked, I believe we would all desire to retain the beauty and vigour of youth well into old age but the weathering of our skin is an unavoidable fact of life. Sooner or later, the wrinkles start to appear. The basis of our skin's elasticity is the mesh of collagen filaments in the dermis the connective tissue. As aging takes its toll, this mesh is gradually weakened and the dermis becomes thinner and less elastic as a result.
Ever upwards from below
From the age of 20 onwards, the skin begins almost imperceptibly to age. The store of collagen in the deepest layers is steadily diminished and, as time goes on, these changes become perceptible at the surface in the form of wrinkles. The cuticle itself wears ever thinner, the cells reproduce less rapidly so that renewal time is prolonged from 27 to between 40 and 60 days. As the collagen level drops so too does the reservoir capacity, the skin tends to dry out and the first tiny wrinkles become lines, creases and folds.
Heredity and environment
The degree to which you are affected by the undesirable process of aging depends largely on two natural variables. The biological clock is ticking away inside each individual cell, a kind of aging program, and each skin will age in accordance with the genetic plan nothing we can do to change this. But environmental factors also play a crucial role in the process and here it is possible to intervene.
The price of sunshine
Right off the bat, sun worshippers wrinkle sooner. Principally, it is the UV radiation that causes damage to the skin. While the longwave UV A rays penetrate deep into the dermis, destroying collagen filaments and thus the basis of the connective tissue itself, the shortwave, energy rich UV B rays affect only the cuticle and may trigger skin cancers. For this reason, sunbeds filter out the latter. Yet one ought to consider the pros and cons of the solarium carefully and, if doubts persist, consult a specialist. The remaining UV A radiation is in any case excessive compared to natural sunlight, its catalytic effect on aging well documented and on the formation of skin cancers still a matter for conjecture.
Sunshine intensifies the development of wrinkles; if proof is needed then it is obvious that the skin of the face and hands age more rapidly than more constantly protected areas such as the stomach or the buttocks. To summarize, "Today's tan is tomorrow's wrinkle". And one more thing liver spots are not simply a matter of getting old.
Sunshine in moderation
It is of course possible to avoid the worst of such damage, most sensibly through a lifelong attitude of respect towards the sun. Sunburn in childhood already increases the possibility of skin cancer in adult life. The skin never forgets!! Suntan lotion, a sunhat, protective clothing and sunbathing in moderation are the best way to avoid premature aging and damage that can all too often prove irreversible.
However, after such intense warnings on the dangers that the sun presents, it should now be stated that a certain amount of solar radiation is vital for life itself. It promotes the production of vitamin D which, in turn, is an important factor in the incorporation of calcium phosphate into, the skeleton and the strengthening of our bones. Today there is little danger of limited access to the fresh air but 100 years ago the situation looked very different. Many children growing up in the twilight of slum housing suffered from rickets, whereby the bones lacked the strength to support ever increasing body weight and the results are the bowed legs characteristic to the condition. So, as far as the sun is concerned, moderation is really the word.
Smoking, stress and nutrition
Smoking is a prime agent of skin aging. The nicotine in tobacco causes the vascular system to contract and thus obstructs the blood’s ability to circulate through the skin. Stress and anxiety have effects not dissimilar, promoting the release of aggressive molecules known as 'free radicals' which attack body cells in their immediate vicinity, in the blood vessels for example. Such damage can be minimized by vitamin C, other vitamins and enzymes that intercept the 'free radicals'. Too few of these protective agents in the bloodstream lead to what is known as "oxidation stress". This subject interests ever more scientists and researchers. Last, but not least, poor dietary habits - too much meat, fat, salt, sugar and alcohol as well as over rapid weight gain or indeed loss lead to degradation of the skin.