Skin damage—what can you do about it? Too much sun, too little moisture, smoking and an inadequate diet impact the health and appearance of your skin. Let’s explore how your skin ages and some skin-care tips to help you avoid skin cancer and wrinkles. Taking good care of your skin keeps it—and you—looking younger for longer.
How skin ages
Your skin is as subject to aging as any other organ in your body. If you’ve put extra stress on your skin—by spending too much time in the sun, smoking, yo-yo dieting, or eating poorly—the natural effects of aging are magnified.
When you’re young, your skin’s turnover rate is every 15 to 18 days which is why you have that youthful glow—a new layer of cells appears every few weeks. When you start approaching your mid-30s, the cell turnover process slows down to about every month. By age 70, the cell regeneration rate can be as long as several months.
Skin is damaged in two ways—by intrinsic factors and by extrinsic factors.
Intrinsic factors are directly related to aging, like a slowdown in cell regeneration:
- The epidermis layer of the skin becomes thinner.
- Cell turnover slows.
- Collagen begins to break down, the subcutaneous layer thins, and the skins elastin is less able to spring back resulting in wrinkles and saggy, baggy skin.
- Oil production from sebaceous glands decreases.
- Melanin production slows, increasing your susceptibility to sun damage and also causing you to appear paler.
- Pores enlarge and become clogged.
- Capillaries and broken blood vessels become more visible, as well as more frequent, due to fragility of the blood vessels as you age.
Extrinsic factors are outside factors, like sun and pollutant exposure. According to the National Institute of Health, 90 percent of visible skin damage is from ultra-violet sources. That means that a great deal of the damage done to your skin may be preventable, or at least modifiable.
- Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun damage the DNA in epidermal cells, often resulting in mutations that can cause cancer.
- UV radiation accelerates the breakdown of collagen in the dermis.
- UV radiation increases the accumulation of abnormal elastin, which leads to increased wrinkling.
- Cigarette smoke constricts blood vessels in the skin and reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach facial tissues, resulting in increased wrinkling and loss of elasticity.
Sun damage and smoking
Sun exposure is one of the easiest skin damages to avoid—use sunscreen and wear a hat!
The number one cause of wrinkles is sun damage—not old age. No matter what your age, lifestyle, or geographic location, your skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB radiation), which can cause irreversible damage to your skin by decreasing its ability to synthesize (manufacture) collagen and elastin. Sun damage can result from long-term or cumulative exposure over the years, or it can show up years after severe sunburn. Sun damage can cause wrinkles, tough, leather, blotchy skin, precancerous growths, basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma skin cancers.
Smoking damages skin by releasing free radicals and also by the repetitive muscle contractions that accompany each puff. Secondhand smoke can be a culprit, too, because it stirs up free radicals. Free radicals initiated by smoking reduce the delivery of needed oxygen and nutrients by their effects on the blood vessels. The smoke also increases certain proteins that break down collagen. Collagen is already decreasing with age, so speeding up this process isn’t doing your skin any favors.
Cellular damage from free radicals isn’t the only problem you can pin on smoke. It also leaves a nasty residue on the surface of your skin, much like the stains on a smoker’s fingertips or the grime on the walls of a smoky bar. You’ve likely seen the classic “smoker’s face,” identified by the number of wrinkles all around the mouth from drawing in on a cigarette, and lines around the eyes from squinting through smoke irritation.
Obviously the way to prevent or reverse the skin damage that smoking causes is to stop smoking. If you quit smoking, but wrinkles and skin damage from past smoking have already occurred, the following tips help reduce already present wrinkles:
- Exercise to increase oxygen to the skin thereby increasing blood flow.
- Drink plenty of water to improve skin integrity (smoking can dehydrate the skin).
- Take extra vitamin A and vitamin C to help overcome previous damage. These vitamins help protect the skin, but they aren’t well absorbed in smokers.
Aggressive skin treatments, such as chemical peels and laser resurfacing, can be costly and often are only temporary. Botox can help paralyze the muscles that cause the wrinkling around the mouth and eyes, and cosmetic fillers can fill the fine crevices in the skin for a better cosmetic appearance.
Protecting your skin
If you don’t smoke, and you do protect your skin from the sun, you’re off to a great start at protecting your skin. Unfortunately, a few other elements can have damaging effects to the skin. These problems aren’t hard to avoid if you remember a few important points:
Decrease your pollution exposure. Pollution is so prevalent that you can’t completely avoid it; car exhaust, chemically infested water, and toxic air have you covered. It’s in your hair, on your skin, in your nose under your nails, and between your toes. You ingest it when you eat your food and drink your water. Pollution doesn’t allow your skin to breathe and function properly, so it promotes and accelerates the aging process.
To combat the effects of pollution, we recommend that you stick to a daily cleansing routine to get rid of as much toxic buildup as possible and be sure to eat foods rich in antioxidants and keep your body hydrated.
Avoid harsh weather conditions and other things that strip moisture from your skin; on the contrary, make sure you stay well hydrated.
Dry skin is a nearly universal problem, but certain factors make you more likely to develop tightness, flakiness, and fine lines. These factors include
- Your age: Skin tends to become drier as you age because your oil producing glands become less active. The lack of oil also causes cells to clump together in flakes or scales. At the same time, the skin-cell regeneration process slows down, and the skin’s ability to hold on to the moisture diminishes. Your complexion can appear rough and dull.
- Your gender: Everyone’s skin changes with age. Women usually experience an increase in dry skin during and after menopause. Men have minimal changes in the moisture of their skin as they age, unless of course they have other damaging risk factors such as smoking.
Extreme weather conditions like temperature and moisture level extremes, biting wind, and stinging cold all wreak havoc on your skin. In the winter, your skin may become dry, red and flaky. In the summer, it may be sweaty, burned and oily. Even though your skin is designed to handle just about anything you throw its way, it still needs time to adjust to these changes. The increased cold or dryness actually affects your skin most when it first occurs; after a few months, your skin has adjusted to the change.
You can control some things. The following activities affect your skin:
- Central air and heating, wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces all reduce humidity and dry your skin in the winter months.
- Frequent showering or bathing, especially if you like hot water and long baths, can break down the lipid barriers in your skin.
- Frequent swimming, particularly in heavily chlorinated pools can have the same effect.
Modify your alcohol intake. Light alcohol intake has some beneficial aspects, particularly in regard to cholesterol levels and the heart. The problem is that drinking too much alcohol puts your entire detox system into overdrive because the liver and kidneys have to filter out a huge amount of additional toxins, and so does your skin. Alcohol also depletes your body of nutrients for healthy hair and skin and accelerates the aging process in your skin. Specifically, it depletes your body of vitamin A, a very important antioxidant. Drinking alcohol in excess also leads to a nutrition deficiency of vitamin B complex, a vital group of nutrients that can fight against skin damage, as well as diarrhea and depression.
To minimize the damage from alcohol, limit the amount of alcoholic drinks to no more than one or two per day for men and no more than one per day for women.
Superfoods for beautiful aging
Superfoods do a lot of things, but trying to turn a frog into a prince might be pushing it. Offering some benefits that can help you live a longer and more vigorous life, however, is definitely within their call of duty.
Eating superfoods helps you stay youthful, and the earlier you start with superfoods, the more age-defying benefits you can gain. Of course, these foods need to be a piece of the whole puzzle, not the sole solution for beautiful skin and a healthy body. Don’t forget about smart lifestyle choices—like exercising regularly, giving up smoking, and so on—too.
Keeping that youthful glow
The health and beauty sections of every store from Wal-Mart to Macy’s are stuffed with creams, lotions, cleansers, moisturizers, and make-up designed to minimize the signs of aging. But a diet that includes superfoods can do just as much—and even more—to keep your skin healthy and young-looking.
The skin deals with so many different factors—sun, pollution, extreme weather and other irritants—that it needs a continual supply of antioxidants to help protect it. Fortunately, superfoods are chock-full of many of the main nutrients your skin needs, including:
- Vitamins A, E, and C: These are all common additions to popular skin creams because they’re helpful in protecting the skin and vital in repairing damaged skin. Common foods that contain high levels of these vitamins include carrots (vitamin A); nuts and seeds (vitamin E); spinach (vitamins A and E); and broccoli, strawberries, and oranges (vitamin C).” because of their many benefits, bioflavonoids aren’t really vitamins. They’re the pigments found in the skins of colorful fruits and vegetables. These pigments contain concentrated antioxidants that actually are more powerful than vitamins. They help increase vitamin C levels and reduce destruction of collagen in the skin.
- Zinc and selenium: Zinc, which is active in the synthesis of collage, is another common addition to sunscreens and skin lotions. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of zinc, as are nuts and beans. Selenium exhibits antioxidant effects that have been found to reduce skin cancer. Selenium is found in fish and nuts.
- Bioflavonoids: Sometimes known as “vitamin P” because of their many benefits, bioflavonoids aren’t really vitamins. They’re the pigments found in the skins of colorful fruits and vegetables. These pigments contain concentrated antioxidants that actually are more powerful than vitamins. They help increase vitamin C levels and reduce destruction of collagen in the skin.
- Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA): This fatty acid made by the body and found in foods such as broccoli and spinach. Although the body produces ALA, it doesn’t make nearly enough to be helpful for fighting disease and inflammation. Plus, your body produces less as you age, so making sure you get enough from your diet becomes even more important the older you get. Alpha-lipoic acid not only has antioxidant properties, but also can help recycle some vitamins and other antioxidants.
Staying hydrated, decreasing stress and getting adequate rest also do wonders for your skin’s health. Check out these tips:
*Agin, Brent, and Sharon Perkins. Healthy Aging for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub., 2008. Print.
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About Priority You MD
Priority You MD provides personalized, integrative healthcare for general wellness, anti-aging, athletic performance and weight management as well as more complex medical issues. In addition, our facility also provides aesthetic services and fitness training. Combining diet, nutrition and exercise with evidence based medicine and preventative therapies, our goal is to help our patients achieve and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.
Priority You MD utilizes IV therapy protocols from Trim® Nutrition. These proprietary nutrient injections are formulated by doctors and compounding pharmacists who use the highest quality materials and follow strict manufacturing protocols in a class 10,000 compounding facility.
Headquartered in Clearwater, Florida, Trim® Nutrition and Priority You MD’s clinical staff of physicians, pharmacists, registered nurses, and research and development specialists are dedicated to the mission of Making Bodies Better™.