Skin Deep

10 causes of aging skin — and what to do about it

Joanne Katsigiannis of Bensenville, Ill., applies a facial moisturizing cream at her boyfriend's home in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005. Some young adults say they want to reverse the effects the sun has already had on their skin. Others already are feeling social pressure to retain their fresh-faced looks. "Instead of starting when you're 40 or 45, you might as well start now," says Katsigiannis.
Joanne Katsigiannis of Bensenville, Ill., applies a facial moisturizing cream at her boyfriend's home in San Jose, Calif. on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2005. Some young adults say they want to reverse the effects the sun has already had on their skin. Others already are feeling social pressure to retain their fresh-faced looks. "Instead of starting when you're 40 or 45, you might as well start now," says Katsigiannis. AP File Photo

There are a variety of reasons the skin begins to show signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, loss of firmness and lack of radiance. A lifetime of accumulated sun exposure, free radicals and the natural aging process all play a role in skin aging.

Here’s a closer look at what’s actually happening beneath the skin’s surface — and how you can improve the visible side effects.

Under-active cells: The cells responsible for producing collagen, hyaluronic acid and heparan sulfate (a protein that plays a role in maintaining collagen and elastin) get sluggish over time. These naturally occurring components of the skin are important because they give youthful skin its strength, structure and plumpness.

Overactive cells: Dark spots and uneven skin tone are a result of sun damage. UV rays prompt cells to produce excess pigment to defend the skin against sun damage.

Glycation: When sugars bind to collagen, it becomes stiff and unable to lend the skin strength. As collagen gets compromised, the skin becomes thin, fragile and wrinkled.

DNA damage: UV exposure causes damage to skin cells’ DNA that can lead to skin cancer.

Mitochondria: When these cellular “power plants” begin functioning less efficiently, the cells do not have enough energy to repair DNA damage or produce new collagen, hyaluronic acid and heparan sulfate.

Lysosomes: When these cellular “garbage disposals” don’t function optimally, toxins build up and damage the cells.

Slow cell turnover: Stem cells slow down with age and produce less “baby” cells. This causes a dramatic increase in the time it takes for cells to move from the lower layers of the skin to the surface where they naturally shed. These slows the healing process and keeps dull, older cells on the skin longer.

Reduced hydration levels: With less hyaluronic acid, cells lose the ability to hold on to water. The skin’s barrier becomes less efficient over time as well, and allows water to evaporate from the skin.

Muscle movement: Years of muscle contractions around the eyes lead to a decrease in collagen and elastin and the appearance of crow’s feet. Since there’s no way to increase elastin production after it plateaus during puberty, prevention is key.

Inflammation: There are many causes of inflammation, but they all lead to the destruction of collagen, elastin, hyaluronic acid and heparan sulfate — and visible signs of aging.

How to prevent signs of aging skin

Skincare: The easiest way to slow skin aging is to use a sunscreen to block UV rays along with a vitamin C antioxidant serum that neutralizes free radicals every morning. At night, retinoids help increase the skin’s production of collagen.

Lifestyle: To prevent glycation, keep blood sugar levels low with a healthy diet and stress reduction.

In-office treatments: At-home anti-aging efforts can be greatly enhanced with a variety of office-based procedures.

Skin tightening: Technologies such as Ultherapy, Venus Legacy and VelaShape help improve skin sagging by causing collagen to contract.

Botulinum toxins: Injections of Botox, Dysport and Xeomin relax muscles to prevent and improve expression-related wrinkles.

Hyaluronic acid fillers: Juvéderm, Voluma, Volbella, Restylane and Belotero replace lost hyaluronic acid to increase skin volume and hydration (and smooth lines and furrows).

Lasers, light treatments, chemical peels: These treatments are ideal for evening skin tone, fading brown spots and reducing redness caused by inflammation.

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.

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