Skin aging: the signs of aging and the skin aging process

Understanding skin aging How does skin age and how should I care for it?

Our skin ages for a variety of different reasons. Many of the causes of skin ageing are entirely natural and cannot be altered. However, there are several external factors that cause skin to age prematurely which can be controlled as part of a holistic approach to your lifestyle and skincare.

This article identifies ageing skin’s main signs and symptoms, the main internal and external causes, and how best to care for your skin as you age.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

What are the signs of skin ageing?

From around the age of 25 the first signs of ageing start to become apparent on the surface of the skin. Starting with fine lines and a loss of moisture, skin’s ageing process progresses over time and can be categorised into three main signs:

Wrinkles. Fine lines and wrinkles are the first noticeable signs of skin ageing. Small shallow wrinkles such as crow’s feet and laughter lines typically appear in your 20s and 30s around your eyes. These are followed by wrinkles on the forehead.

Known as dynamic wrinkles, as they are only visible when the skin moves with facial expressions, over time they become more prominent and evolve into permanent wrinkles that are visible when the face is static.

 

Loss of volume. The skin’s structure changes as it ages, and by our 40s most people experience a loss of volume, and less definition of facial contours due to sagging skin. As skin loses volume it can change the face’s appearance to look negative, sad or tired.

It can be difficult to identify a loss of volume, however more obvious signs include a flattening of the cheeks, a wider jawline or appearance of a ‘turkey neck’, and bleeding lipstick as corners of the mouth begin to point downwards.

 

Loss of elasticity & deep wrinkles. The next stage of skin’s ageing process is a loss of elasticity and firmness. A deepening of wrinkles is also typical of mature skin as its elastin and collagen levels decline, resulting in a weaker structure.

Mature skin also becomes drier and can appear ‘crepey’, losing the radiance often associated with youthful skin. Our skin is as individual as we are so these changes become visible at different ages, but they are most commonly experienced by those who are 50+.

Fine lines are some of the first signs of ageing
Fine lines and wrinkles are usually the first visible sign of skin aging.
Sagging skin is a sign of a loss of volume
Sagging skin is a sign of loss of volume.
Mature skin displays a loss of elasticity and deeper wrinkles
As our skin loses elasticity it becomes less firm and deeper wrinkles form.
SKIN'S AGEING PROCESS

Skin’s structure & ageing process

Whilst the signs of ageing appear on the surface, skin ageing takes place in every layer of the skin. Understanding the skin’s structure and ageing process as well as the signs of ageing is key to informing your choices about treatment and care.

1. Epidermal layers

The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin and acts as a barrier to keep moisture in and protect your body from external toxins and bacteria. New skin cells form at the innermost layer and migrate up towards the surface of the skin where they die and are shed off.

As skin ages its cell turnover slows, as does its production of sebum and hyaluronic acid which are vital for the skin’s ability to retain moisture. The skin then becomes drier and rougher, and as a result, fine lines and wrinkles appear.

Over time the epidermis also becomes more sensitive to the sun’s rays. The skin also becomes less efficient at healing itself, and a reduced immune function can lead to an increase in skin infections together with slower wound healing.

2. Dermal layers

The dermal layers are the firm and elastic middle layer of the skin. Its structure mainly consists of collagen, elastin and connective tissues, and it is rich in blood vessels.

From the age of 25 onwards, the skin’s collagen levels decrease by roughly 1% each year. This is paired with a decline in functional elastin and leads to a compromised structure, making fine lines and wrinkles more likely.

A weaker structure also makes the skin more prone to damage and broken capillaries, leading to reduced micro-circulation. The skin is then less efficient at delivering nutrition and oxygen to the surface, which leads to a decrease in the radiance enjoyed by youthful skin.

3. Subdermal layers

The innermost layers are responsible for storing energy whilst padding and insulating the body. Here the most notable changes are the reduction in the size and number of lipid-storing cells. This results in sagging skin and a loss of volume, leading to deep wrinkles and hollow temples and cheeks.

Schematic showing the skin's structure
The skin ageing process affects every layer: 1) Epidermal layers, 2) Dermal layers, 3) Subdermal layers
CAUSES & TRIGGERS

What are the internal causes of skin ageing?

Some of the causes of skin ageing are inevitable - these factors are natural and are also known as internal, intrinsic or chronological ageing. Our biological age determines structural changes in the skin and the efficiency of cell functions, and these slow down over time.

Hormonal influences. Decreasing levels of estrogen (instruction giving hormones) result in reduced messaging between the cells.

A poorer blood supply to the skin means the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the skin’s surface is impeded. The radiance that is a feature of young skin fades, and skin becomes duller.

Genetics. Genetics play a key role in how skin ages. The phototype and skin type we are born with make a difference to how quickly signs of ageing appear on the skin's surface. For example:

  • Fair or phototype I – II and/or sensitive skin is more prone to wrinkles at an earlier age than darker phototype V - VI
  • Phototype III can be prone to uneven skin tone, but wrinkles appear at a later age than for other phototypes
Schematic showing strong intra-dermal connections in younger skin
Connections between skin layers allow moisture and nutrients to be delivered efficiently to the visible upper layers.
Schematic showing impeded nutrient transfer in mature skin
Over time these connections and systems slow down resulting in visible skin ageing.

What are the external causes of skin ageing?

The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin and acts as a barrier to keep moisture in and protect your body from external toxins and bacteria. New skin cells form at the innermost layer and migrate up towards the surface of the skin where they die and are shed off.

As skin ages its cell turnover slows, as does its production of sebum and hyaluronic acid which are vital for the skin’s ability to retain moisture. The skin then becomes drier and rougher, and as a result, fine lines and wrinkles appear.

Over time the epidermis also becomes more sensitive to the sun’s rays. The skin also becomes less efficient at healing itself, and a reduced immune function can lead to an increase in skin infections together with slower wound healing.

 

Sun. The sun’s rays are the primary external cause of skin ageing via oxidative stress. Skin damage caused by the sun is known as photoageing, and uneven pigmentation is often one of the first visible signs of ageing to appear.

Pollution. Exposure to air pollution can trigger the release of skin damaging free radicals. Pollution also worsens the effects of sun exposure, further accelerating oxidative stress.

Smoking. The chemicals and nicotine contained in cigarettes increase the number of free radicals in the skin. Like pollution, they also intensify the effects of sun exposure.

Nutrition. Antioxidants are molecules with the ability to neutralise the free radicals that damage skin and speed up skin ageing. Eating lots of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables is an important part of caring for our skin as it ages.

Woman shielding her face from the sun
Photoaging is a result of over-exposure to the sun’s UV light
Pollution can accelerate skin's ageing
Pollution can accelerate the effects of free radical damage, particularly when coupled with sun exposure.

Inappropriate skincare. Skin will age more quickly if it is poorly cared for or if you use products that irritate your skin. Thorough cleansing using gentle products appropriate for your skin type, together with the regular application of products targeted at your skin’s primary concern, will help to care for skin.

SOLUTIONS

How best to care for ageing skin and reduce premature skin ageing

Being influenced by both natural (internal) and controllable (external) factors, a holistic approach to your lifestyle choices and skincare is best in order to prevent premature skin ageing and to reduce the visible signs of ageing.

Lifestyle and sleep. Maintaining an active lifestyle and limiting your exposure to pollution helps to minimise the oxidative stress  your skin is subjected to. High quality sleep is particularly important in allowing your body to recover and repair itself.

Nutrition. A balanced, healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, will ensure an intake of antioxidants that can help to limit the damaging effects of free radicals on the skin.

As much variety as possible should be included, but some foods are known to be particularly high in antioxidants and might even have a skin protecting effect: carrots, apricots, other orange and yellow fruit and vegetables, blueberries, leafy green vegetables, bell peppers, tomatoes, beans and other pulses, oily fish (such as salmon) and nuts.

Smoking. Stopping smoking will significantly reduce the number of free radicals you expose your skin to. As well as improving your skin’s appearance, quitting will improve your physical health too.

A good night’s sleep can help as part of a holistic approach to skin aging.
Prevent skin aging with a good night’s sleep
A healthy diet should be part of any holistic skin care approach
Eating more of the right foods should be part of a holistic approach to skin care.

Skin care. A good skincare routine is an essential part of a holistic approach to treating all signs of ageing. However, as your skin changes over time, the way you care for it should also reflect its changing needs, be it by targeting fine lines for younger skin, or boosting elasticity for mature skin.

Daily skin care can ensure your skin stays healthy and in good condition. A basic skincare routine should consist of three steps: cleanse, care and sun protection:

  • Cleanse. Remove make-up, dirt and chemicals from your skin which may have been deposited from air pollution in order to minimise oxidative stress. Mild but effective, the Eucerin DermatoCLEAN range of cleansers help skin to breathe better.
  • Care. Replenish and hydrate your skin with products that address your primary ageing concern:
  1. Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler has been specially formulated to address the first signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles.
  2. Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler + Volume-Lift addresses sagging skin and a loss of volume by plumping up deep wrinkles and redefining facial contours for a lifting effect.
  3. Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler + Elasticity nourishes mature skin, plumps up deep wrinkles and improves skin’s elasticity.

Cleansing forms the first step of all good skincare routines
Regular cleansing removes pollution & chemicals that can cause oxidative stress.
The Eucerin Hyaluron Filler range
Eucerin's three Anti-Age ranges combat the first signs of ageing, reduce wrinkles, and restore skin's volume and elasticity.

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