How Our Skin Evolves as We Grow Older

Skin changes are one of the most common and obvious signs of aging. The skin undergoes many changes over time. These changes can be slowed or accelerated by a variety of factors, including diet, genetics, sun exposure and lifestyle habits. While some people may go to extremes such as Botox to help eliminate the signs of aging skin, understanding these changes and how to control them can help skin stay healthy and youthful even into later life.

Loss of Elasticity

The skin possesses a great deal of connective tissue called elastin. This tissue is responsible for keeping the skin tight and allowing it to recover its shape after being stretched or pressured. A person can think of this like a massive system of microscopic rubber bands woven all throughout their skin.

Similar to a rubber band that has been stretched many times, the elastin in skin begins to break down and function less efficiently over time. As the skin loses elasticity, it is more likely to develop permanent wrinkles. Skin wrinkles from facial expressions and sleep position that vanished in younger years may remain. Skin will also start to sag.

The greatest contributor to elastin breakdown in skin is sun exposure. The UV light from the sun causes even more damage to elastin and may also damage the skin in other ways and prevent healing. Those who tan often, and especially those who get sunburn frequently, will show greater signs of skin aging earlier. Smoking and exposure to toxins or chemicals is also a major contributor to elastin breakdown.

While certain medications or topical creams can help restore elastin, it is much better to prevent the breakdown by limiting sun exposure, not smoking and maintaining a healthy diet full of beneficial vitamins, oils and proteins that support skin health.

POUNDS OF SKIN WE SHED EACH YEAR

Pounds of Skin Shed in a Lifetime

Thinning Blood Vessels

The skin is filled with many tiny blood vessels called capillaries. As a person ages, the walls of these blood vessels become thinner and more fragile. This means the blood vessels can be damaged more easily and cause minor internal bleeding. An older person’s ability to heal also tends to be less than that of a young person, so minor bleeding and bruising may take longer to stop and fade. It is common for an older person to bruise from minor impacts such as bumping a hard surface that would never have left a bruise before. Usually these conditions are not serious, but major bruising across the body for no apparent reason or bruises that remain for weeks without healing may be signs of a more serious condition.

Thinning Fat Layers

Healthy skin has a thin layer of fatty tissue between the skin and muscles. Over time, this fat layer tends to get thinner even in a person who may be overweight in other areas. This is due to the breakdown of the fat cells rather than any significant change in diet or caloric intake.

While some people may rejoice at a potential loss of fat, losing this particular fat layer has little to no benefits. The fat layer provides important structure for the skin, and losing it may increase the appearance of sags or wrinkles and may make the face look boney and skeletal. The fat is also an important layer of insulation and padding. Losing it may increase a person’s sensitivity to heat or cold and may further increase the chance of serious bruising from bumps or falls.

Decreased Oil Production

The skin is covered in oil glands that produce a continuous layer of valuable natural oils. These oils help to protect the skin and retain moisture. Over time, these glands may not work as well, producing less oil. Women are generally affected more than men.

Skin that loses its natural oil production is more likely to get dry, scratchy and itchy. In severe cases, it may crack or even bleed. Dryness can be decreased or prevented by keeping the air properly humidified, especially in the winter, and avoiding long or very hot showers or baths. The skin can also be dried out by using too much soap or other harsh cleaning chemicals. If skin becomes very dry, lotions and moisturizers may help. It is important to choose products that are free of many harsh or synthetic chemicals. Lotions with large amounts of aloe vera are usually the best.

Decreased and Uneven Pigmentation

The skin contains many pigment producing cells called melanocytes. These cells are responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that results in tanned and darker skin. The number of melanocytes decreases with age, and the melanocytes that remain tend to get bigger. This results in older skin looking thinner, paler and more translucent than younger skin. It may also be much more difficult for skin to tan, and it may burn much more easily.

The enlarged melanocytes may create dark spots or splotches, like very large moles, on the skin. These blotches are more likely to appear in areas that have received more sun exposure or were recently exposed to the sun.

Keeping skin healthy is more difficult as a person ages, but it is not impossible. A healthy diet and proper hydration become even more important. Reducing sun exposure is also critical. An older person should always wear clothing that helps protect from the sun and should always wear sunscreen when exposing themselves to a lot of direct sunlight. Younger people can keep in mind that the care they give their skin now will pay off a lot more as they age. Most skin damage from the sun or chemicals is not apparent in younger years, but it will dramatically affect skin later on.

Sources And Further Reading

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/skin-care/art-20048237
https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004014.htm
http://www.webmd.com/beauty/cosmetic-procedures-aging-skin#1