How our skin ages depends on a number of external and internal factors like hormonal changes, diet, genes, lifestyle, medications, stress and even the pollution level, sun exposure and climate of the place where we live. Surprisingly, the cosmetics and skin products that promise to treat our wrinkles, meddle with our skin and accelerate ageing, especially those containing ingredients like alcohol, menthol, rough scrubbing agents, harsh cleansing agents, thick emollients and pore clogging waxes.
We believe their claims, thanks to the bombardment of the advertisements that try to convince us to use these products with the so-called ‘studies and clinical trials’ published in some obscure medical journals. The models that sell these to us are mostly celebrities, looking at their best under the layers of carefully done makeup to conceal their own skin flaws and wrinkles. With each shot so carefully edited that these models looks ridiculously perfect to be humans.
But we are humans after all, made of organic matters that decay. We do not need the brain of Albert Einstein to know that a healthy skin is a beautiful skin at any age. A healthy skin not only glows but also performs at its best to keep us healthier.
How our skin protects us
Skin has many functions than just make us look nice. It acts as our frontiers and protects us from the outside world. It intercepts and cuts ultraviolet radiation with the help of specialised pigment cells, called melanocytes. It even turns into a laboratory to manufacture all important vitamin D3 with the help of sunlight.
It acts as our thermostat. In cold weather the skin triggers shivers making the blood vessels contract to retain body heat and keep warm. In warm weather, the sweat glands in the skin produce sweat that evaporates and keeps the body cool. It offers unique advantages for drug input into the body. Trans-dermal (via skin) delivery represents an attractive alternative to oral delivery of drugs and in certain cases, provides an alternative to hypodermic injection too. It finally creates our appearance, elastic tissues such as the skin require a strong structural framework called the extracellular matrix (connective tissue), of adipose (fat cells), cartilage, bone, tendons, and ligaments beneath the skin make us look the way we look. And this contributes to our confidence and in many cases, our self esteem.
Signs of skin ageing
Ageing of the skin starts as early as 25, by 35, the skin starts losing its firmness and fine wrinkles appear, and usually, the ‘ageing’ shows and if there is a loss of muscle tone, sagging of the skin takes place in the 40’s. In the 50’s, the lines of expression become prominent and there appear to be further sagging on the cheeks as well as the neck. The process accelerates if we a) don’t exercise, b) eat unhealthy, c) smoke, d) drink excessively e) are stressed f) have hormonal disturbances g) suffer from a chronic disease and so on. With good diet, exercise and the right attitude, one can keep looking as elegant as possible till the ripe old age. Some good products that protect the skin from sun exposure also help.
Ageing signs can be classified into four main categories: wrinkles/texture, lack of firmness of cutaneous tissues (sagging), vascular disorders, and pigmentation heterogeneities (spots).
An interesting study* shows that photoaged (exposed to sun) women look older than women who protect themselves from the sun. This factor is higher when one is younger. Pigmentation and wrinkles/texture, especially wrinkles around lips, are signs that make a person look older earlier. It is an important observation from this study that the signs of photoaging influence age appreciation through the eyes of other people. Thus, the term “premature skin” could correspond very well to description of photoaged skin, which is actually prematurely aged skin.
An interesting article** had appeared in the British journal of Dermatology about the anatomy of linear wrinkles – “crow’s feet’ and temporal frown lines. The subject of fine criss-cross wrinkles of the face and wrinkling of the general body surface was studied by light and scanning electron microscopy. No histological (study that deals with minute body structures) features distinguished the various wrinkles from surrounding skin. It was concluded that the wrinkle is a configuration change, like the grooves worn into an old glove, without specific structural alterations at the histological level. As regards pathogenesis (changes that lead to a disease), the common setting was found to be deterioration of the elastic tissue network. The skin becomes looser, excessive, and loses the ability to snap back to its original state after being deformed.
Based on above findings one more research paper was published in the same journal in 2010 (G G Hillebrand et al sponsored by P&G Company). Among their findings, the researchers observed that the subjects’ unique pattern of persistent facial wrinkling observed with a neutral expression at 8 years was predicted by the pattern of expression lines observed with smiling at baseline. Having lighter skin colour or having a drier, more alkaline stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the epidermis, consisting of dead cells) baseline was predictive of more wrinkling at year 8. They also found that wrinkling was associated with becoming menopausal, but not necessarily with being menopausal.
What’s different about Indian Skin
Recently the same P&G Company carried out a ‘first-of-its-kind, global study called the Olay Study, that includes Indian skin. The study was conducted across 3 ethnicities, researched amongst 739 women aged 10-48 years and introduced a new study Multi Ethnic Study. It is all about the four pillars of difference between Indian and Western skin. The more we know about different skin types the better because it enables us to design better products that are targeted at specific populations and problems. For example knowing that Indian women have on an average a weaker skin barrier, increasing the level of niacinamide (a barrier-building active) in skin care products would help, or adding new ingredients that one can combine with niacinamide to make it even more effective.
What to look for in an anti-ageing skin product?
The study looked well-designed without tall claims. Some more reading on niacinamide (1 – Bissett D et al. A B vitamin that improves ageing facial skin appearance) threw in some surprises. Also known as vitamin B3 and nicotinic acid, niacinamide is a potent cell-communicating ingredient (cell-communicating ingredients have the ability to tell a skin cell to look, act, and behave more like a normal, healthy intact skin cell would) that offers multiple benefits for ageing skin. Assuming skin is being protected from sun exposure, niacinamide can improve skin’s elasticity, dramatically enhance its barrier function, help erase discolorations, and revive skin’s healthy tone and texture. Topically applied niacinamide has been shown to increase certain substances in skin, prevent skin from losing water content, and stimulate microcirculation in the dermis. It also has a growing reputation for being able to treat an uneven skin tone.
Now we know what ingredients to look for in an anti-ageing skin product but regular exercise, healthy lifestyle and good diet as well as capacity to keep that child like enthusiasm alive in us, keeps us looking young and beautiful at any age.
* Clin. Cosmet. Investig. Dermatol. 2013; 6: 221–232, Published online 2013 Sep 27 – (Frederic Flament et al)
** British Journal of Dermatology (A M Kligman et al, Volume 113, Issue 1, pages 37–42, July 1985)
*** Dermatol Surg. 2005; 31(7 Pt. 2):860-5; Discussion 865. 2 – Gehring W. Nicotinic acid/niacinamide and the skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2004; 3(2):88-93)