We all know, and at least partly accept, that as we get older our skin naturally begins to develop fine lines, pigmentation, and wrinkles. A symbol, for many, of decades of life lived, experiences gained, and wisdom gathered. But why is that some seem to develop these classic signs of aging faster than others? We all know one person that when they told you their actually age, your jaw drops in disbelief.."You're 60!?". What makes these individuals different from the rest? Is it in their family gene pool? Is it their skincare? They're environment? What are they doing that keeps their skin looking so healthy and youthful?
What Happens to Our Skin as we Age?
Multiple factors contribute to accelerated skin aging. Chronological (time -related) skin aging is a product of natural physiological (chemical and physical) changes that occur. Put simply, overtime gravity does take its toll on our skin. There is, however, more to skin aging than time and gravity. Here are a few other changes that occur as we age that reduce the skins youthful appearance(1,2):
Decreased blood flow to the skin, impairing wound healing and reducing new skin cell growth
Loss of skin hydration and resilience as a result of decreased elastic fiber networks and healthy cellular matrix (proteoglycans and collagen)
Reduced ability to synthesize Vitamin D through skin exposure to natural sunlight
Decreased rate of skin cell turnover, and reduced production of new skin cells
Decreased sub-dermal (superficial) fat contributing to wrinkles and sagging
Photo-aging: damages accumulated by the sun's ultraviolet light including altered pigmentation, and roughened, leathery skin texture
How to Slow Down or Reduce Skin Aging Naturally
Skin health has much more to do with the environment than it does genetics (though having good genetics does help). I'm going to share some of the best skincare practices to keep your skin looking healthy and youthful, naturally.
Smoking is one of the fastest ways to accelerate skin aging(3,4). Cigarettes produce a massive amount of oxidative damage. The reactive oxygen species created by smoking quickly use up the body's natural stores of antioxidants such as Vitamin C, E, and selenium. In doing so, it doesn't leave much leftover in the body to help create healthy skin. Vitamin C is essential to strong collagen cross-linking (the proteins in our skin). When depleted, it weakens the production of these strong, protective proteins, thus weakening and damaging the skin. So, if there weren't already enough reasons to quit smoking, developing fewer wrinkles could be a key motivating factor.
Sensible Sun Exposure
Photo-aging is another key component of accelerated skin aging(5). Over time the accumulated effects of the sun's ultraviolet light lead to pigmentation, wrinkling, roughened skin texture, and ultimately skin cancer. Small, sensible amounts of sun exposure are important for natural Vitamin D synthesis, but 10-15 minutes a day is enough to get the recommended amount of Vitamin D. Use natural methods of sun protection such as seeking forested tree areas and adequate protective clothing to reduce excessive UV-damage. Pro Tip: Opt for physical sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and work by reflecting and scattering ultraviolet and visible radiation to protect your skin.
A diet rich in antioxidants can reduce the signs of skin aging(6-8). Studies have shown that diets rich in vegetables, olive oil, fish, and legumes, and lower in butter, margarine, milk products, and sugar have a protective effect against skin aging. As mentioned, Vitamin C and other important antioxidants and phytochemicals (food-chemicals and nutrients) help create a healthy skin barrier and rejuvenate skin cells. Diets richer in plant-based antioxidants also help protect against UV-exposure related sun damage. Healthy fats are also essential for creating healthy cell membranes, and for increasing the absorption of important fat-soluble nutrients. These nutrients include Vitamins A, D, E and K, all of which are required for optimal skin health. On the other hand, sugary and refined carbohydrate foods damage the skin by creating what's called "advanced glycation end products" or "AGES", for short. These AGES… well, literally age you. These inflammatory molecules attach to healthy tissues, damaging their structure, and weakens the proteins of the skin (collagen and proteoglycans) leading to wrinkles, loss of hydration, and accelerated aging. So, reduce simple processed carbohydrates such as candies, pastries, and flours, and choose more healthy fats, whole foods, and antioxidant-rich plant-based options instead! Bonus: Dark chocolate (70% or more cocoa) has been found to significantly decrease the effects of photoaging, and reduce skin wrinkles. So have your (dark) chocolate and you're youthful skin too!
Stress & Sleep Management
Adequate quality and quantity of sleep significantly increase our body's natural antioxidant capacity. Deep sleep allows for greater melatonin levels to be released from the Pineal gland in the brain, which naturally decreases with age. Melatonin is an important antioxidant, and master antioxidant regulator, helping fight off oxidative damage to the skin(9). Additionally, deep sleep helps boost the release of growth hormones and other growth factors which are important for stimulating new skin cell growth - creating that skin "glow"(10). Additionally, stress (which causes sleep issues for many) can significantly impact the stress hormone cortisol. When stress and cortisol are chronically elevated, it may have detrimental effects on our skin health. High cortisol can cause blood sugar imbalances, thinning of the skin, and loss of lean muscle mass, which all contribute to accelerated skin aging.
Exercise for Healthier Skin
Regular moderate-intensity exercise not only affects your skeletal muscle but rather triggers many other hormonal responses associated with anti-aging effects(11,13). Resistance exercise can help naturally boost growth hormone levels, improve blood sugar balance, increases blood flow to the skin, and boost the body's natural antioxidant defenses, all of which combat wrinkles and aging.
Holistic, Healthy, and Beautiful.
If there weren't already enough reasons to quit smoking, start exercising more, or eat a healthy diet, youthful skin may be a great motivator. It truly goes to show that our skin does directly reflect the health of the rest of our body, and that beauty starts from within.
Up Next… Best supplement stack and topical therapies for skin anti-aging! Vitamins, Nutrients, Proteins, Collagen, Proteoglycans, Retinol, and more!
Want to upgrade your skincare routine? Book a free meet and greet to discuss your skin health!
- Dr. Randi Brown, ND