Most people don’t realize it, but almost 90% of the aging process is within our control. YAY!
Let me explain:
After age 20, 1% less collagen is produced in the dermis layer of your skin every year.
Let that sink in for a minute. Now, I have good news, and bad news.
I’ll start with the bad news: Aging is inevitable. After you reach the age of 20, your skin will produce 1% less collagen every year. By your mid-twenties, your skin will start to age, and you will eventually develop fine lines and wrinkles. Tragic, I know.
But, here’s the good news: You have A LOT of control over aging skin.
TBH, the whole concept of aging is superrr complicated. But, don’t worry. I’ve done all of the research for you, and packaged it all up into this super cute blog post. Ready?
In order to fully understand how the skin ages (and how to control it), you need to first understand the skin itself.
Layers of the Skin:
The skin has three layers: epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue.
1. The Epidermis
The top, outermost layer is the epidermis.
The epidermis is actually comprised of five different layers in and of itself, but you don’t need to worry about that. What you do need to know is that the epidermis is the part of the skin that you see. In some areas, it’s thick and tough (feet, elbows), while in other areas, it’s thin and delicate (eyelids).
The primary role of the epidermis is to act as a protective, waterproof barrier. It locks moisture and nutrients inside, and is also responsible for giving the skin its color, or pigment, by producing melanin.
The epidermis is constantly renewing itself through a process called differentiation. The epidermis is made up of cells known as keratinocytes. The major protein found in keratinocytes is keratin, which makes the epidermis a very keratin rich layer of skin.
Over the course of about one month, basal cells (or basal keratinocytes) travel from the bottom layer of the epidermis to the top layer through a process called keratinization. Keratinocytes are constantly being pushed by new cells, eventually reaching the top layer of the epidermis where they flake off via a process called desquamation.
2. The Dermis
The next, thicker layer of the skin is the dermis. There’s a lot going on here.
The dermis is where the renewal process of the epidermis all begins. This is where the fibroblast cells, collagen, elastin, blood vessels, enzymes, nerves, and glands (sweat, oil) are located.
Fibroblast cells are responsible for the production of collagen and elastin.
But, wait. Why are collagen and elastin so important? Pretty much, these two proteins are the key to youthful skin.
Collagen is the most abundant protein and primary connective tissue found in the body. The main functions of collagen are to provide strength, structure, and foundation to the skin. About 80% of the dermis is collagen. It’s what keeps wrinkles at bay, by keeping the skin firm.
Another protein, elastin, as the name implies, is elastic. Elastin allows the skin to bounce back to its original shape when stretched (i.e. facial expression). The main functions of elastin are elasticity and softness.
Collagen and elastin are often referred to together because they go hand in hand. When you make a facial expression, for example, elastin is what allows the skin to return to the original shape and structure provided by collagen.
The dermis also contains glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Glycosaminoglycans are polysaccharides, or amino sugars. They are water binding (humectant) substances. Together, GAGs and water create a substance that fills the dermis, which creates turgidity (bounce) and hydration. One of the most well-known GAGs is hyaluronic acid, which is a common anti-aging skin care ingredient you might be familiar with.
The primary role of GAGs is to support, maintain, protect, and lubricate collagen and elastin. Collectively, GAGs, collagen, and elastin make up the Extracellular Matrix (ECM). The breakdown of the ECM as a result of aging results in the development of fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, thinning, dryness, etc.
3. Subcutaneous Tissue
The third, bottom layer of the skin is the subcutaneous tissue, or the hypodermis. To put it simply, the subcutaneous tissue is made up of fat. It keeps the skin insulated and looking plump and full.
Okay, enough of the boring stuff. Now let’s talk about the real reason why you’re reading this article – What causes the skin to age?
Intrinsic Aging vs. Extrinsic Aging
There are two main factors that cause the skin to age:
1. Intrinsic Aging (Genetics)
2. Extrinsic Aging (Environment & Lifestyle)
1. Intrinsic Aging
Intrinsic aging, or chronological aging, is genetic.
I often have people tell me that I’m wasting my time, money, and energy being so obsessed with anti-aging and skincare because at the end of the day, it’s all genetics.
Well, I’m here to tell you that those people are seriously misinformed.
The reality is that only part of the aging process is hereditary and controlled by genetics- this only accounts for 10% of aging!
Skin color, skin type, and pore size are all components of intrinsic aging, which cannot be altered.
Intrinsic aging is a very slow process that naturally begins in your mid to late twenties.
In the epidermis, the number of keratinocytes start to decrease and the differentiation process slows, which results in a decrease in cell turnover. The epidermis also starts to thin, which allows moisture to be released, ultimately leading to dry skin.
In the dermis, the number of fibroblast cells decreases. Collagen and elastin levels slowly start to decrease, the ECM starts to weaken, glycosaminoglycans decreases, and blood vessels start to disappear.
Signs of intrinsic aging include: thin epidermis, dermis and bone shrinkage, sagging skin, dry skin, fine lines and wrinkles, large pores, redness, decreased healing ability, decreased fat
2. Extrinsic Aging
Extrinsic aging, or exogeneous aging, is the skin’s response to external damage from the environment, lifestyle, and nutrition.
Both extrinsic and intrinsic aging look very similar. However, extrinsic aging tends to appear much earlier in life. Extrinsic aging amplifies the effects of intrinsic aging.
Extrinsic aging accounts for the other 90% of the aging process. The good news is, you actually can control it by changing your lifestyle behaviors.
The sun is responsible for almost 80% of the extrinsic aging process. Exposure to harmful UVA/UVB rays accelerate the breakdown of the Extracellular Matrix (ECM). This is often referred to as photoaging.
Other contributors to extrinsic aging inside: smoking, alcohol consumption, stress, sleep deprivation, sleep positions, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, facial expressions, pollution, toxins, and gravity.
Signs of extrinsic aging include: thick epidermis, thin dermis, increase in roughness, uneven skin tone and pigmentation, growths, sun/age spots, excessive and deep wrinkles, sagging skin, glycation, and cross linking of collagen and elastin.
Again, the good news is that we have A LOT of control over how our skin ages.