Genetic vs. Environmental Aging
The two main determining factors of how the skin ages are genetic (chronological, natural, intrinsic) and environmental (variable, extrinsic) aging. Genetic and environmental aging, although different, produce the same outcome: skin that has become less vibrant and healthy, requiring the assistance of laser skin treatments like photofacial rejuvenation, Fraxel® Skin Resurfacing and BOTOX®.Chronological aging occurs, as its name suggests, over time and is a natural process wherein the body begins to lose its inherent reparative and regenerative qualities due to a general level of decline. In our 30s and 40s we begin to notice substantial changes in the texture, colour, moisture level and plumpness of our skin that is caused by the body being unable to maintain itself at the level it did when we were younger.Environmental aging, on the other hand, occurs when the body begins to show signs of outside harm that has accumulated over the years. Whether from excessive sun or years of smoking, extrinsic factors (that we may not have noticed at the time) all add up to cause accelerated aging that eventually becomes reflected in our appearance.
Genetic aging can be most simply described as fate. Through the evidence provided by our family and the combination of genes that make up any given individual we all possess a type of roadmap that dictates how our outward aging will occur and what that will mean for our appearance as the years go by.
Regardless of family history and personal genetics, however, the skin begins to age in much the same manner for all of us. As we get older, our body changes in many different ways and some of these signs of aging involve the deterioration of our natural processes. When we’re young our skin is able to completely renew itself once every two to three weeks but, once we get older and our regenerative systems stop working as efficiently, the same process can take from four to six weeks to occur.
As a natural result of this, skin begins to thin, dry and lose shape. Thinner skin isn’t able to receive or absorb as many nutrients as healthier, fuller skin. This ends up creating a cycle wherein, because skin is naturally thinning, cellular functions aren’t able to carry out the processes responsible for thicker skin in the first place.Thin skin isn’t able to receive as many nutrients because, as it loses volume, the natural layer separating the dermis and the epidermis layers becomes smaller in surface area, providing less of a “buffer space”. When this space reduces in size, nutrient exchange and waste product expulsion is significantly slowed — and both of these processes are necessary for giving the skin what it needs to restore and clean itself through cellular metabolic systems and free radical rejection.
Another effect of this “starvation” of the cells is that the nutrients required for producing collagen become less available, further thinning skin and compounding the problem.As collagen becomes less available the skin is no longer able to properly support itself and this is when the wrinkles, sagginess and fine lining that we recognize in aging skin begins to occur. When collagen levels have decreased it begins to be replaced by macromolecules called glycosaminoglycans — a substance that helps to support collagen in younger skin — that are now responsible for providing structural support in collagen’s stead. Elastin begins to fill the structural role vacated by collagen as well but, because elastin can more easily become calcified, it fails to provide the same plump, full look that collagen offers in young skin. Glycosaminoglycans also aren’t as strong as collagen and, once it and elastin have begun to fill the void, skin begins to show even further signs of aging by sagging, thinning and becoming less flexible.
Environmental or photo-aging involves many of the same processes as listed above but is exasperated and somewhat altered by excessive sun exposure along with a number of other factors.
UV Rays and Photo-Aging
Photo-aging begins to occur when the skin is frequently exposed to ultraviolet solar (UV) rays in the form of natural or artificial sunlight. The skin reacts to UV rays in a number of ways and most of them involve a level of deterioration in quality. The skin’s collagen and elastin fibres begin to oxidise through sun exposure, changing structure at the most fundamental level and, in part, breaking down due to the cellular dehydration that comes from the sun drawing out moisture from the skin. Ultraviolet light also works to produce enzymes in the skin that can lead to an accelerated breakdown of existing collagen, furthering natural aging processes (like the genetic, intrinsic skin aging mentioned above) and leading to the wrinkles, sagginess and lining that comes with insufficient collagen levels.UV rays also lead to wrinkling and cell mutation. Cell mutation can manifest as abnormal colouration or skin texture or become severe enough that benign or malignant tumours arise. As the skin is subjected to ultraviolet rays it loses moisture too, leading to the leathery look that frequent tanners develop with time. This is why sun exposure stands as one of the single most influential of all environmental factors pertaining to skin aging.Aside from exposure to UV rays, other environmental factors also play into how the skin begins to age.
Other Environmental Factors
Cigarette smoke is one of these factors, taking a large toll on skin health whether you spend time around it or are a smoker yourself. The negative effects of cigarette smoke are so substantial that they are often likened to those caused by UV ray exposure by researchers. This is because smoke dries the skin (reducing moisture levels and the ability of skin layers to reproduce collagen and elastin in sufficient amounts) and because cigarettes lead to an overall depletion of the body’s vitamin C levels. Without enough vitamin C the immune system weakens and the skin loses one of the key tools it needs for maintaining the collagen and moisture levels necessary for plump, youthful skin.
Alcohol use is another environmental factor that can be avoided for those of us concerned with keeping our skin young and healthy. Heavy drinkers can often be spotted by a ruddy, reddish appearance that manifests primarily on the face. This happens because alcohol dilates small blood vessels, increasing them in size so that more blood flows through them, closer to the skin’s surface. Alcohol further damages these blood vessels over time, leading to vessels becoming noticeable on the skin’s surface along with a permanently flushed look that dramatically ages its sufferers.
Lack of exercise is an “environmental factor” that can prematurely age skin as well. Regular physical activity increases blood flow and assists the body in promoting cellular regeneration — a process that is essential for skin renewal and the creation of general health.
Stress also plays into the way that our skin ages by affecting our immune system and ability to restore skin. Insufficient sleep, in many ways related to stress, can accelerate the appearance of facial lines and creases as well.Frequent exposure to cold weather (especially low temperature winds) causes substantial drying and can accelerate natural skin aging by depriving cells of the hydration they need to restore and revitalize skin.All of these factors, especially when inflicted together (or alone over time), are capable of drastically aging the skin.
By taking environmental aging into consideration, however, we’re also able to help influence the outcome of our genetics in some ways. Although much of our future is determined by genetics, staying conscious of skin and general health can offset the severity of your aging process. Avoiding the factors listed above can do wonders for ensuring that you are able to maintain youthful, vibrant and healthy skin for as long as possible into your future.