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AGING AND SKIN CARE

Our body's natural covering encases our spirit. With the passage of time, this covering will become thinner, more fragile, and dryer, graced by wrinkles and fine lines, with a softer and less firm tone once our hormones are depleted. The thinner skinned areas such as the eyes, neck, décolleté, and back of the hands will exhibit the elapse of a fruitful life the most. Rather than dwell on the differences in appearances, let's embrace our joys and accomplishments, grandchildren enriching our lives, a house finally paid for, a chance to travel with our significant other, memories of family… after all, isn't it a lively and positive spirit that attracts us to someone? A good sense of humor will take us far in accepting the inevitable…

The Reasons

The main reasons why and how our skin shows signs of aging are sun exposure, genetics, depletion of hormones, and lifestyle.On average menopause occurs as women reach early to mid-50 years. Leading into this time changes in hormone production occur, most notably a decline in estrogen levels. It has been found that estrogen affects every organ system of the body including the skin. It appears that estrogen receptors are most abundant around the genital area, face, and lower limbs. Therefore these areas are especially vulnerable to reduced amounts of circulating estrogen and are the reason for certain skin conditions involving these areas to be more common in peri- and post-menopausal women than in women of other age groups. Many menopausal women notice changes in their skin, especially increased dryness and wrinkling. Skin is less capable of storing moisture. These changes are believed to be due in part to the breakdown of collagen in the skin due to decreasing estrogen levels. This also decreases the blood vessel supply to the skin, the sebaceous glands shrink producing less oil, and the deeper fat layers become thinner. Skin thins and becomes paler and more translucent. Because the skin is thinner, it also bruises easier and is more susceptible to allergic reactions and irritations.

Another common symptom experienced by many women is a feeling of itchy crawling skin. This may be experienced as a tingling or a feeling of something crawling in or under the skin. The skin becomes hypersensitive because of the thinning of both the surface and the underlying muscles that support the skin.

Many women find that their skin is more sensitive to sunburn, windy and dry conditions, and allergens. That's why women in their fifties are sometimes dismayed to find that they have a case of acne, something they haven't faced since adolescence.

Other symptoms of menopause can include increased facial hair, an uncomfortable state of aches and pains, forgetfulness and fuzzy thinking, hot flashes and night sweats, and insomnia.

The Solutions

What we can do about the appearance of aging skin, other than genetics, is a preventative skin care regimen started at an early age, a healthy lifestyle, and a positive attitude.

Look to your parents to see how you will age… did one or both of your parents have acne, oily skin, dry skin, turn gray early, have diabetes or other health issues, pronounced expression lines on the forehead…

Start wearing sunscreen as a child. UV exposure is the #1 skin aging* factor, period. Excessive exposure to the sun early in life can make a person look older than they really are. This premature wrinkling and skin damage from sun exposure is called photoaging. Photoaging, unlike natural aging, results in coarse, dry skin; freckling and skin discoloration; leathery skin; and deep wrinkles. The neck and décolleté have thin skin to begin with and over the years sun damage accumulates leading to photoaging and possible skin cancer. The face is another age prone area constantly exposed to the elements.

The physiology of sun damage: damaged DNA from the suns harmful rays diminishes the capability for genes and cells to communicate properly, to fight the aging process. Our skin looses elasticity, changing in appearance and texture, decreasing its resilience, causing skin to sag.

Skin changes due to aging can be distinguished from those due to sun damage. All changes due to sun exposure can be grouped under the term dermatoheliosis; five parts of the skin are involved: epidermis (actinic keratosis), dermis (solar elastosis), blood vessels (telangiectasia), sebaceous glands (solar comedones), and melanocytes (diffuse or mottled brown patches). Habitual exposure to sun and a white skin are prerequisites for developing these changes. Knowing the difference between changes caused by sun and by aging can help physicians predict which patients are most likely to get skin cancers.The cosmetic industry now has photo-stable sunscreens absorbing both UVA and UVB rays, thus protecting against direct and indirect damage to DNA and other biological molecules. These sunscreens avoid not only the damage provoking the reddening (erythema) of the skin, but also the damage that accumulates and provokes the sagging of the dermis and the consequent formation of lines and wrinkles. The most recent products for sun protection contain DNA-repair enzymes encapsulated in liposomes, which have been shown to enhance the rate of DNA repair in human skin.

Sun damage is a cause of enlarged pores. As we age, one of the ways sun damage affects the skin is through the enlargement of the pores. Sun damage and aging cause the epidermis to thicken and a rim of cells are more likely to collect around individual pores. While microscopic, these rings exaggerate pore diameter.

By establishing a lifelong skin care regimen of gentle cleansing, toning, nourishment, moisturization, and protection, your skin is given an arsenal for slowing the natural aging process. We cannot stop this process, but by maintaining a healthy level of natural skin components, skin will not lose its firmness, hydrated glow, elasticity, smoothness, and softness as an unprotected skin would. On the other hand, if excessive sun damage, a delayed skin care regimen, illness, medications, trauma, or other factors have prematurely aged your skin, there are medical steps that can be taken to reverse or reduce this damage.

Regular exercise, nutrient rich whole foods with plenty of pure water, regular elimination, and regular sleep are conducive to a healthy body and skin. If everything is in balance, then all systems function in their proper manner. Stress, excesses, illness, medication, genetics can all play a part in an imbalance and this is when contacting a naturopath or physician may be beneficial.

* "The first change we see in aging skin is sagging of the face. This is followed by fine lines and later, by coarse lines, which become deeper as the skin undergoes greater structural changes. These changes are followed by changes in color and texture. The skin becomes mottled and gray to yellow in color, with areas of red spots and dilated veins. Brown spots appear on the hands and face and the skin becomes thin.

Structural changes are due to changes in the collagen and elastin under the skin's surface layer and later, by changes in the surface itself. Collagen decreases in the dermis, which causes sagging. This is followed by a loss of elasticity, which causes further sagging and lack of resilience. Blood circulation becomes decreased and tissue mass in the skin is reduced. This thinner skin is more transparent, showing large veins through the surface. The number of fibroblasts, which are responsible for new skin growth, also decreases. Then, the skin loses its ability to respond to stress. The immune response decreases and the ability to dissipate heat is lost, and the sensitivity to heat and cold decreases. The ability to repair chronic damage is decreased as turnover of cells is slower and wound healing is decreased.

The greatest environmental danger to the skin is the sun. Without sun exposure, the skin does not wrinkle or change color or become marred with red ugly spots. Excessive sun exposure damages the immune system in the skin, destroys both collagen and elastin production and kills some normal cells. At the same time, it damages the DNA repair system for other cells that are not killed. Heat and cold also damage skin and reduce functionality. The environment contains many chemical agents that react with the skin and create free radicals that in turn react with the compounds in the skin."

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