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Aging and Skin Care

If life is about change, skin is proof. Our skin is at the mercy of the many forces we exert on it: sun, harsh weather, and our own bad habits.  But we can take steps to help our skin stay supple and fresh-looking.

For a variety of reasons, our skin changes as we age. How your skin ages will depend on a variety of factors: your lifestyle, diet, heredity, and other personal habits. For instance, are you a smoker or did you ever smoke? Smoking can produce free radicals, which are once-healthy oxygen molecules that are now overactive and unstable.

There are other reasons, too. Primary factors contributing to these skin changes over time include normal aging, exposure to the sun (photoaging), and loss of subcutaneous support (fatty tissue between your skin and muscle). Other factors that contribute to aging of the skin including stress level, gravity, daily facial movement, obesity, and even sleep position.

Skin changes that come with age

  • Roughness of the skin.
  • Development of skin lesions, such as benign tumors
  • Slack skin. The loss of the elastic tissue (elastin and collagen) in the skin with age causes the skin to become slack and hang loosely
  • The skin becomes more transparent as we age. This is caused by thinning of the epidermis (surface layer of the skin) and dermis.
  • Skin becomes more fragile as we age. Increased skin fragility is caused by flattening of the area where the epidermis and dermis (layer of skin under the epidermis) come together
  • Easy bruising of the skin as we age caused by thinner blood vessel walls.

How does sun damage (photoaging) cause aging of the skin?

Over time, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light damages certain fibers in the skin called elastin. The breakdown of elastin fibers causes the skin to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to snap back after stretching. The skin also bruises and tears more easily and takes longer to heal. So while sun damage may not show when you're young, it will later in life.

Nothing can completely undo sun damage, although the skin can sometimes repair itself. So, it's never too late to begin protecting yourself from the sun. You can delay changes associated with aging by staying out of the sun.

Subcutaneous (below the skin) skin changes associated with aging

  • Loss of fat below the skin in the cheeks, temples, chin, nose and eye area may result in loosening skin, sunken eyes, and a "skeletal" appearance
  • Bone loss, mostly around the mouth and chin, may become evident after age 60 and cause puckering of the skin around the mouth
  • Cartilage loss in the nose causes drooping of the nasal tip and accentuation of the bony structures in the nose

Other skin changes

Gravity, facial movement and sleep position are the secondary factors that contribute to changes in the skin. When the skin loses its elasticity, gravity causes drooping of the eyebrows and eyelids, looseness and fullness under the cheeks and jaw (jowls and "double chin"), and longer ear lobes.

Facial movement lines become more visible after the skin starts losing its elasticity (usually as people reach their 30s and 40s). Lines may appear horizontally on the forehead, vertically on the skin above the root of the nose (glabella), or as small curved lines on the temples, upper cheeks and around the mouth.

Sleep creases result from the way the head is positioned on the pillow and may become more visible after the skin starts losing its elasticity. Sleep creases are commonly located on the side of the forehead, starting above the eyebrows to the hairline near the temples, as well as on the middle of the cheeks. Changing sleep position may improve these sleep creases or prevent them from becoming worse.

Smoking
People who smoke tend to have more wrinkles than nonsmokers of the same age, complexion, and history of sun exposure. The reason for this difference is unclear. It may be because smoking interferes with normal blood flow in the skin.

Dry skin and itching
Dry skin is common in later life. About 85 percent of older people develop "winter itch," because overheated indoor air is dry. The loss of sweat and oil glands as we age may also worsen dry skin. Anything that further dries the skin (such as overuse of soaps, antiperspirants, perfumes, or hot baths) will make the problem worse.

Dry skin itches because it is irritated easily. If your skin is very dry and itchy, see a doctor because this condition can affect your sleep, cause irritability, or be a symptom of a disease. For example, diabetes and kidney disease can cause itching. Some medicines make the itchiness worse.

References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 6/29/2011...#10979