If life is about change, skin is proof. How your skin ages depends on such factors as lifestyle, diet, heredity, and other personal habits.
What are the visible signs of aging skin?
As we age, skin becomes:
- Rough, dry, and itchy.
- Slack. The loss of the elastic tissue (elastin and collagen) in the skin with age causes the skin to become slack and hang loosely.
- Transparent. This is caused by thinning of the epidermis (surface layer of the skin) and dermis (deeper layer of the skin).
- Fragile. Increased skin fragility is caused by flattening of the area where the epidermis and dermis (layer of skin under the epidermis) come together.
- More easily bruised. This is caused by thinner blood vessel walls.
- More prone to developing skin lesions, such as non-cancerous (benign) tumors.
What below-the-skin changes (subcutaneous) cause the aging seen in the face?
Some factors include:
- Loss of fat below the skin in the cheeks, temples, chin, nose, and eye area. This may result in loosening skin, sunken eyes, and a “skeletal” appearance.
- Bone loss may become evident after age 50 and cause slack skin and puckering of the skin around the mouth.
- Cartilage loss in the nose causes drooping of the nasal tip and makes the bony structures in the nose easier to see.
How does the sun cause aging of the skin (photoaging)?
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. When you do go out, using a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher can protect your skin. Reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours or sooner if you get wet or sweat heavily, will make an even bigger difference.
What other factors cause changes to skin?
Gravity. 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 a lengthening of the ear lobes.
Obesity. Excess weight causes skin to stretch and decreases the strength and luster of the hair and nails. It causes skin conditions including dark patches on the skin (acanthosis nigricans), growths that stick out from the skin (skin tags), stretch marks, and varicose veins. Obesity has been linked to other skin conditions, including psoriasis and cellulitis. Although patches of psoriasis (itchy, dry, red patches) can occur anywhere in the body, they frequently develop on the scalp or near the hairline. Folds of excess body skin can rub against each other and cause skin irritation, blisters, chafing, skin rashes, and skin infections.
Daily facial movements. Lines on the face 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 top of the nose (the space between the eyes), or as small curved lines on the temples, upper cheeks and around the mouth.
Sleeping position. Sleep creases are commonly seen 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. They result from the way the head is positioned on the pillow and may become more visible after the skin starts losing its elasticity. 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 and itchy skin. 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.