What makes the skin wrinkle?
Our skin is divided into three layers. The deepest is a layer of subcutaneous tissue, which serves as a scaffold for the rest of the skin. The middle layer is the dermis, where cells called fibroblasts produce collagen fibres – support proteins that help to keep skin plump and elastic. Above this lies the top layer, or epidermis. Here, stem cells divide gradually and migrate upwards towards the skin’s surface. These are surrounded by natural compounds called epidermal lipids (or fats), including ceramide, which forms a ‘glue’ that hold cells tightly in place, like cement in brick wall.
The collagen bundles in the dermis work like springs in a mattress to support the skin’s surface. But when collagen is damaged , troughs open up between the bundles, the upper layers of tissue collapse into these troughs, and lines, wrinkles or folds can develop. By the time you see a wrinkle, underlying skin has already lost collagen and elastin – its ‘snap-back’ factor. Collagen is damaged, by various factors. Some are inevitable (such as ageing), and some can be lessened, if not prevented.
What are the main culprits, and what can you do about it?
CAUSE: The environment
EFFECT:Brow and eye creases, fine lines fanning over cheekbones, rings and criss-crosses at the back of the neck
New research by The British Skin Fundation found that 80 per cent of people don’t always use a sunscreen abroad, let alone on a sunny day in UK. Sun damages DNA and other cell structures, which can lead to blotchy skin, lines and wrinkles. At the same time, UV activates enzymes known as MMPs, which normally help to clean out old collagen, but can become hyperactive that they destroy fresh collagen, too.
Smoking in the sun is especially bad news. Even second-hand smoke is harmful to skin. Exhaled smoke contains significant levels of nicotine, tar, nitric oxide and carbon monoxide, which disrupt and weaken the skin’s barrier, leading to collagen breakdown. Smoking causes blood vessels to constrict, which limits the amount of oxygen reaching the skin. This lack of oxygen reduces collagen and elastin production. Smoking stimulates the MMPs to degrade collagen – just like the sun does.
CAUSE: Facial expressions, stress
EFFECT: Frown lines, crows feet, smile lines
Expression lines equal character. Even Hollywood directors have started to complain that Botox has robbed actors of real facial emotion. While channeling angst may help divas to win an Oscar, it doesn’t do their skin any real-life favours. Stress triggers anabolic hormones such as cortisol. These hormones not only hamper immunity, but also increase moisture loss, leaving skin drier and more prone to fine lines. Clenched muscles in the neck, shoulders and jaw – where so many of us hold our stress- limits blood and oxygen supply to the skin on our faces. Stress can also trigger inflammation, which damages collagen, making skin appear less plump.
EFFECT: Crepey skin, deeper eye creases, nose-to-mouth lines, marionette (mouth to chin) lines,lip lines, neck rings
If you’re lucky, great skin will be in your genes. However, even if you are not, the fact that genetics may only account for 20 per cent of skin ageing may bring you some relief. Visible aging starts appearing in our thirties, when protein levels in our skin begin to decline. For women, one of the most dramatic declines occurs during menopause, when the loss of estrogen more than doubles the rate of protein decline. Up to 30 per cent of collagen proteins can be lost in the first five years, alone.
As well losing collagen, skin also loses plumpness because cell division slows with age. This is because stem cells are no longer able to divide and replicate accurately, and become dormant. There is some research with new creams containing polypetide growth factors -which can rejuvenate these stem cells, however clinical data is limited, and the use of growth factor peptides in anti-ageing creams remains controversial.
In the meantime, retinoids -which are derived from vitamin A, remain the only ingredients clinically proven to boost both collagen and hyaluronic acid in the skin. Although retinoids can provide long-term cell growth and rejuvenation, our experience in it works better in preventing aging, with more modest results in aging reversal. Like with most good things in life and health, patience is key -and prevention is the name of the game!