- Skin senescence is a result of extrinsic (sun damage) and intrinsic (genetic) factors.
- Evidence suggests that as we age the need to moisturize our skin becomes essential.
- Years of cumulative sun exposure, climate changes, an unhealthy lifestyle, smoking, pollution, and lack of good topical moisturization results in what we call premature aging.
- The skin cells of prematurely aged and mature skin have diminished water binding and retaining properties. There is a decrease in NMF (Natural Moisturizing Factors), and altered lipid balance.
- These imbalances have to be compensated by a continuous use of non-irritating topical moisturizers.
Physiological and histological evidence suggests that as we age, the need to moisturize our skin becomes essential.
If we lead a positive lifestyle, practice sun safety, drink enough water, eat a balanced nutrient rich diet and use good quality skincare products, we will be rewarded with healthy skin until the mature phases of our life.
But one has to keep in mind that the skin is constantly being bombarded by harmful external elements. Although certain external factors (as mentioned above) can be controlled, changes in the biophysiology and chemical composition of the skin are inevitable as evidenced by histological and microscopic studies. As we get older proactive skin care measures become essential so that we can maintain a healthy, hydrated and intact barrier.
Every phase of life requires adjustments, and so does our skin. Moisturizers are cosmetic preparations such as creams or lotions that have the capability to restore moisture to the skin.
Let’s examine the mechanics of young and mature skin and hence the process of aging so that we can understand the importance of topical moisturization.
The skin is the largest organ of our body- it is multidimensional and multi-functional. It is a protective, lipid producing, water retaining, and immunologically active sheath. This vital organ also plays an important role in the psychological and social profile of a person. Maintaining healthy youthful skin is as important as taking care of any other part of your body.
Younger skin cells have a higher capacity to regenerate, replicate, repair damage, retain water, and bind to water molecules. The epidermis, dermis, extracellular dermal matrix and oil glands are highly active during youth, with optimal cellular turnover and collagen/elastin production that in turn maintains resilient, smooth, hydrated wrinkle free skin.
Oil/Sebum production is optimal during the youthful phases of life. Surface oils are essential in waterproofing the epidermis, hence preventing water loss. When we enter the phase of maturity (30’s onwards), alterations take place in both the functional and structural capacity of the skin that physically translates into dry, rough, wrinkled, blotchy, thin and sagging skin.
The physiology of skin aging is complex and gradual. Aging is a combination of ‘intrinsic’ (genetic aging) and ‘extrinsic’ (external or environmental) factors. The most striking structural changes that take place in the skin are due to sun damage and this is termed ‘extrinsic’ aging, or dermatoheliosis (changes occurring in the skin due to solar radiation).
Young versus mature skin, what’s the difference?
Mature skin has less capacity to heal itself, maintain water balance, retain water, and produce oil. Permeability of the skin will alter due to a decrease in oil glands and changes in certain integral epidermal proteins and lipids, such as Natural Moisturizing Factors, which will alter the water binding capacity of the skin and further aggravate dryness. The lipid balance is disturbed, leading to a dull lusterless complexion with damaged barrier and protective functions. The main structural component of the skin, the dermis, thins with age. It diminishes in bulk. Collagen and elastin fibers are cemented by the all-important ground substance or extracellular matrix (ECM) which is composed of water attracting and retaining macromolecules. ECM not only decreases with age, but the fiber alignment itself becomes disorganized and haphazard, resulting in sagging, lax, fragile and wrinkled skin. Essential fatty acid and protein synthesis are markedly reduced adding to dryness. All these factors combined give the skin a ‘weathered and dry’ appearance.
These progressive changes are backed by histological and clinical evidence that lead us to conclude that younger skin is indeed very different from mature skin and requires intensive intervention.
Years of cumulative sun exposure, climate changes, an unhealthy lifestyle, smoking, pollution, and lack of good topical moisturization result in what we call premature aging.
The Importance of Moisturization
Based on scientific evidence, our skin, especially pre-maturely aged skin needs constant care and up keep, because the natural water balance of the skin has been altered.
We need to apply moisturizers to our skin regardless of age, and increasing in frequency of applications with progression of age.
As we age the skin enters a state of negative water balance – hence the skin is dehydrated.
The resulting water imbalance has to be compensated by a continuous use of non-irritating topical moisturizers.
Scientific and clinical data suggests that proactive skin care measures such as moisturization should begin early (20’s onwards) and one must maintain these practices throughout life if the goal is to maintain hydrated and healthy skin.
The key to keeping your complexion healthy, supple and wrinkle-free lies in understanding the need for regular moisturizaton. Regularly applying good quality moisturizers will not only maintain barrier function but prevent premature aging, decrease the incidence of skin issues such as eczema and alleviate skin sensitivity.
Stick to unscented and paraben free brands that your skin is able to tolerate. There is an old adage in dermatology that ‘the best moisturizer is the one that works for you’.
Maintaining hydrated, youthful, healthy skin should not cost you an arm and a leg. Usually simple remedies work miracles, like shea butter and coconut oil. Just because a moisturizer is expensive, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work. Try out a few different moisturizers and stick to one that your skin likes.
Stay well, stay hydrated.
MD MSc Dermatology
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