As a person ages, so many part of their body change. One of the most notable changes occurs in the skin. Older people are often left wondering why their skin sags and wrinkles, why do they bruise so easily, why don’t they heal as fast as they did when they were younger, what are all the brown spots and what can I do about any of this? Well, the answer isn’t quite as simple as the question. There are a variety of factors that affect your skin as you age and many of our lifestyle choices can have a profound impact on how our skin ages. Cigarette smoking, heavy sun exposure, exposure to chemicals, poor nutrition and poor hydration are some of the most common causes of skin changes.
Obviously those reading this article have already reached a point in their life where it is too late to change many of the environmental factors that have caused their skin to age. There are, however, things that you can do to keep your skin healthy as you continue to age.
Let’s start with what actually happens to skin as a person ages. There are a number of physical processes that take place as one ages, which affect the condition of skin.
The epidermis (top layer of skin) thins making your skin more susceptible to injury such as skin tears. (when the top layer of skin peels away like the peel of an onion)
The number of pigment containing cells decreases, but increase in size causing “age spots” while at the same time causing skin to appear pale or translucent
Connective tissues change causing skin to lose its elasticity. This process is called “elastosis” and is especially noticeable in areas of heavy sun exposure. Elastosis causes the leathery appearance to skin.
The blood vessels in the dermis (the deeper layer of the skin) become more fragile, increasing the tendency to bruise or bleed.
Sebaceous glands (those that produce oil) produce less oil, causing skin to become dry and harder to keep hydrated.
The subcutaneous fat layer of the skin thins, reducing insulation and padding. (Hence the reason you become cold more easily than younger people)
Sweat glands become less effective, making it harder to stay cool in extreme heat conditions, increasing the risk for heat stroke and dehydration.
Skin tags, warts, tag moles and such are more common as you age.
More than 90% of older people have skin disorders. Skin cancers are especially common in older people, because suntan lotion was not commonly used in previous generations.
Now you know why your skin ages, now let’s talk about how to prevent complications of aging skin.
Use PH neutral moisturizers and soaps such as Cetaphil and Eucerin which will not affect the acid mantel (a slightly oily layer of the skin that helps protect against bacteria), and therefore will allow your skin to continue to serve as a natural protectant against bacteria. Soapy water is commonly used to clean our faces because it removes the natural oils from the skin. This leaves skin with that “clean feeling,” but, soap is actually neutralizing skins acid pH thereby stripping away natural defense systems. Some ideal cleansers include:
· Aveeno Clear Complexion
· Lipikar Syndet
· Spectro Derm
Keep skin covered when outside! Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 80 and ensure it protects against UVA and UVB. Wear long sleeves when possible and always wear a covering on the head. As hair thins, the sensitive skin of the scalp becomes more prone to sunburn.
Wear long sleeves and long pants when you are doing work outside that may cause injury to your skin such as gardening. Skin injuries such as skin tears or lacerations can be particularly harmful to aging skin. Because of changes in the body during the aging process, a laceration or skin tear could lead to potentially significant infections.
Ensure shoes and sock fit properly to prevent friction which may lead to blisters or skin breakdown.
Limit time spent in any one position. Pressure sores are one of the most common complaints of older adults. Change positions every two hours at a minimum. Pressure sores are caused by pressure of the skin against a bony prominence that temporarily cuts off blood flow to the skin in that area. This causes ischemia which leads to death of the tissue in that area. Pressure sores initially start off as a red spot, usually with minimal pain. Continued pressure to these areas lead to open wounds which can often lead to infection.
Stop smoking! The nicotine in cigarettes causes narrowing of the blood vessels skin. This impairs blood flow to your skin. With less blood flow, skin doesn’t get as much oxygen and important nutrients, such as vitamin A. Many of the over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke also damage collagen and elastin, ( fibers that give your skin its strength and elasticity). As a result, skin begins to sag and wrinkle prematurely because of smoking.
Eat a well balanced diet and take a daily multivitamin. Vitamins C, E, A, K, and B complex can all help improve skin health.
Vitamin A can be found in
- milk, butter, cheese and eggs
- chicken, kidney, liver, liver pate
- fish oils, mackerel, trout, herring.
Vitamin B Complexes can be found in
- animal products (meat, poultry)
- yeast extracts (brewers’ yeast, Marmite)
- asparagus, broccoli, spinach, bananas, potatoes
- dried apricots, dates and figs
- milk, eggs, cheese, yoghurt
- nuts and pulses
- brown rice, wheat germ, wholegrain cereals.
Vitamin C can be found in fruits and vegetables such as
- asparagus, broccoli, spinach, bananas,
- strawberries, kiwis, oranges and other tropical fruits
Vitamin D can be found in
- dairy products, oily fish, cod liver oil and liver
Vitamin E can be found in
- avocados, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, watercress, brussels sprouts
- blackberries, mangoes
- corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil
- mackerel, salmon
- nuts, wholemeal and wholegrain products
- soft margarine.
Vitamin K is found in dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and turnip greens as well as whole grain cereals.
And lost but not least, maintain adequate hydration. Loss of hydration in the skin shows in many different ways including dryness, tightness, and flakiness. Dry skin has less elasticity and is more prone to wrinkling. Water is vital to preserve skin moisture and is the medium for delivering essential nutrients to the skin cells.