Aging is an inevitable thing – we all do it. Some do it gracefully and some, not so much! But what are the normal signs of aging? We all age differently, depending on our genes and the environmental factors we expose our skin to. Some might have spent their youth in the sun, while others did not.
Thinning of the Dermal Layer: Sounds scary, but this is what happens when the dermal layer (the layer below the surface of the skin) begins to thin due to loss of subcutaneous fat. Fine lines are the very first sign of aging and most commonly show up around the eyes where there is very little subcutaneous fat. As this process progresses, fine lines become wrinkles. Lines start forming in other places as fat volume is lost and the skin looks and feels less ‘plump’. Marionette lines form (those annoying lines that run from the side of the nose to the corner of the mouth), and on it goes.
Thinning of the dermal layer also means that your skin is more fragile and more susceptible to cuts and bruises. The neck begins to look less youthful as volume is lost, leaving the muscle layer more exposed, revealing the underlying ‘neck bands’.
Loss of subcutaneous fat and dermal thickness is not the only reason we begin to show signs of wrinkling. Dehydration of the epidermal layer (the top layer of skin) and the reduction of muscle mass are also primary causes of wrinkles and aging skin.
Dehydration and Dryness: As we age, our sebaceous glands produce less oil (sebum), and while that may sound like a good thing, we need healthy levels of sebum to maintain a natural balance of moisture. Women, especially, produce less and less oil (particularly after menopause) which inhibits the skin’s ability to retain moisture, leaving the skin looking dry and dehydrated.
Dehydration is caused by the loss of GAGs (glycosaminglycans) such as hyaluronic acid in the dermal layer. These GAGs act like sponges to hold water and keep the skin moist. With the slow loss of GAGs and hyaluronic acid, we can expect to see the signs of chronic dehydration and dry skin in our 40s.
Sagging Skin: Our skin begins to sag when there are changes to the connective tissue that keeps the skin tight and elastic. Connective tissue in the dermis loses its ability to recover its shape (elasticity). When you combine that with the loss of muscle tone, the skin begins to sag. Eventually jowls may begin to form, or the skin under the chin might drop. Again, the skin around the eyes (eyelids especially) are the first to show signs of sagging when connective tissue loses its ability to recover.
Enlarged Pores: Sun damage is one primary causes of enlarged pores, but so is the aging process itself. Enlarged pores begin to appear when the natural desquamation of skin slows. Desquamation is the natural shedding and peeling of the outermost layers of the skin, which is an important process for keeping the skin smooth. Once the cells reach the uppermost layer of the skin, they are essentially dead. These tightly packed dead skin cells continuously fall as newer cells push their way to the surface. When desquamation process slows, skin cells are more likely to collect around pores causing them to enlarge.
Vascular Changes: As the dermis continues to thin into our 50s and beyond, it can affect the vascular system. The vascular system is responsible for providing nutrients and oxygenated blood to the skin. Without a strong, healthy supply of nutrients and oxygenated blood to keep the skin strong, the skin can begin to look dull and lifeless and can also bruise easily.
Skin Tone Changes: Compared to the luminous appearance of our skin in our 20s, as we age, hormonal shifts and the uneven distribution of melanin, results in tone and color changes.
Our skin tone and color (whether light or dark), is a result of red oxygenated hemoglobin, yellow carotenoids, flavins and melanin pigment. As we age, the balance of these changes results in a slightly different skin tone – like dull skin or a sallow undertone. That’s because the breakdown of the dermal layer and the slowing of the cell renewal process, along with the diminished supply of oxygenated blood, results in a change of complexion tone.
For more information on what happens to our skin as we age and what you an do to combat signs of aging, please click here for our article Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… What’s Happening to my Skin?