The Science of Aging and the Secrets of Forever-Young Skin

Uma Thurman, Donnatella Versace and Naomi Campbell backstage at Versace Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2013-2014, image: Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

Uma Thurman, Donnatella Versace and Naomi Campbell backstage at Versace Haute-Couture Fall/Winter 2013-2014, image: Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images

Ah, aging. Why is it that some of us tend to look better with age, while others…don't? There are two basic reasons. One has to do with your genetics, which is a complex issue. The best way to understand it simply is to look at how your parents and grandparents have shown their signs of aging. The other has to do with how well you take care of your skin, which if done diligently, can supplant a genetic predisposition toward early signs of aging. Seemingly every week, a new anti-aging product comes on the market, promising a new, special ingredient that turns back the hands of time. Should you trust it? How does skin age, anyway? Read on to find out!

Your Skin's Essential Proteins

When it comes to understanding the aging process, there are three terms us non-dermatologists should know: collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid. Your body has these proteins in spades when you're young. In fact, skin is about 75% collagen during that time. 

What They Do

Collagen is a connective tissue that binds together vessels and cartilage, among other things. It's part of your skin matrix that when strong, keeps skin firm and plump. Elastin's job is to keep skin resilient. If you've ever pinched skin on the top of your hand, versus the hand of a senior citizen, you'll see that young skin immediately snaps back whereas older skin does not. That's due to the amount of elastin and its strength. Hyaluronic acid is also part of the skin matrix and works to lock in moisture, also aiding in skin plumpness. 

When They Go Away

The human body loses its ability to create these efficiently and in adequate amounts over time. Moisture loss makes skin look dry and papery, making fine lines and wrinkles more obvious, loss of elastin contributes to sagging, as does collagen loss. While you can't ultimately control this process without plastic surgery (the results of which can be iffy), you can help to slow it down. You might be surprised at what a little perseverance early on can do.

What You Can Do

First and foremost, starting in your mid to late twenties, you need to moisturize your skin daily with a moisturizer that has SPF protection. Dermatologists agree that most early signs of aging are due to overexposure to the sun. That hot ball in the sky zaps elastin like no one's business, which is why older sun worshipers have skin that resembles thick, worn out leather. Sadly, I've seen women who dabbled in tanning in their teens, showing early signs of aging compared to those who did not. You do not want to mess with the sun when it comes to your skin. Doctors also agree that wrinkles are essentially caused by repetitive facial movements. We each have our own little ticks, and that's why wrinkles are as individual as fingerprints. Should you stop moving your face? No. But being aware of a frowning habit and fixing it, will have an affect on future wrinkles. Exfoliating your face once per week gets rid of dead skin, helping new skin show on the surface, this alone will make skin look younger, more glowing and will reduce the look of lines, too. 

Barring these basic activities (that I swear make a huge difference over time), you can visit a dermatologist for prescription strength skin creams that contain the right amount of collagen-building and moisture-preserving ingredients. Dr. Cynthia Bailey, a California-based dermatologist points out on her site that not only are the ingredients important, but so is their concentration and the stability of their form to see results. If you're not opposed to injectables, these can temporarily restrict muscle movement and plump skin to fill in lines and wrinkles, also done by your dermatologist. Chemical peels work like super strength exfoliants, removing the topmost skin cells so new ones can shine through, also giving a temporarily younger look.

Beware of the Hype

Many drugstore brands make bold claims, but don't deliver exactly what they promise. While they tout having special ingredients like vitamin C, retinol and hyaluronic acid (all related to collagen production), such ingredients are delivered in molecules that are too big to be absorbed by skin. Peptide formulas make claim to having a smaller sized molecules and are more effective, but not a guarantee. Some detractors say that delivered topically, these ingredients don't work at all, and one must try to create collagen from the inside out. They suggest eating foods that contain collagen-building ingredients or taking supplements, but again, have no proven success rate. 

The Verdict

Don't despair about false claims. Let it be a lesson that more expensive, doesn't always mean better. And know that regardless of the extra anti-aging power a product promises, its basic moisturizing ingredients used daily will absolutely have an effect on how your skin ages. I never thought I would have use for a sports adage, but when it comes to aging, the best offense is a good defense. Moisturize, exfoliate and protect skin from the sun. Your skin will love you for it. And you'll love it right back.