A television commercial that ran for a time late last year caught my attention. As the commercial opens, the viewer sees from overhead a piano keyboard. Soon, two hands appear and begin to play the keys. One hand is quite small, a little plump, and without a single wrinkle or blemish. The other is larger but thinner, a bit wrinkled, with some blemishes, and with skin transparent enough to prominently show the veins underneath.
Obviously, the smaller hand is that of a child. The other of an older adult. What was so telling about the differences in the two hands wasn’t so much their sizes but the condition of their skin. The child’s skin is smooth and flawless, while the adult hand shows the wear and tear of more than a few decades of life.
After watching the commercial, I looked down at my own hands and observed just how much they showed my age. Then I looked at my face and neck. I began to wonder if there was much I could do about my aging skin. Is it inevitable that my skin will reveal my age no matter what, even make me look older than I really am? Or is there anything I can do to help keep it looking young and healthy.
I asked Kirsten Flynn, MD, a dermatologist with Banner Health Center in Sun City West, Ariz., what might be the most important thing women age 50 and older should know about keeping their skin healthy and young-looking. Here’s what she had to say:
“The number one beauty secret is sunscreen,” Dr. Flynn explained. “It is estimated that 80 percent of facial aging is due to UV exposure. Cellular damage and tissue breakdown from UV light causes signs of aging such as wrinkling and hyperpigmentation.”
Wow. Eighty percent. That’s a big deal.
Of course, protecting your skin from UV exposure goes beyond youthful appearances. Over-exposure to UV rays can lead to skin cancer, and that’s a really big deal.
So, protecting skin from UV light makes a huge difference in our health and our appearance as we age. And, making the effort to apply sunscreen regularly certainly is doable. Dr. Flynn recommends applying sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher daily, re-applying every two hours.
Are there other external factors that affect how our skin ages? Dr. Flynn says we may be able to minimize aging skin by not smoking and by watching what we eat and drink. “High intake of certain food groups, including vegetables, olive oil and fish, have been found to be related to less skin wrinkling compared with other foods, including dairy products, butter, margarine and sugar products,” she explained.
What about drinking more water? “Water is beneficial to overall health,” Dr. Flynn said, “but will not correct dry skin.” She explained that products that help skin retain moisture (creams/emollients/humectants) can do this. “The best time to put on moisturizing cream is after a shower or bath on damp skin,” she advised.
Keeping skin healthy and young-looking by avoiding certain external factors will go a long way. Unfortunately, though, not all causes of aging skin can be controlled. Natural factors that can cause skin to age, Dr. Flynn said, “have to do with our genetic traits and hormone balance, which we have little control over.”
Natural skin aging in women can occur after menopause due to decreased estrogen, which results in decreased collagen content in the skin, according to Dr. Flynn. “In postmenopausal women, the rate of collagen loss is 2 percent annually. This results in thinner skin, wrinkling, increased skin dryness, decreased skin firmness and elasticity.”
Can anything be done about these changes in the skin? “There are cosmetic products that improve skin elasticity, skin hydration and minimize wrinkles,” Dr. Flynn explained. “Chemical peels and laser therapy can regenerate skin and correct discoloration. Botox can relax hyperfunctional facial muscles and dermal fillers can correct volume loss.”
I now know more about why my skin is aging and what I might be able to do to minimize the effects of that aging process. Not every option may be for me, but I know some very simple solutions, such as regularly applying sunscreen and moisturizer, can go a long way in helping me keep my skin younger-looking and – most importantly – healthy.