Skin Care for Aging Skin

In a society so focused on looking young, many products and treatments promise to turn back the hands of time and miraculously get rid of wrinkles, age spots, varicose veins, and other signs of aging. Go one step better: Exercising a little protection can do your hands and the skin on the rest of your body a world of good.

Skin Care: Wrinkles in Time

"As we age, skin is losing its elasticity and ability to come back to its normal state," says Rox Anderson, MD, professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Think of your aging skin as an old rubber band — it doesn't come back right away over time."

This is because skin loses elastin — the fibers that create a tight, youthful feel — and collagen. We also lose the fat below the layers of skin, which causes the outer layer to thin and droop, forming wrinkles.

Genetics plays a part in whether wrinkles will be in your future. If your parents have wrinkles, you'll probably inherit this trait. However, there are other factors at work to form and deepen wrinkles — sun damage, poor skin care, and smoking may cause you to look older than you are.

  • Sun damage. "If you never went out in the sun, you'd still look young at age 90," says Dr. Anderson. Nothing ages skin quite as much as ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds — and we’re not just talking about your face. Besides premature wrinkling, the sun causes lentigines, otherwise known as "liver spots" or "age spots," that can dot your shoulders, chest, and arms, for example. These flat, brown spots are harmless (once properly identified by a dermatologist), but the skin cancers that may develop from continuous sun exposure are not. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are identified a year in the United States.
  • Poor skin care. If you're not taking care of your skin, your skin won't take care of you. As we age, our skin grows drier and may become flaky and scaly. These signs look worse with neglect.
  • Smoking. Picking up a cigarette can damage much more than just your lungs. Research shows that smoking contributes to wrinkles and skin aging. In addition to the cosmetic effects of smoking, the habit seems to contribute to the development of skin cancer — the cause is unclear but could be from cigarettes acting as a skin carcinogen or suppressing the immune system.

Skin Care: Delaying the Aging

Aging is a part of life, but you still have some control over how you’ll look in the future.

"What you do every day affects what you look like and how people look at you," says Anderson. If you sunbathe religiously and smoke like a chimney, your skin may mistakenly tell strangers that you're a lot older than you actually are. On the flip side, good behaviors and habits can help you stay look younger, longer. Here are some tips to help skin age gracefully:

  • Protect against the sun. It's unrealistic to avoid the sun completely, but you can preserve your skin by wearing sunblock with a minimum SPF of 15, a large- brimmed hat, and protective clothing. Pay careful attention to your hands, reapplying sunscreen often — hands can quickly give your age away if they are dry and freckled with brown spots. Besides looking good, this protection can help guard against the development of many skin cancers.
  • Follow a healthy skin care regime. Pay as much attention to the skin below your neck as you do to your complexion. Bathe with warm water, not hot — it’s not as drying. Use a gentle body wash or soap-free cleanser to avoid stripping the skin of its natural oils. A rich body lotion, applied right after bath time, can help moderate cases of dry skin. Give special care to rough elbows, knees, and heels.
  • Eat a healthy diet. The health of your skin can be improved from the inside out. Anderson recommends eating foods rich in healthy oils and antioxidants, substances that protect your cells against free radicals. Fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and green, leafy vegetables are natural antioxidants that are superior to supplements, says Anderson. Green tea also has a high level of antioxidants, called catechins, which may help protect against sun damage. Be sure to drink plenty of water, too, to stay hydrated.
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