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What's the Skinny on Your Skin?

How to Keep it Healthy and Young

Myriads of products on the market claim to make your skin look younger. But no anti-aging cream, exfoliating wash, European facial, age-defying makeup or herbal remedy is more powerful than the lifestyle steps every woman can take to keep her skin looking smooth and healthy for as long as possible.

Many people begin to develop fine lines around the eyes in their 40s. But any deep facial wrinkles that emerge before age 50 are generally attributable to the cumulative effects of sun exposure, cigarette smoking or both, according to cosmetic surgeons. This observation springs into dramatic relief when you compare the skin on your face and the backs of your hands to the relatively smooth, monotone skin of your buttocks.

To a lesser extent, yo-yo dieting, chronic exposure to wind and over-animated facial expressions may also contribute to premature skin aging.

Aside from Father Time, the only skin-aging factor beyond your control is genetics. If your grandmother and mother looked younger than their years, you and your children probably will, too, in middle age - particularly if you adopt a lifelong habit of using sunscreens, wearing wide-brimmed hats on sunny days, shunning tobacco and secondhand smoke, and avoiding yo-yo dieting and the other aforementioned risk factors.

Types of wrinkles

Dermatologists and plastic surgeons distinguish between two types of facial wrinkles: static and dynamic. Static wrinkles are always visible, even when all the facial muscles are resting. Static wrinkles tend to develop in skin that has thinned and stretched as a result of premature or natural aging processes.

Dynamic wrinkles occur in people of all ages, even young children. Sometimes called "laugh lines," dynamic wrinkles appear temporarily when a muscle contracts and causes the overlying skin to crease like an accordion. Dynamic wrinkles are seen only when you are smiling, raising your eyebrows or otherwise animating your facial expression.

How sunlight harms the skin

Think back to those golden summers of your youth. Like many pre-adolescent and teenage girls, you probably donned your bikini, slathered your body with baby oil and held those foil-covered sun reflectors under your chin in the quest for the perfect, golden tan.

No one told you that decades later your skin would pay the price for those sun-soaked days in the form of dryness, wrinkles, fine lines, liver spots and perhaps even skin cancer. Government health officials have estimated that half of a lifetime's worth of UV exposure occurs by age 18. One research study carried out in Australia found that people as young as 25 already had detectable photoaged skin on their face and the back of their hands--the parts of the body that are chronically exposed to UV radiation. Research indicates that about 90 percent of skin changes that begin in your 30s and 40s stem directly from "photoaging," or the cumulative effects of exposure to the sun's UV radiation.

Simply put, UV radiation - be it from the sun or a tanning bed - damages the DNA of skin cells. To make matters worse, the thinning of the Earth's protective ozone layer is believed to be amplifying UV radiation levels. It takes many years before enough microscopic damage accumulates to create wrinkles and other visible skin changes. Using sunscreens with a skin protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more will filter out most of these harmful UV rays. Even if you failed to use sunscreens in your youth, you can prevent further UV damage by using them religiously throughout the year, even on the ski slope.

During all outdoor activities, including gardening, playing sports, walking and jogging, as well as going to the beach, be sure to use a sunscreen that blocks both UV-A and UV-B radiation. Sunscreens work best when applied liberally to all exposed skin about 30 minutes before sun exposure and re-applied every few hours or after swimming or sweating. Don't miss the backs of your hands, and don't be fooled by an overcast day; UV light penetrates clouds and can still harm unprotected skin. Wearing a baseball cap or wide-brimmed hat in addition to your sunscreen offers an additional measure of protection.

How smoking ages the skin

It is well-known that cigarette smoking ages people on the inside by causing lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and an array of other health problems. But fewer people realize that smoking also ages your appearance. Chemicals inhaled from cigarette smoke constrict tiny blood vessels in the skin, reducing the oxygen and nutrient supply to delicate facial tissues. Blood-vessel constriction lasts at least an hour after a cigarette has been snuffed out. Over many years of smoking, the oxygen and nutrient deficiencies cause skin to wrinkle prematurely and lose elasticity, the ability to "bounce back" after being stretched. It is not unusual for the skin of longtime smokers to exhibit a grayish pallor.

To make matters worse, repeatedly pursing your lips around a cigarette hastens the formation of fine vertical lines around your mouth. Squinting when smoke gets in your eyes can cause premature wrinkling of the eyelids.

Dieting and skin aging

Cyclical, significant weight loss and gain, also known as "yo-yo" dieting, stretches the skin, causing it to lose its elasticity and making it more vulnerable to wrinkling and sagging under the force of gravity. Try to stay within five or 10 pounds of your ideal weight and avoid fad or crash diets.

How facial expressions age the skin

In a sense, skin has a "memory." If it is repeatedly folded in the same way by muscle contractions, permanent static lines will eventually form. This is common in sailors who constantly squint to protect their eyes from wind and sun glare. It also can be true of people who smile broadly much of the time and those who scowl a lot. Wearing sunglasses outdoors is one way to prevent continuous squinting. Another is to become aware of undue tension in your facial muscles and to make a conscious effort to relax your face.

Ways to keep your skin looking young

In general, some of the same steps that keep you healthy on the inside--such as not smoking and maintaining a normal weight also can help keep you looking healthy on the outside. Here are some steps you can take to help your skin look younger longer:

  • Try to avoid sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest.

  • Apply a sunscreen with SPF 15 or more on all exposed skin 30 minutes before going outdoors.

  • Re-apply sunscreen after swimming or sweating.

  • Do not sunbathe.

  • When at the beach, stay under a beach umbrella, but also use sunscreens since sunlight reflecting off the sand and water can harm unprotected skin.

  • Outdoors, wear wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves and pants.

  • Wear makeup (foundations and lipsticks) that has a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.

  • Avoid tanning booths.

  • Don't smoke.

  • Wear sunglasses outdoors.

  • Use moisturizers to combat skin dryness.

  • Use moisturizing soaps.

  • Use a humidifier at home in winter when indoor air can be particularly dry.

  • Ask your dermatologist about topical tretinoin emollient cream. This FDA-approved product may slow or stop additional photoaging when used to treat existing photoaging.

  • Ask your dermatologist about alpha-hydroxy acid, which also may help reduce some visible signs of photoaging.


  1. cookies said...

    Great blog and useful information :)

  2. Metropolis said...

    thanks cookies

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