The Science of Aging Skin


From the moment a person is born, aging begins. Although you are powerless to the natural process of aging, what is done each day will affect the skin later. The rate at which the skin bears the signs of aging is dependent not only upon chronology and genetics, but also on the environment, a very large factor working against the skin that many tend to overlook during their youth.

Chronological aging

As a person ages naturally, several changes take place gradually in the skin. The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of the epidermis, composed of flat, platelike envelopes filled with keratin, a protein that prevents water evaporation. Plump cells are continuously traveling from the lower layers of the epidermis to the upper layers. When they reach the surface, they will have become flat and scaly, at which point they are sloughed off in a process called desquamation. As aging occurs, desquamation changes, resulting in a thicker layer of dead skin cells making the surface uneven and sometimes dull. Production of keratin also slows, which, in turn, means drier skin. The epidermis as a whole will also become thinner and more transparent.

Hormonal changes, mainly due to menopause, cause a reduction in sebum production. Sebum is an oily, lipid-rich film that covers the skin’s surface, providing natural lubrication. Mixed with perspiration, the skin’s surface becomes slightly acidic, keeping some bacteria and fungi from entering and helping to retain water in the tissue by slow evaporation from the surface. Slower production of sebum will again result in dehydrated skin.

Elastic properties and skin’s firmness change during the aging process as enzymes break down the elastin and collagen proteins. Elastin provides resiliency to the skin; its natural ability to snap back. Collagen provides strength to the skin structure. The degradation of these proteins will ultimately lead to wrinkles as dehydrated skin loosens.

Environmental aging

Most people are born with beautiful skin; however, the lifestyles they lead will have an impact on how they age. Extrinsic factors, such as sun exposure, will expedite the signs of aging on the skin.

Sun exposure. Absorption of ultraviolet (UV) and visible light occurs due to melanin granules in the epidermal cells. Melanin protects the skin from the damaging effects of sunlight. Exposure to sunlight, especially UVA and UVB radiation, stimulates the production of melanin resulting in a pigmentation increase, otherwise known as a tan. Although this is the defense mechanism to protect skin from UV damage, it is also a sign that harm has occurred. UV rays generate free radicals, highly unstable molecules that damage cellular material. They are capable of altering DNA and may affect membranes surrounding the skin cells, destroying or altering enzymes and proteins required for cellular metabolism. This can result in the formation of sun-induced skin cancer, and the hastened breakdown of collagen and elastin leads to thinner skin and wrinkles.

Smoking. Smoking reduces the body’s supply of vitamin A and absorption of vitamin C, which are both vital in protecting skin. Additionally, because smoking shrinks the size of capillaries, blood flow becomes more restricted, and vitamins and oxygen are not delivered to the skin. Smoking increases production of the enzyme that breaks down collagen. One cigarette contains 4,000 chemicals. Why spend money on skin products when you are ingesting poison?

Improper skin care. The natural pH balance of the skin has an acidic level of about 5.5. Many soaps and cleansers raise that balance to somewhere around 10, leaving the skin tight and dry. One of the skin’s most important functions is to retain water, and your clients’ skin care regimens should work to reintroduce moisture and minerals to skin, which is best done if products closely mimic the skin’s composition.

Lack of sleep. During sleep, the body repairs and replaces damaged tissues and cells, including the skin. Without enough sleep, the repair process is slowed and cortisol levels are raised, which can impede collagen production and accelerate water loss. The result is dry skin and wrinkles. Lack of sleep increases the appearance of dark circles under the eyes. During sleep, circulation is increased. A lack of sleep impacts circulation and those not getting enough might appear paler, increasing the visibility of dark circles, which can be attributed to dilated blood vessels under the eyes where the skin is thinnest. According to The Better Sleep Council, the average person needs seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but this varies from person to person.

Poor nutrition. What a person looks like on the outside begins on the inside. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are vital for nourishing and hydrating skin, protecting it and aiding in repair and protective functions. Poor nutrition leads to decreased cellular repair, dehydration and a decrease in collagen and elastin production.


It is important to nourish the skin at every age. (See Your Skin at Every Decade.) Although not as much emphasis is placed on skin care during youth because signs of aging and environmental aggressors are not as apparent, it is crucial to tend to the skin with facial treatments for prevention and regeneration, and an at-home regimen appropriate for age and skin type with ingredients that nourish and heal skin.

Facial treatments should include gentle desquamation and contain serums and anti-aging ingredients. Offer a classic European facial with a stimulating massage using my facial massage method (see “The Art of Facial Massage” by Lydia Sarfati from the April 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine), as well as a therapeutic and nourishing treatment that rejuvenates, tones, firms and restores moisture for younger-looking skin.

Pentapeptides. The technology of pentapeptides is an effective science patterned on a specific natural collagen fragment, which signals the cells to firm the epidermal/dermal junction. Amino acids are the smallest building blocks of protein. When several amino acids link, they form a peptide, and five form a pentapeptide. The messenger pentapeptides work through a wound-healing pathway, activating genes associated with collagen cross-linking.

Biopeptides. Biopeptides are rich in proline, glycine and lysine, which are similar to elastin and are able to block the production of elastase, the enzyme that breaks down elastin.

Red clover extract. Red clover extract is rich in plant hormones that mimic the effects of hormone therapy on estrogen-deprived skin. It is known to stimulate cell metabolism, increase protein synthesis, improve skin hydration, reduce wrinkles, and thicken the epidermis and dermis in postmenopausal skin.

Hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in the skin. It moisturizes, aids in healing superficial fissures due to the fragility of mature skin and can hold 100 times its weight in water. Sugar beets are an excellent nonanimal source of hyaluronic acid.

Deep sea thermophyllus. Deep sea thermophyllus has properties that aid fibroblast recovery and natural skin recovery, in addition to helping DNA repair.

Laminaria digitata. Laminaria digitata is brown seaweed rich in polysaccharides and vitamins.

Spirulina. Spirulina is a unique source of omega-3 and gamma linolenic acid. These all play an important role in building and maintaining a protective barrier and inflammatory response.

These ingredients are great for topical skin products and for nutritional supplements, as well. Needless to say, what you put into the body is as important to the skin as what you put on it.

Keep clients healthy

Your clients’ skin is the first thing everyone sees and, although you can’t control the natural aging process, you can take measures to keep them healthier, resulting in better skin. Emphasize the need to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle and a diet rich in proteins, amino acids and antioxidants ... and make them put out that cigarette!

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