Like many of my patients over 40, you’d probably like to keep your skin youthful looking for as long as possible. As a skin doctor, I’ve seen many people in their 70’s and older who still have beautiful skin – clear, great color, and with only minor wrinkles that you might see on a late 30 year-old. How is this possible? Well, let me share with you several important things about your skin and what you can do to keep it looking healthy, beautiful, and youthful.
Skin – How Your Biggest Organ Ages
When I tell my patients that their skin is their largest organ and they need to do specific things to keep it healthy and functioning correctly, they’re often surprised. Most people just think of their skin as a covering for their muscles and bones. Although that’s true, your skin does so much more.
Skin is an active organ that regulates your body temperature, keeps your fluids balanced in your body, keeps your electrolytes (regulates heart beat, etc) balanced, and holds nerve receptors that warn you about extreme heat, pain, or injury. Your skin also holds fat in its deeper layers to help keep a smooth, plump appearance of the upper, outer layer. It also contains connective tissues, like collagen, that knits your skin together to keep it from sagging. When you get older, you lose some of that subcutaneous fat and your skin no longer has a smooth, plump surface to drape across. It starts to settle into the grooves and pits that the loss of fat has created and we see it on the surface as a wrinkle or hollow.
As your skin gets older, the outer layer starts to thin out and lose its strength and elasticity. This is because too much unprotected sun exposure (solar elastosis) has caused the collagens and proteins in the connective tissues to breakdown faster than normal. They are not able to replenish themselves as quickly as when you were younger. This is what gives a leathery appearance to chronically sun-damaged skin. Although some sunlight is beneficial to your health, all day unprotected sun-exposed skin can cause premature aging and disease.
Older skin can also start to look pale and translucent. It may start to develop dark “age” spots especially in sun-exposed areas. Or it may develop small bruise-like spots from tiny points of bleeding beneath the skin. These develop from fragile blood vessels that the thinning skin cannot protect as well. In addition, both men and women produce less and less natural oil, or sebum, in their skin which contributes to its dryness. In men this usually starts to occur later in life, around the 80’s, but occurs much earlier in women when they hit menopause.
By now, you’re probably thinking, sheesh! . . . my skin (and my face!) are doomed. Well, not so. Here are some very successful and helpful things you can do to save face and age gracefully.
How to Fight the Changes of Aging Skin
Remember earlier when I mentioned those people in their 70’s and 80’s with beautiful, clear and barely wrinkled skin? You can be one of them if you follow some simple and basic rules of taking care of your largest organ.
- Drink more water! Without enough water, skin sags and wrinkles more, and can actually “tent” off the back of your hands from dehydration. Drink half your weight in water every day. You’ll see the difference in your skin immediately.
- Optimal nutrition. Eat foods, or take supplements, that include skin-saving antioxidants like alpha-lipoic acid, beta carotene (natural sunscreen!), vitamins, C, E, quercetin. Proteins, like turkey which contain carnosine, prevent elasticity breakdown. Avoid refined sugar as much as possible as it causes high acid levels that breakdown collagen, the very element your skin needs to stay elastic and strong.
- Hyaluronic acid. Abundant in young skin – it’s what builds collagen and helps skin heal and stay strong. Stores decrease as we get older. Eat foods containing HA like chicken, butter or kidney beans (1/4 cup a day), wakame seaweed, or phytoestrogens that produce HA like soy, red wine. Or, supplement 80 mg a day.
- Lutein. Research shows that lutein boosts skin elasticity and helps keep it hydrated. It has a double benefit for your eyes too. At least 10 mg a day from spinach, kale, cabbage, and/or be sure it is included in your multivitamin.
- Beneficial oils. Add at least 1 tablespoon of olive oil, or whole green olives, to your diet daily. Or, use as a topical moisturizer straight from the bottle! Contains good fatty acids that penetrate the layers of skin and plumps out wrinkles. Omega-3 fats like fish oil or flaxseeds help fight dry skin in menopause and older men. Use 1-2 tablespoons of milled flaxseeds in food. Fish oil 1,000-2,000 mg a day.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is one of the biggest skin agers. It robs hyaluronic acid and oxygen from the skin causing it to age prematurely and breakdown.
- Cleansing/Moisturizing. Use a mild cleanser like olive or coconut oil soaps, or castile. Be sure to exfoliate 3-4 times a week to stimulate skin cell turn over and prevent build up of old cells that causes dullness. Use a good natural-oils moisturizer like straight olive oil or coconut oil mixed with a little aloe vera. Break open a vitamin E capsule and apply straight to wrinkles around eyes, mouth, etc.
Growing older doesn’t have to mean looking the part! If you pay a little more attention to maintaining healthy skin by following the recommendations here, your skin will repay you by maintaining a healthy, youthful look well into your advanced years!
Jay Brachfeld, M.D.
10 Foods To Fight Wrinkles, http://www.wilsons-ha.co.uk/article.php?id=2035
Aging Changes in Skin, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004014.htm
Foods that have Hyaluronic Acid, http://www.ehow.com/about_5548372_foods-hyaluronic-acid.html