Skin is the most reliable (and often the only) visual indicator someone has when forming an initial opinion about you. Because of this, you may find yourself putting a great deal of effort in maintaining your skin’s appearance. In American culture, this “maintenance” often translates to prolonging your youthful appearance. Being mistaken for being older than you are is insulting while looking younger is a compliment. As a result, there are plenty of people ready to capitalize on this by bombarding you with advertisements featuring products that claim to prevent or even reverse the signs of aging.
While some of these products may be effective, keep in mind that your skin’s age-related changes can’t be “fixed” by applying an expensive cream. The majority of your skin’s changes are a result of environmental, genetic, and nutrition factors as well as changes that occur on a physiological level.
Anatomy of the Skin
To gain a true understanding of the changes that occur in your skin, it’s helpful to get familiar with its anatomy.
The skin consists of three main layers. Each layer is comprised of connective tissue and collagen fibers that aid in its flexibility and strength. From the outermost to the innermost layer, these layers include the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer.
- Epidermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin. This layer contains skin cells, pigmentation, and proteins. The epidermis contains hardened cells and can be easily thought of as the protective layer of the body. Being on the outside, it is the body’s first defense against pathogens.
- Dermis. The dermis is the middle layer of the skin. This layer contains much of the collagen, which is responsible for your skin’s elasticity. The dermis also contains blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles, blood vessels, and oil glands. The dermis is also responsible for providing nutrients to the epidermis.
- Subcutaneous. The subcutaneous layer is the innermost layer. This layer contains sweat glands, some hair follicles, blood vessels, and fat.
How Does Your Skin Change As You Age?
1. Wrinkles Accumulate
The most common complaint about aging skin is the appearance of wrinkles. While gravity certainly plays a role, the extent of your wrinkles can be more appropriately attributed to your behaviors.
Facial expressions are the primary cause of the wrinkles that appear on your face. This includes smiling, frowning and squinting. Every time you use a facial muscle, a groove forms under the epidermis. When you are younger, this groove bounces back quickly but as your strength and flexibility decrease with age, it becomes more and more difficult for your skin to revert.
It would be silly to refrain from making facial expressions of any kind, but it’s good to be mindful of the unnecessary facial expressions you make on a regular basis. You can start by bringing your awareness to the most prominent lines on your face. Those are key indicators of the facial expressions you use most frequently.
For example, if you have frown lines, you are probably frowning a lot. People typically frown because they are unhappy. Make it a goal to add more joy in your life so you spend less time frowning. If you get angry a lot, learn some healthy ways to help you manage your temper such as incorporating meditation into your day or spending more time with your friends and family.
If you have a lot of creases in your eyes, you may be doing a lot of squinting. Do you spend a lot of time in the sun without protective eyewear? Do you have trouble seeing but often forget to wear your glasses? These can both cause you to squint more than you need to and therefore unnecessarily contributing to your eye wrinkles.
2. Dry Skin
Sebaceous glands produce less oil as you age. This causes the skin to become drier and easily irritated.
3. Injuries come and stay longer
As you age, the layers that make up the skin begin to thin including the epidermis. As you recall, the epidermis is the skin’s protective layer and it is the skin’s first line of defense. As this layer becomes thinner, the risk for injury becomes a greater concern.
Another reason older adults are at a greater risk for injury can be attributed to their debilitating blood vessels. This makes them more susceptible to bruising, blooding, and ulcers. To top it off, older adults take a longer time to heal meaning their skin is left blemished for a longer period of time.
4. Age spots begin to appear
Melanocytes are pigment-containing cells commonly known for the role they play in the color of your hair and skin. As you age, the number of melanocytes decreases as the size of the melanocytes increase. The growth in melanocyte size is responsible for the presence of pigmented spots sometimes called age spots.
5. Aged skin increases your risk for a heat stroke and hypothermia
Heat stroke is a common concern among the elderly. This is primarily because as you age your sweat glands produce less sweat. The production of less sweat makes it more difficult for older adults to stay cool.
On the other hand, older adults are at greater risk for hypothermia. As you age the subcutaneous layer of the skin thins resulting in less insulation and padding. This increases your risk of getting an injury. This makes it difficult for you to maintain your body temperature.
Embracing Your Skin
Your skin has been through everything with you. Rather than directing your attention to its physical imperfections, focus on the protection and regulation your skin continues to provide you. Remember, it too has been shaped by your experiences.
“How Skin Changes As You Age,” Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.