The Basic Framework Of Our Skin
Our skin is the largest organ in our body and consists of 3 basic layers - epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer (fatty tissue).
1) Epidermis - The epidermis is the outer most layer of our skin and is the body's main barrier of
protection from the environment .
2) Dermis - The dermis is the middle layer of our skin and contains a number of essential items such as
blood vessels, sweat glands, hair follicles, etc. It also contains three very important structural
components known as collagen, elastin, and glycosaminoglycans [1,2].
- Collagen is a protein that is responsible for providing support and strength for our skin.
- Elastin is a protein that allows our skin to resume its shape after being stretched or contracted
much like a rubber band returns to its original form after being stretched out.
- Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are long chains of carbohydrates attached to a protein core. Water
loves to latch on to GAGs which is why they keep the skin plump, soft, and hydrated.
3) Subcutaneous layer (hypodermis) - Underneath the dermis is a layer of fatty tissue called the
hypodermis or subcutaneous layer. It supplies our skin with blood vessels and nerves along with
providing padding and insulation.
How Do Wrinkles Form?
Skin, like many other cells and tissues in the body, tends to break down and even die over time. This is quite normal. When this happens our body does what any good mechanic would do when trying to fix a broken or damaged vehicle - it repairs or replaces the older parts with newer ones. This makes sense right? This whole process happens on a daily basis without us even knowing it and for the first few decades of life this isn't a problem. However, over time our body sustains an increasing amount of free radical damage and is less able to effectively carry out this rebuilding process and repair our damaged skin. Hence, the formation of wrinkles as we enter our middle ages and beyond.
Let's break this down a little further to help you understand exactly how different components of our skin are affected over time and ultimately end up wrinkling:
- The epidermis is less able to repair itself over time and actually becomes thinner [3,4].
- Collagen will become more sparse and less soluble which weakens the dermis layer [5,6]. Remember
that collagen acts as the building blocks of our skin to provide it with strength and support much like
bricks and mortar do when building a home. So if our "bricks and mortar" start to crumble you can
only imagine what that does to our skin.
- Elastin is degraded slowly over time and also accumulates damage. In fact, as we age and the body
tries to regenerate new elastin it often makes disfigured elastin fibers. This happens mostly in areas of
the body that have had a lot of sun exposure like our face, hands, and feet . Consequently, our skin
is less able to return to its original shape after being expanded or contracted. You may be able to
better picture this scenario by thinking of what happens to an old, dried out rubber band when you
stretch it. It's not able to spring back to its original form after it's expanded.
- Glycosaminoglycans are less able to hold onto water which leads to dehydrated skin that doesn't
remain soft and plump like it once used to .
- Fatty tissue (subcutaneous layer) tends to decrease with age particularly in the face, hands, and feet
while increasing in areas such as the belly and thighs [4,6]. This is part of the reason why our
bellies and thighs don't wrinkle as much as we get older and our face and hands do. If you ask me our
face and hands definitely get the raw end of the deal don't you think?
In addition to the above, there are a few other important factors that act to increase wrinkling. Repeated facial expressions over many years such as squinting, frowning, and smiling will cause permanent creases or folds in your skin. Smoking and sun exposure also increase the prevalence of wrinkling. In fact, smoking has been shown to lead to almost a five fold increase in premature wrinkling while excessive sun exposure has shown to triple the incidence of premature wrinkling . Geezz! Those aren't very good odds.
To learn more about the formation of wrinkles check out this excellent video by Dr. Neal Schultz as he explains how wrinkles form in our skin.
Postponing Your Date With Wrinkles
Now that you know what causes wrinkles the more important question is how can we prevent them from happening in the first place. Although wrinkle formation is inevitable there are many things that can be done to prolong your youthful appearance. I'll focus on three of the most important things you can do to prevent wrinkles.
1) Reduce Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation
- UV light exposure is definitely not a friend of collagen fibers. Not only does it speed up the
breakdown of current collagen fibers but it inhibits the formation of new collagen . This is
largely due to the formation of free radicals when your skin is exposed to UVA and UVB light
which damages your DNA .
- UVB exposure also decreases a substance called hyaluronic acid which is a key glycosaminoglycan
(GAG) responsible for keeping your skin moisturized . Remember that water loves to latch
onto GAGs which is how your skin stays both hydrated and soft. So if UVB exposure is wiping
out a good portion of your GAGs then it makes it tough to keep your skin moist, soft, and wrinkle
- UV exposure also increases your risk of skin cancer which is mainly due to UVB light .
- Your best bet is obviously to avoid excessive sun exposure if possible. However, if you do plan on
being in the sun then remember to put on your sunscreen. Also, do not use tanning beds -
ever! The short lived tan that you get isn't worth the risk of cancer and shriveled up skin later on in
2) Stop Smoking
- Smoking has also been shown to decrease the production of new collagen which once again
weakens the cellular support structure of your skin . In addition, smoking was also shown to
increase the breakdown of collagen already formed in the skin .
- The formation of abnormal elastin fibers along with the destruction of current elastin has also been
linked to smoking .
- Smoking also increases the formation of free radicals which cause oxidative damage to the
connective tissue found in your skin along with increasing your risk of cancer .
- Your best bet is to simply quit smoking or never start if you haven't already. It's never too late to
put out that cigarette and your skin will thank you many times over. If you need help quitting check
out the many resources available to you on my smoking cessation page - Butt Out.
3) Eat a Nutrient-Dense, Plant-Based Diet
- Many people may have never considered how beneficial eating healthy, antioxidant rich foods can
be for your skin but after learning how they work it will make perfect sense to you.
- You've read a lot of information from above about how free radicals can cause all kinds of
oxidative stress and damage to your skin. This damage is a quick ticket to wrinkles, wrinkles, and
more wrinkles. But beneficial compounds called antioxidants are here to save the day! How is
this you ask? Because antioxidants act like little scavengers going around and gathering up all
those free radicals to render them harmless in the body . And the more free radicals you
demobilize the less damage and distress to your skin cells which means younger looking skin.
- The best way to load up on antioxidants is to adopt a plant-based diet filled with vegetables, fruits,
legumes, whole grains, and nuts/seeds. After all, when is the last time you heard your doctor or
dietitian talk about how abundant antioxidants like beta-carotene or vitamin A and C or selenium or
even polyphenols are in steak and chicken? That's because they aren't. These substances can
only be found in generous, health promoting amounts in plant-based foods. That's why it's
essential to have a diet based on these foods if you want to promote youthful, wrinkle free skin for
many years to come.
- A study published in 2010 in the British Journal of Nutrition looked at diet and skin aging. After
the researchers accounted for differences in age, smoking status, BMI, and lifetime sun exposure
there was still a clear link between eating low-fat, plant-based foods and a decrease in wrinkling.
Those individuals who ate the most green and yellow vegetables had a significant decrease in their
wrinkling score as opposed to those who ate a diet high in saturated fat . Saturated fat is found
in much larger quantities in animal-based foods (meat and dairy), oils (even olive oil), and
processed foods. Needless to say, it stands to reason why you would want to stick to a plant-based
diet and avoid high fat foods if you want to do what's best for your skin. To learn more about fat
content in your diet visit my page on Fat Fundamentals.
- Multiple studies have found that dietary antioxidant vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals such as
carotenoids, tocopherols, and flavonoids have demonstrated a protective effect against
sun exposed skin damage [16,17]. These substances are found in abundance in plant-based foods.
- A class of antioxidants known as anthocyanins found in blueberries and other purple fruit has been
shown to reduce the breakdown of collagen due to damage cause by UVB sun light exposure .
- Another powerful fruit, pomegranate, is rich in antioxidants called phenolic compounds. This
health promoting fruit has a number of beneficial effects on aging skin. First, it actually helps
thicken the skins outermost layer (epidermis). Second, it promotes the growth of new collagen
fibers and also prevents current collagen fibers from being broken down .
- Green tea has also been shown to be protective against ultra-violet radiation induced skin
inflammation and damage. The antioxidant group known as polyphenols are responsible for these
beneficial effects in green tea .
Wrinkling doesn't seem to be anyone's friend but, unfortunately, is inevitable as we age. The many different components that make up the multiple layers of skin eventually breakdown and wear out causing those unwanted folds and creases we find staring back at us in the mirror every morning. While we can't escape this phenomena, we can choose to adopt or break certain behaviors and habits that will accelerate this process. By reducing our lifetime exposure to UV light, avoiding smoking, and eating a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet we arm our skin with the best defenses available to prevent those pesky, little lines from forming in the first place. I hope you've found this information helpful and may you have healthy, youthful looking skin for many years to come. ☺
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