This installment of our series on skin discusses general strategies one may use to slow, prevent, or ameliorate the visible signs of aging. (Later topics will deal with specific ingredients.)
The anti-aging cosmeceuticals market is already a multi-billion dollar industry. As aging baby boomers and younger people focus on looking as good as possible at every age, the growing demographics ensure a growing marketplace with more and more competing products constantly being introduced.
Who do you trust?
As BFT has amply demonstrated, marketers are not bound by ethical considerations in their sales pitches…anything and everything that can separate an unwary consumer from their money will be tried and should be expected.
Subterfuge abounds in this market sector. Buzz words “sell” and airbrushed photos of beautiful young people are seductive sales tools. Scientific claims and jargon are used without scientific proof. Personal recommendations (allegedly from personal use and experience) are often shamelessly and openly commingled with the profit motives of the “reviewer” who just so happens to also be a seller of the product. Of course, they would never recommend something that they did not genuinely believe in. That would never happen, would it?
Don’t be fooled. BFT is here to help. The final installments of this series will review skin care ingredients that have shown efficacy in the laboratory and on real people. For now, let’s look at the basic ways to best care for one’s skin and combat the effects of aging.
“The Warmth of the Sun”
The Beach Boys hit song can be forgiven for giving poor advice to America’s youth. After all, it was more than half a century ago that the California surf culture and sun worshipping were all the rage. We now know better than to languish for hours in the mid-day sun.
An obvious exception: any southern beach during college spring break. The good news is that liberal use of sun blocking protection by sun worshipers is common during these times – primarily in order to maximize “sun time” by preventing dreaded and disabling acute severe sunburn. Long term protective effects are a secondary concern at best. The bad news is that for many, vacation days at the beach are the only days of the year when sun protection is used.
For different reasons and for many centuries, the cult of the sun was decidedly different.
Had Marie Antoinette not met her destiny at the executioner’s blade, she might have gone to her dotage unsullied by wrinkles and age spots. Her skin had seen little if any sun exposure; alabaster colored skin was the norm for people of the aristocracy.
In fact, until the beginning of the last century, it was quite possible to distinguish members of the upper and lower classes solely by the color of their skin. Bronzed and wrinkled skin identified laborers, sailors, and toilers of the field – those who earned their living (and lived their lives) under the sun.
The aristocracy did not need to venture into the sunshine to earn a living. When they chose to do so – for sports, picnics, walks, or travel – they were able to afford the finest in clothing and accessories to keep the UVA and UVB at bay. Women wore full length clothes including gloves and parasols. Some even went as far as to put lead-based cosmetics on their skin to artificially whiten their skin tone.
An Historical Downside to Fashion Fads
As one might expect, the change in attitude about sun exposure came about via the fashion world.
In the 1920’s, Coco Chanel, the influential Parisian designer, returned from her vacation in the South of France with a golden glow (actually the left-over results of inadvertent sunburn.) That single suntan turned bronze skin into a fashion craze on par with her quilted purses.
One would hope that if Mademoiselle C were alive today, she’d turn her nose up at the thought of exposing her precious epidermis, and more importantly, her dermis, to the wrinkle-causing, cancer-spawning sun (or its not-any-better-no-matter-how-much-you-kid-yourself cousin, the tanning bed). Hopefully, she would get her browner skin in a newfangled way — by bottle, booth or airbrush…and make sure to slather herself with effective sun protection every time she ventured out of doors.
For there is a price to pay.
Scientific Evidence of Sun Damage Effects
Because the destructive power of the sun on skin is cumulative over decades, studies on the effectiveness of sun protection take many years to complete. Long term placebo controlled studies do not exist but there is more than enough data to show the benefit of limiting sun exposure is real. Historical data linking cumulative sun exposure to delayed deleterious effects abounds. (Similar historical data first incriminated the now non-disputed damaging and lethal effects of tobacco smoke.) Evidence for the real and theoretical benefits of reducing sun exposure is accumulating rapidly.
Young et al provide evidence in their 2007 Journal of Investigative Dermatology article entitled: The Detrimental Effects of Daily Sub-Erythemal Exposure on Human Skin In Vivo Can Be Prevented by a Daily-Care Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen.
Using sophisticated markers of cell injury, cell recovery, and genetic up and down regulation, their conclusion was: “daily sub-erythemal sun exposure in skin … results in clinical, cellular, and molecular damage. Much of this damage, and in some cases all of it, can be inhibited by a low sun protection factor sunscreen that may be effective in the prevention of long-term photodamage, including skin cancer.”
The moral of this story is simple and absolute … “whenever exposed to the sun, wear protection.”
There is simply no other preventative measure that can compare in protecting skin from aging.
It’s amazing. Google search for images of “skin moisturizing” and you’ll see hundreds of thousands of hits, nearly every one of them a photo of a product for sale or the the unwrinkled flawless skin of some teenaged or twenty-something young woman. Not a furrowed brow or wrinkled cheek to be seen. (See, it’s true, beauty sells.) So what about moisturizing? Is it helpful? Is it advisable? The answer to both is “yes”.
With aging, old skin cells from the stratum corneum exfoliate at a slower pace, and replacement from deeper epidermal layers is delayed. At the same time, the cell to cell adhesion of youth is reduced which allows increased loss of moisture from deeper skin layers.
Moisturizer is helpful with benefits from both the aqueous and lipid components. The aqueous phase directly contributes to improved hydration of deeper layers while the lipid phase contributes to the intercellular lipid matrix of the stratum corneum and provides an additional “top layer” hydrophobic barrier, helping to keep moisture in the skin. Improved moisturization improves skin turgor, tone, and suppleness. The lipid surface also reduces skin friction, flakiness, and scaling.
Skin cleansers may be an important adjunct to the regimen of those who use cosmetics, have sensitive or compromised skin, or utilize topical therapies. Cleansers emulsify dirt, oil and microorganisms on the skin surface so that they can be easily removed. During cleansing, there is a complex interaction between the cleanser, the moisture skin barrier, and skin pH.
Cleansing, with water, soap or a liquid cleanser, will affect the moisture skin barrier. Soap will bring about the greatest changes to the barrier and increase skin pH. Liquid facial cleansers are gentler, effecting less disruption of the barrier, with minimal change to skin pH, and can provide people with a cleanser that is a combination of surfactant classes, moisturizers and acidic pH in order to minimize disruption to the skin barrier.
The choice of facial cleanser is important for people with normal skin, as well as for those people with sensitive skin and skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis and acne vulgaris. Within the liquid cleanser category, the least irritating cleanser will contain non-ionic/silicone-based surfactants combined with moisturizers, as they will cause the least disruption to the moisture skin barrier and the normal skin flora.
For many people, particularly men who seldom use cosmetic products, plain water can provide adequate cleaning for simple day to day skin care. The more exposure to particulate, organic, and toxic substances one has, the more important skin cleansing becomes and the less likely water will be sufficient.
During the course of aging, both skin function and appearance are affected. Changes in appearance are the most visible signs of aging and include wrinkles, irregular pigmentation, sagging, atrophy, elastosis, and telangiectasia. It has been shown that appearance is an indicator of overall health status, and “looking old for one’s age” is associated with increased risk of mortality.
All organs are impacted by nutritional status and the skin is no different. In 2007, Cosgrove et al published an article entitled: Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Their finding were informative.
The study focused on wrinkled appearance, senile dryness, and skin atrophy (independent of factors known to affect skin aging) in 4025 women between the ages of 40 and 74.
Higher vitamin C intakes were associated with a lower likelihood of a wrinkled appearance and senile dryness. Higher linoleic acid intakes were associated with a lower likelihood of senile dryness and skin atrophy. Increase in fat and carbohydrate intakes increased the likelihood of a wrinkled appearance and skin atrophy. These associations were independent of age, race, education, sunlight exposure, income, menopausal status, body mass index, supplement use, physical activity, and energy intake.
BFT will continue its series on the skin and skin care by examining classes of ingredients used in skin care products and reviewing the scientific literature, or lack thereof, that supports that use.
As always, stay tuned and invite your friends and loved ones to join the BFT family.