About Face!

Take a 180 and rediscover youthful skin.
By Cara Lucas
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Although wrinkles tell stories of memorable adventures and serve as stamps of an experienced life, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily want to advertise our past with a face as worn out as the travel brochure.

It’s often difficult to embrace the aging process and let go of the fact that we are not kids anymore. Yes, aging is even unavoidable to those revolutionary Baby Boomers who, just yesterday, partied during Woodstock, listened to the Beatles, or progressively fought for women’s rights.

But the proof lies in our skin’s appearance, blessing some with a youthful exterior that seemingly contradicts their chronological years and punishing others with facial timelines beyond their existential era. Genes can play a significant role; however, maintaining your youth can simply boil down to embracing fundamental skin care principles on a daily basis.

Learning about the structure of the skin and how it works allows you to better understand proper ways to treat and protect it, as well as shedding light on ways to reverse signs of aging.

Skin Science

Our bodies utilize protein from certain foods for more than just building big muscles. Numerous internal functions depend on proteins for processes involving the maintenance and replenishing of tissues in the body. Muscles, organs, and immune-system functions all depend on proteins in order to properly execute their jobs. Specific interrelated proteins important to skin health are collagen, elastin, and keratin.

There are several different types of collagen in the body that form our bones, ligaments, and connective tissues. Actually, about 1/4 of all protein in the body is collagen, with a significant amount providing the supportive structure for our largest organ—the skin. Approximately 98 percent of our dermis is made from this fibrous protein as it provides the “molecular glue” that binds tissues together. The other two percent consists of elastin, a protein that helps skin return to its original shape if pinched or nudged. Lastly, there is keratin, which forms the outer layer of human skin and works with collagen to provide key structural components.

When we are young, the collagen in our skin is resilient to the redundant insults of the daily grind and easily remains plump, yielding the baby-face associated with so many young people. As we age, though, collagen slowly loses its ability to renew itself and, instead, deflates to form the infamous and equally dreaded wrinkle.

Every day we encounter ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species), often called free radicals, which distort and damage both collagen and keratin in our skin. We all encounter free radicals on a daily basis through various avenues like unprotected contact with sunlight, use of harmful cosmetics, or inhaling different pollutants.

By definition, free radicals are particles that are unstable because they are missing an electron. They search for other substances to steal an election from, stabilizing themselves by pairing up with the newly acquired, negatively charged ion. Once they gain stability, they are no longer a free radical but instead convert the other molecule into a free radical. You can then logically conclude that because collagen and keratin are so abundant in the skin, they are the biggest targets for free-radical damage.

When the free radical steals an electron from a protein in the strand of collagen, it breaks the collagen at that particular point and, naturally, damages it. The effect is cumulative and progressive as it leaves behind at least one free radical in this procedural wake. Throughout the years, and several collagen breaks later, one can visibly see the effects of the free-radical damage in loss of elasticity and sagging skin.

Don’t think that aging is a death sentence on smooth skin, though. There are natural ways to maintain, replenish, and renew the collagen supply you had as a youngster.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

Have you ever heard of eating in colors? Nature has it all figured out and seems to be much smarter than us! By eating a myriad of colors throughout the day, you consume unique vitamins and antioxidants from each food source, building-in skin protection easily and naturally.

Foods rich in antioxidants like vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, selenium, polyphenols, and flavanoids fight typical signs of aging. These signs can exhibit themselves as thinning skin, loss of elasticity, texture changes (roughness), and pigmentations (age spots).

“The skin loses structural components as we age, leading to dehydration and wrinkle generation,” says Dr. Joosang Park, Vice President of Scientific Affairs for Biocell Technology. “This natural aging process is worsened by the extrinsic aging process caused primarily by UV light (photoaging). Many consumers are aware that eating healthy food and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important to keep younger looking skin, but they do not necessarily follow what they know. Dietary supplements that replenish the structural loss and delay both aging processes can fill the gap.”

In addition, commercial beauty creams just won’t always cut it—natural antioxidants go further and are able to infiltrate the often impenetrable skin barrier by working from the inside out. In turn, they provide better protection from harmful free radicals and, as an added bonus, use beauty correction as a camouflaged way to boost overall health.

Antioxidants can also come to the rescue via natural supplements and topical applications. Studies show you really can’t get too much vitamin C, but the EWG (Environmental Working Group) warns to be careful using vitamin A in direct sunlight. While it’s true that many sunscreen products contain vitamin A in an attempt to slow down skin aging, a 2009 study by US government scientists found some evidence that a particular form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, may speed up the presence of skin tumors and lesions.

The FDA further investigated this study in 2010, finding reinforcing evidence that retinyl palmitate causes “earlier onset and greater numbers of skin lesions and squamous cell tumors.” The EWG recommends avoiding the use of products that contain vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, or retinol unless under supervision of a dermatologist. If using these products for medicinal purposes, they recommend applying creams at night and staying out of the sun.

Sun-Protection

If you have any remote interest in protecting your skin, you will probably  already know that sunscreen is the number one topical application in keeping that youthful glow. But sunscreen can’t do it all on its own. True, a good broad-spectrum product does provide UVB and UVA protection, but that protection is sometimes incomplete due to the continual penetration of residual light past the epidermis and into the dermis. This residual light penetration can generate free radicals, but when paired with antioxidants, experts say that sunscreens provide the best combination to combat skinrelated damage. Antioxidants and sunscreens work in concert to reinforce each other’s sun-protective abilities.

Using a technique with a two-photon laser fluorescence-imaging microscope, researchers have studied the effects of ultraviolet radiation on free-radical generation and their role in skin damage. They discovered that the stratum corneum, the skin’s protective barrier against environmental assault, developed numerous amounts of free radicals when exposed to UV light. These free radicals were believed to harm the skin’s cytoplasm and lipid matrix, as well as injure the cytoplasm of the lower epidermis.

In conclusion, the addition of antioxidants to sunscreen is believed to decrease damage caused by free radicals in the skin, thus decreasing wrinkles, sagging, age spots, and, quite possibly, skin cancer.

While it is important to embrace aging, you don’t have to feel dominated by it. Loving your skin, taking preventative measures to protect it, and maintaining it in natural ways compliment good health, leaving skin healthy and glowing as a result.