Nowhere are the signs of ageing better observed than on the skin. Fine lines, wrinkles, sagging, irregularity of skin pigmentation, broken capillaries leading to red blotches and dryness are the mainsigns of healthy ageing of the skin. Lifestyle choices and good skin care can help minimise the signs of both healthy and unhealthy skin ageing.
Skin is the first body part to show age. While age-related changes are inevitable, they are not universally embraced. A desire for younger looking skin can be satisfied with healthy lifestyle choices and good skin care.
There is a range of medical and surgical anti-ageing treatments available – however, these are not without risk. Before embarking on any surgical treatment you should consult with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Make sure you have realistic expectations of the potential benefits and understand all the potential risks, complications and side effects of the treatment.
Skin layers explained
The uppermost layer of the skin is called the epidermis. This layer contains pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) that give skin its colour. The epidermis renews itself constantly. New epidermal cells are born in the basal cell layer of the epidermis. These mature as they gradually rise to the surface where they ultimately die and are sloughed off.
Beneath the epidermis is the dermis, which contains blood and lymph vessels, nerves, sweat glands and oil glands. Hair follicles are extensions of the epidermis into the dermis. The dermis is made up of networks of elastic fibres (elastin) for suppleness and dense fibres (collagen) for strength. Finally, a layer of fatty tissue lies below the skin and gives it structure.
Signs of ageing
Some of the signs of ageing skin can include:
- Thinning – the basal cell layer of the epidermis slows its rate of cell production and thins the epidermis. The dermis may become thinner. Together, these changes mean skin is more likely to crepe and wrinkle.
- Sagging – older skin produces less elastin and collagen, which means it is more likely to sag and droop. Older skin is particularly vulnerable to the effects of gravity, for example, jowls along the jaw and bags under the eyes are simply skin that has yielded to gravity.
- Wrinkles – reduced elastin and collagen, and the thinning of skin, mean those ‘high traffic’ areas of the face (like the eyes and mouth) are especially prone to lines and wrinkles.
- Age spots – the remaining pigment cells (melanocytes) tend to increase in certain areas and cluster together, forming what’s known as age or liver spots. Areas that have been exposed to the sun, such as the backs of the hands, are particularly prone to age spots.
- Dryness – older skin has fewer sweat glands and oil glands. This can make the skin more prone to dryness-related conditions, such as roughness and itching.
- Broken blood vessels – blood vessels in older, thinner skin are more likely to break and bruise. They may also become permanently widened. This is commonly known as broken vessels.
Age-related skin conditions
Some skin conditions are more likely to develop as we get older. These can include:
- Seborrhoeic keratosis – a type of benign skin tumour that looks like a brown wart.
- Solar keratoses – spots of skin that are inflamed, scaly and dry. Common sites include the bridge of the nose, cheeks, upper lip and backs of the hands. Skin cancer (squamous cell) can develop in them, so examination by a doctor is advised.
- Bowen’s disease – a type of slow-growing and scaly skin patch. It may be a pre-cancerous change. Sun exposure is thought to be a cause.
- Skin cancer – including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Reducing your risk
Ways to reduce the signs of ageing include:
- Limit sun exposure – sun exposure accelerates ageing of the skin. If you want proof, compare the skin on your hands with that on your buttocks. Wear a hat, loose fitting clothes, sunglasses and SPF15+ sunscreen when outdoors, and avoid sunbathing.
- Don’t smoke – cigarette smoking promotes skin wrinkling and is thought to accelerate the damage caused by sun exposure. The action of puckering up for each drag on a cigarette increases the likelihood of wrinkles around the mouth.
- Moisturise regularly – dry skin is more likely to show fine lines and wrinkles. Moisturise regularly if you have dry skin.
- Care for skin gently – age-related dryness will be further exacerbated by skin irritants such as perfumed soaps, heavily chlorinated swimming pools and long hot showers. Use neutral pH balanced soaps, body washes or equivalents.
There is a range of anti-ageing treatments available. However, these are not without risk and you should consult with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon to make sure you understand all the potential risks, complications and side effects of the treatment.
Some of the anti-ageing treatments offered include:
- Sunscreen – daily application during the summer months is an effective way to reduce sun exposure.
- Topical lotions – creams (such as tretinoin creams) are only available on prescription. These creams have been shown to visibly reduce fine lines and uneven skin colouration when used regularly. Niacinamide is available in a number of cosmetic creams and reduces uneven skin pigmentation.
- Injections – for example, synthetic collagen or body fat harvested from other areas of the client’s body can be ‘piped’ along wrinkles via a small hypodermic needle.
- Facial peels – chemicals are applied to the face to ‘burn off’ the top layer of skin. This removes the wrinkles and age spots and encourages faster regrowth of newer, younger-looking skin.
- Botox – wrinkle-prone areas, such as around the eyes and between the eyebrows, are injected with the Botulinum toxin. The resulting paralysis prevents the muscles from wrinkling the skin.
- Vascular laser – to remove broken blood vessels from the face or other areas of the skin.
- Laser resurfacing – laser can be used to treat wrinkles, age spots, scars and skin growths.
Some cosmetic surgeries that are designed to reduce the signs of ageing include the eye lift (blepharoplasty) and face lift (meloplasty). Consult with an experienced plastic surgeon and make sure you understand all the potential risks, complications and side effects of surgery.
Moisturisers – be wary of outrageous claims
Moisturiser can keep the skin moist and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Many now contain sunscreen and some also contain skin-lightening agents. However, no product has so far been shown to ‘turn back the clock’. Consult with your doctor before buying an expensive moisturiser – you may be advised not to waste your money.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Plastic surgeon
Things to remember
- Signs of healthy ageing skin include thinning, sagging, wrinkling, age spots, broken blood vessels and dryness.
- Some age-related skin changes can be reduced – limit sun exposure, don’t smoke, avoid harsh skin irritants and moisturise regularly.
- If you are considering having cosmetic surgery, talk to an experienced plastic surgeon beforehand – make sure you understand the potential risks, complications and side effects of surgery.
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Last reviewed: March 2012
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Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.
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