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Shedding Light on the Aging Process
In today’s youth-obsessed culture, anti-aging products are increasingly popular. But the best prevention and treatment of aged skin? Knowing the facts.
The Aging Process
Skin begins to lose its luster with the loss of collagen, the material that creates the smooth, elastic feel of youthful skin. As we age, collagen is replaced by amorphous bundles of cells. Skin becomes thin and stretched, and outward signs can include slight inflammation. Outer layers of skin become depleted of blood vessels that supply life-giving nutrients.
But this is only part of the story. The loss of collagen and youthful skin is not just a result of simply aging. In fact, the main culprit for the vast majority of these unwanted changes is sunlight exposure. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light can damage your skin in many ways:
Removes natural antioxidants in your skin, such as vitamins A, C, E, and coenzyme Q
Decreases or even stops altogether your skin’s ability to make collagen
Eliminates immune cells that protect against infections and cancers
Causes several kinds of skin cancers, including melanoma.
Without excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, skin remains “young” well past middle age. Science News demonstrated this assertion with contrasting photos in a recent issue. A ninety-year-old Asian monk who never went outdoors appeared to be a much younger man in his thirties. Also shown was a Navajo woman who spent most waking moments in the sun. While only fifty, she appeared twice her age.
Prevention and Treatment
You can’t change your past. You can, however, take control of what happens to your skin in the future. And you can go a long way toward undoing the damage of past years.
The first step is a commitment to keeping out of the sun. While some sun exposure is necessary to produce vitamin D, reduce that exposure to your face with broad-brimmed hats and wrap-around sunglasses that screen out UV. Also use appropriate sunscreen for your face and body. A broad-spectrum sunscreen that explicitly says it protects against UVA is the best. The “A” spectrum of ultraviolet light causes most of the damage to your skin by creating oxidative “free radicals.” Traditional sunscreens protect only against UVB.
Next, eat a healthy diet that will replenish from within the vitamins and antioxidants your skin needs to neutralize UV damage.
The most practical route to reversing the ravages of “photoaging” is to use high-quality skin products formulated according to the latest scientific research. Simply purchasing products at the supermarket or drug store that make wild promises won’t achieve the effect you desire. With a range of scientifically-designed products to attack multiple areas, it is possible to make your skin look younger, to get rid of wrinkles, and to make your skin fuller and more elastic—in short, to reverse a great deal of the damage your skin has suffered.
Cosmetic procedures can be effective in reversing the effects of sunlight-induced aging, if you have the desire and the cash. A common nonsurgical approach is to use a chemical called retinoic acid (also called tretinoin). It’s quite effective, but can cause dryness, strong irritation, and increased sensitivity to light. A doctor must prescribe it for you, and monitor the effects.
Dermabrasion, chemical peels, and laser resurfacing can also be effective. They may require high expense and a need to repeat procedures. They may cause irritation and discomfort.
If you’re considering nonsurgical and surgical cosmetic procedure, be absolutely certain that your surgeon is board-certified by the American College of Plastic Surgeons.
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