Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2007. Copyright 2007. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.
Someone once said, "Time may be a great healer, but it's a lousy beautician." The signs of aging are obvious--wrinkles, fine lines, sagging skin, age spots, enlarged pores, hormonal imbalances. Yet, we live in an age where skin care is at its most advanced, allowing us to prevent and treat the signs of aging like never before. First, let's take a look at how the aging process affects our skin, and then hear from the experts about how to combat those effects.Fine Lines and Wrinkles.
There are two types of wrinkles that show up as we age--dynamic wrinkles and wrinkles caused by sun damage or lifestyle choices. "Dynamic wrinkles are often hereditary and are influenced by muscle contraction and relaxation," says Alison O'Neil Andrew, a licensed esthetician and founder of Atlanta-based Beauty Becomes You Foundation, a nonprofit organization that specializes in beauty care for seniors. "Wrinkles can occur around the eyes and mouth and on the forehead. Sun damage or lifestyle wrinkles are usually found on the cheeks, neck, and chest and have a checkerboard look to them."
The cause of wrinkles and lines are multi-faceted. Genetics play a role, as does damage caused by sun exposure, overly abrasive products, smoking, and other unhealthy lifestyle choices. Add to that the skin's own aging process: "The cell renewal process slows down. Fibroblast cells, which are the things that generate collagen and elastin, decrease their production," says Robin Carter, licensed esthetician and manager of esthetics at Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, Inc., located in Deerfield, New Hampshire. "Also, the skin naturally loses moisture as we age, so it has a tendency to wrinkle more easily the older we get." Skin Discoloration/Age Spots.
"Sun damage is the biggest cause of skin discoloration or texture changes and can show up as early as the teenage years," O'Neil Andrew says. "The intensity of the damage caused will appear even more, starting in the late thirties. Symptoms include changes in pigmentation, brown discolored spots on the skin, and splotchiness of the skin following a burn."
Sun exposure can lead to things worse than blotchy skin, however. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States ... Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays appears to be the most important environmental factor in developing skin cancer." Be sure to visit your doctor if you see a spot on your skin that has irregular size, shape, or coloring, or if there are significant changes to already existing spots. Sagging Skin.
As we age, skin becomes less firm and under the weight of gravity, can start to lack definition. "Our skin begins to lose its elasticity as we get older and as collagen production slows," Carter says. "Subcutaneous tissue is responsible for giving our skin a fresh, plump look, and we start to lose some of that padding, particularly on our face, as time goes on. This can cause sagging skin."Hormonal Changes
. Typically, because body fluid production naturally slows as we mature, the most common complaint about aging skin is dryness. Occasionally, however, hormonal fluctuations might create unwanted blemishes on the skin. "Women who are going through menopause experience hormonal shifts that cause the skin's oil to get thicker," Carter says. "This can cause clogged pores that can lead to papules and pimples."Enlarged Pores
. Though pore size is genetically predetermined, pores can look as if they increase in size over time. "Already enlarged pores may seem to get larger as skin loses elasticity and pores stretch," O'Neil Andrew says. Also, if the skin has not been properly cared for over the years, its natural exfoliation process will be hindered, and it will not be able to clear away dead skin cells efficiently, leading to clogged pores. "In this case, it's not that the pore is actually bigger, it is just more visible because it is not as smooth as it should be; it is clogged with oil or oil hardened with skin debris," says Celia Lang, spa manager and licensed esthetician for Weleda North America, a natural skin care company based in Palisades, New York. Treatments to Turn Back Time
Though time will continue marching on, there are ways to help ourselves age gracefully. Deep Cleanse
. Clearing blocked pores is important for maintaining radiant skin and ensuring the skin is ready for optimal moisture absorption. However, it is crucial to be more gentle with mature skin than with younger skin. "Older skin is not as forgiving as young skin and can be much more sensitive," Carter says. For this
reason, using a gentle moisturizing cleanser is best, starting with a five- to seven-minute steam to loosen pore debris and relax the facial tissue. "Avoid using harsh abrasive scrubs that can be too drying to mature skin," Lang says.
Extractions, which are usually part of a basic facial, should be performed on mature skin only if absolutely necessary, experts say. "Special considerations need to be taken with elderly skin," O'Neil Andrew says. "The skin is more fragile and can tear and/or bruise easily. Extractions need to be done with care."Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
. "Hydration masks are a key to long-term results when addressing aging skin complaints," Lang says. "If you are not properly hydrated, then you can't expect skin cells to normalize or respond to a problem." Following a moisturizing cleanse, Lang suggests leaving a hydrating mask on the skin for at least ten minutes and up to a half hour to allow the healing properties to fully penetrate the epidermis. It's especially important to use a moisturizing day cream that contains sun block to prevent further sun damage and dryness. Massage/Tissue Stimulation
. "The massage, often thought as a luxury during masking, is actually an important step," Lang says. "Through massage, the esthetician is warming the blood circulation and gently stimulating the lymph to encourage the body's natural ability to normalize the cycle of skin cell rejuvenation." Collagen Enhancers
. "Caring for aging skin requires the same [cleansing, toning, and moisturizing techniques as young skin] with a few extra serums and treatments added in to enhance the skin's own production of collagen and elastin," says Myra Eby, founder of MyChelle Dermaceuticals in Frisco, Colorado. Some collagen-enhancing formulas, like Retin-A or Strivectin, can also be helpful for wrinkles. Products containing known antiaging ingredients, like Ester-C, green tea extract, or alpha hydroxy acid, are solid additions to a moisturizing regimen.
Aging is inevitable. But by partnering with a skin care therapist and staying knowledgeable about these tools, you are better equipped to make the processes as painless as possible. Christine Spehar is a Colorado-based freelancer writer who specializes in wellness and skin care.