Aging affects every part of your body, but skin changes are a relentless reminder that you’re not as young as you used to be. Stopping visible signs of aging is a goal shared by women and men everywhere. Americans spend more than $1 billion annually on anti-aging cosmetics, with hopes that creams, serums and gels will put an end to wrinkles and sagging skin. Unfortunately, many of these products have little or no measurable benefits.
Considered the largest organ, skin is in a unique position: it’s outside your body. While carrying out a critically important job—shielding internal body systems from heat, sunlight, injury and infection—skin is repeatedly assaulted by environmental toxins, pollutants and chemicals.
While we may respect our skin’s primary biological functions, its appearance is what best motivates us to care for its health. We slather on expensive anti-aging creams and drink extra water daily in hopes of maintaining a youthful look.
But as time wears on, skin wears out. Structural proteins naturally slow in production, water retention is reduced and collagen fibers and fibroblasts are broken down or damaged by environmental influences. Results include wrinkling, sagging, drying and discoloration.
UV sun radiation is believed to be one of the primary causes of aging of the skin. Exposure generates harmful compounds called free radicals in the body.These unstable oxygen molecules attack healthy cells, damaging their lipids, proteins and DNA. Free radical attacks lead not only to the breakdown of collagen but also to impaired function of collagen-producing cells. Without healthy collagen, skin loses its elasticity, causing it to wrinkle and sag.
To stop free radicals from prematurely aging your skin, antioxidants are essential. These protective compounds, found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, wine, tea and coffee, neutralize free radicals, guarding healthy cells from injury. While obtaining antioxidants through diet is ideal for protection of internal body systems, it’s speculated that only about one percent of them consumed orally reach the skin. Applying antioxidants topically may be a more effective way to protect skin from oxidative damage.
One interesting study showed that topical vitamin C made a noticeable difference in facial appearance. Subjects applied a vitamin C complex to half of the face, and a placebo gel to the other half. Researchers evaluated wrinkling, pigmentation, inflammation and hydration at 4, 8 and 12 weeks. Clinically visible and statistically significant results were seen in the vitamin C side of the face after 12 weeks. In addition, increased collagen formation was demonstrated on the vitamin C side.
Other antioxidant nutrients that have shown promise in protecting skin health when applied topically include coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), green tea, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin E. For optimal effects, combine a diet rich in antioxidants with topically applied nutrients. Exfoliating regularly will also help keep skin looking young and fresh by removing dead cells that have accumulated on the surface.