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How to Deal with Aging Skin

There is hardly anyone aged 30 and over who would not like to look a few years younger. A multi-billion dollar global skin care industry thrives on this desire. There are now medications, cosmetic preparations and therapies that can reverse some of the physical signs of aging, for example, to smooth out wrinkles or remove dark “age spots” on the skin. However, the surest way to forestall an aging look is by taking good care of your skin, which will also benefit your general health.

Changes of Aging Skin

As the years go by, our skin becomes more dry and wrinkled, heals more slowly and various spots and discolorations may appear. Most of these changes are harmless but some require attention if they become painful or disturbing. Certain growths may be skin cancers or collections of cells that could become cancerous and necessitate immediate attention from a dermatologist. Most people over 70 develop at least one skin problem that requires medical treatment. Some skin problems may be caused by disease such as diabetes, due to poor healing and reduced sensation associated with this disease, or conditions involving poor blood circulation.

Effects of Sun on the Skin

Lifelong exposure to the sun with little protection not only causes a more weathered appearance of the skin but it also places us at greater risk for developing skin cancer. Our face and hands are at particular risk. The sun’s rays are increasingly more potent as we get closer to the equator and with increasing altitude. Therefore, it matters where you live and spend your vacation. In addition, the number and function of pigment cells in the skin decrease with age and so does also our natural protection against potentially cancer-causing damage from ultraviolet light. But it is never too late to start using sunscreens, as some of them may even repair skin that has already been damaged by the sun.

For years we have been told that it is only the ultraviolet B (shortwave, UVB) rays of the sun that cause cancer. The ultraviolet A (long-wave, UVA) radiation, which makes up 95% of ultraviolet radiation, has been until recently only known to age the skin. However, we are now learning that the UVA rays penetrate our skin more deeply than UVB and damage keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis, where most skin cancers occur. Hence, the ultraviolet A radiation used in tanning salons can also contribute to the development of cancer. Moreover, some medications increase our sensitivity to the sun. They include Retin-A, used to remove wrinkles and age spots, as well as some antihistamines, antibiotics and antidepressants.

Home Treatments for Dry, Itchy Skin

The dryness of aging skin usually makes it flake and itch, especially in cold, dry weather. Flaking is partly a result of decreased oil secretion by the oil glands whereas the skin’s barrier function weakens over time too, allowing for easier skin irritation. However, a severe case of cracked, itchy skin may be due to conditions such as psoriasis, liver or kidney disease, diabetes or an overactive thyroid gland. Itching also happens to be a common reaction to many drugs. But for most individuals the cause of itching is usually less serious. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with dry skin and to alleviate its itching.

Aging skin seems to be increasingly prone to irritation from contact with various common materials such as wool, soap, detergents or other chemicals found in the washing powder, a condition called contact dermatitis. Wearing loose-fitting cotton clothing usually helps to eliminate contact dermatitis. You may also want to try a different washing product.

In order to prevent and cure dry, itchy skin, regularly apply a moisturizer, preferably one recommended by your doctor. The moisturizer keeps the skin soft and moist, so the itch comes down. Keep in mind that some moisturizers contain chemicals that may be irritating rather than soothing to your skin. In general, for dry, itchy skin the ones that are best are the ones that are really greasy, such as lanolin and Vaseline. The way you bathe or shower can benefit your skin but also irritate it. Bathe in pleasantly warm water for 15 to 20 minutes once but no more than twice a day. Do not use hot water, as it dries out the skin. In addition, use a humidifier in your home, especially in winter months.

What Causes Wrinkles

Wrinkling, one of the first signs of aging skin, is the result of several factors, including heredity, accumulated exposure to the sun, smoking and a weakening of elastin and collagen. Elastin is responsible for the skin’s flexibility, while collagen physically support the skin. With the passing years, epidermis, the topmost layer of the skin, becomes thinner, more susceptible to injuries and slower to heal. The underlying layer called dermis loses elastin and collagen and thus some of the resilience and flexibility of youth. The fatty hypodermis, the lowermost layer of the skin, also shrinks with age, making the skin sink inward. And as gravity takes its toll, the skin begins to sag.

Ways to Prevent, Disguise or Reduce Wrinkles

Over the years a number of hand-held beauty devices such as facial irons have claimed to be able to whoosh away wrinkles. Some of them were used alone and some combined with collagen and hormone wrinkle removing creams. Stay away from such techniques. They are useless, expensive and may be even dangerous. Exercises to reduce wrinkles are also ineffective and they may incise wrinkles even more deeply than before. The best way to help prevent, reduce or disguise wrinkles may be simply by adjusting your daily activities:

  • Avoid continually losing and regaining weight, as it stresses the skin’s elastic quality.
  • Wear dark glasses outside to eliminate squinting and thus prevent crow’s feet.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and include sufficient amount of vitamins A and C in your diet.
  • Use creamy makeup. Powders accentuate lines in the face.
  • Sleep on your back to eliminate sleep lines on your face.
  • Use a full-spectrum sunscreen instead of ordinary sunscreens which only provide protection against ultraviolet B rays but may not filter out all the ultraviolet A, which increases photoaging.
  • Exercise regularly to promote the flow of blood to the skin, which nourishes the collagen fibers there. Moreover, perspiration cleanses the skin.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking accelerates aging of the skin more dramatically than sun exposure. It causes the blood vessels to constrict, inhibiting the flow of blood and thus supply of nutrition and oxygen to the skin.

Dermatological Treatments to Smooth Wrinkles

A number of treatments exist that a dermatologist can use to smooth or reduce wrinkles. However, keep in mind that none of them are permanent and some can have side effects.

Topical retinoids include tretinoin or retinoic acid, a derivative of vitamin A, which can be found in an anti-wrinkle cream formula called Renova and tazarotene used in a cream called Avage. These anti-wrinkle creams are prescribed for mild wrinkling to reduce wrinkles. By enhancing the blood flow to the dermis, retinoids stimulate the turnover of cells and increase the production of collagen, which results in improved quality, texture and appearance of skin. Because retinoids can make your skin burn more easily, you should strictly limit your sun exposure while using them. You get the full benefit of the retinoid cream after about six months and need to continue using it indefinitely to maintain the improvement.

Chemical peels rely on applying acid solutions to the affected areas in order to burn off one or more layers of facial skin. There are different acids that can be used for light, medium and deep chemical peels. Some of them, the so-called AHAS, are mild acids derived from natural substances such as milk, fruit or sugar cane, which may need to be combined with tretinoin applied beforehand to make them work better. Patients with heart, kidney or liver disease should avoid a phenol peel, used for deep peels, as this toxic chemical can cause irregular heartbeats, liver or kidney damage. Chemical peels usually work well on skin that has become leathery due to extensive exposure to the sun. However, they can be painful and the skin may need weeks or months to recover.

Dermabrasion. In this procedure, a rotating wire brush is used to sand off fine wrinkles and small areas of damaged skin. It usually takes a couple of weeks for the skin to recover from redness, scabbing and swelling. Pre-treatment with tretinoin may improve the effects of dermabrasion.

Microdermabrasion is a technique similar to dermabrasion but it only removes a fine layer of the skin. It may require up to 20 treatments to achieve desired results.

Botox injections. Botox or botulinum toxin type A is made from a lethal toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. Botox is used in very small doses for temporary smoothing of facial wrinkles. By blocking nerves and paralyzing certain muscles, it keeps the muscles from contracting so that the skin appears smoother and less wrinkled. This helps to improve the look of moderate to severe frown lines. The effects typically last for about twelve months.

Filler injections involve injections of collagen, fat or hyaluronic acid gel into deeper wrinkles to produce a smoother appearance. Results last for only about six months, since the body absorbs the injected material. The procedure must be repeated to extend the desired effect.

Skin tightening is a non-invasive treatment, using devices that rely on heat to tighten the skin. This procedure delivers mild to moderate results, effects of which last four to six months.

Plastic surgery is the only treatment that can correct lax, sagging skin and wrinkles that are too deep for other methods to handle. Possible techniques include facelifts and blepharoplasty, a procedure to remove excess tissue around the eyes. Keep in mind that nothing can stop the aging process of skin, so effects last for maximum ten years.

Age Spots and Their Causes

These so-called liver spots are flat patches of color, varying from light to dark brown, almost always found on the backs of the hands, face, shoulders and arms. Although the exact cause is still unknown, exposure to the sun must be a major contributing factor since age spots appear in areas most exposed to the sun. Though entirely harmless, they may resemble one form of the skin cancer melanoma. Even if age spots do not bother you cosmetically, it may be wise to pay the dermatologist a visit. A variety of non-prescription face creams are available, claiming to remove age spots, but none of them will actually make age spots disappear.

Fading and Removing Age Spots

There are several over-the-counter as well as prescription medications that can be self-applied at home over a period of time. Though they require patience, they are less expensive than invasive treatments used by a professional. Keep in mind that sun protection is necessary after all treatments – home treatments and those performed in the doctor’s office too.

Retin-A can be used not only to reduce the appearance of facial wrinkles but also to fade age spots. Expect the skin to sting and peel for a while. You can use the highest concentration that you can tolerate. For faster results, you may use a high-concentration Retin-A in conjunction with hydroquinone.

At-home peels. Rubbing glycolic acid, lactic acid or trichloroacetic acid into the skin causes dead cells on the surface of the skin to slough off. This smooths out rough skin. Lactic acid is the mildest choice with trichloroacetic acid being the most aggressive. Preferably use a prescription formulation as OTC home chemical peels are too weak to work well. Another option is to use hydroquinone but it can be irritating.

Procedures performed in the doctor’s office include:

Freezing (cryosurgery) consists in applying liquid nitrogen directly to the age spot, while freezing it off. This procedure is used on a single spot or a small grouping of spots and takes about 15 seconds. It causes a sharp, stinging sensation that quickly disappears.

Chemical peels. This therapy is also used for removing wrinkles and has been described earlier in this post. It involves applying substances to the top layer of skin that make it peel off, exposing a layer beneath that lacks age spots. You may experience side effects such as burning skin and ringing in the ears.

Laser and intense pulsed light therapy. These treatments are used if you have a few large, isolated, flat age spots. Laser and intense pulsed light therapies destroy the cells that are making too much melanin without hurting the skin’s surface. Your body will then replace those cells with normally functioning pigment cells. The treated area of skin will form a scab that will flake off within a week or two. Repeated treatments may be needed, a month or two apart, depending on the depth of the pigmented area.

Dermabrasion is yet another technique used to remove age spots that is also employed to treat facial wrinkles. For more details, see the section “Dermatological Treatments to Smooth Wrinkles” above.

Where to Get More Information: American Academy Of Dermatology – What Causes Our Skin to Age?