This old skin of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!
Well maybe not ‘shine’ in the literal sense but well, you know what I mean…..
Whether we like it or not growing younger is the stuff of fantasies and while we can turn back the clock somewhat with our arsenal of modern interventions there is some truth to this idea:
At 25 we have the skin we were born with.
At 45 our skin reflects our lifestyle.
At 70 we wear the skin we have earned.
So what does that mean?
Well firstly I want to re-frame what I am talking about as our ‘skin’ being a dynamic and ever-renewing thing is never really that old, shedding fully every 28 days or so. What I am talking about is our skin producing cells, their health and their vigour.
Unless we have an illness, trauma or genetic condition our skin functions like a well tuned sports car throughout our younger years. Wounds heal, environmental damage is mopped up and repaired, the barrier (our outer defence) is strong and ready and its appearance is smooth, taught and vibrant. This flush of youth generally sees us into our early or even late twenties despite relentless wear, tear, abuse and mis-management but by the time the clock ticks over to 30 things are starting to change.
I remember turning 30, looking in the mirror and going ‘yay for me’ as by that time my acne had finally started to calm and my skin was yet to show any outer signs of ageing despite my aforementioned spottiness plus my pallor (the sun and me aren’t good friends), eczema and general itchiness. Little did I know that my smugness would be limited and that the winds of change were just around the corner.
Now at nearly 40 (38 actually) I find myself looking quite different to that 30-year-old youth and to be honest it doesn’t bother me. I look neither good nor bad, older nor younger than my biological age but what I do look is older that I was and older that is ‘screen age acceptable’.
Biologically my skin is starting to lose some of its structure and sag a little in places, wrinkle in others. This is partly because the cells responsible for manufacturing collagen and elastin are slowing down their production lines (and why shouldn’t they? They have been working 24/7 for nearly 40 years goddamit), and partly because the fat that gave my face structure, plumpness and beauty is shrinking (and moving to my butt for some reason?????)
Sorry if this doesn’t sound that attractive people. It isn’t really as hideous as it sounds, indeed I find the whole process quite alluring and a darn sight better than looking at Hollywood’s fantastic plasticons (icons).
Wrinkles are appearing around my eyes and those on my forehead are getting deeper, again thanks partly to sirs collagen and elastin but also due to a slackening off of the skin barrier which lets my skin dry out more frequently, a few too many sun-frying sessions which have no doubt slowed down the workings of my ‘little repair soldiers – fibroblasts’ found in the extra cellular fluid and taken its toll on my intrinsic Coenzyme Q10 levels (which helps the skin ‘breathe’ or respire and plays an important role in the production of cellular energy from APT- Adenosine Triphosphate).
On top of that hormone surges and troughs caused by stress, pregnancies, the environment (tanning etc) and normal life have left their mark in the way of pigmentation (blame the melanin) which presides around my neck and chin area which isn’t too bad for me as I can’t ever see it so yay for that small victory 🙂
For me all of these changes are happening at a time when my body is still in ‘GO’ mode – I’m still in the ‘can reproduce’ and ‘should be working hard’ living-it-large bracket where my skin, although slowing hasn’t stopped trying to make things better and that can bring problems of its own.
At my age years of sun damage can start showing up as cancerous growths spurred on by the still-present hormone surges and un-checked because of the ‘burn-the-candle-at-both-ends’ lifestyle of us 30-60 something workers/ carers/ socialites. In addition itches, blotches and spots can also start springing up as our skin struggles to keep pace with our stressful multi-tasking life style – a situation that will ensure those problems stay with you for way longer than you deem necessary.
Oh it’s all fun and games people!
Fast forward another 30 or so years and things will change again but this time it may not be all that bad.
As we age some of the biological functions that while helpful had the unfortunate side effects of leaving us with less than perfect skin calm down. Our hormone production slows down and with it our ability to be cool, calm and collected improves as long as we are mentally ‘healthy’. This can spell relief for those who suffered a life time of stress-boosted itching, redness and dryness or hormone-induced acne leaving them positively glowing with health. However, if we haven’t looked after our skin and it is looking as battered as a wind break at Scarborough beach (a very windy UK seaside town) then unfortunately your options may be limited.
While 70 plus year-old skin can still repair and renew its self its ability to do so is not what it used to be and so ‘care’ for it has to be gentle and considerate. Our barrier function is less meaning that skin that has been forever greasy is now likely to feel dry and irritated (either in patches or all over) and in any case it is less likely to be able to keep unwanted stuff out than before. This means more chance of grazing, abrasions, sun damage, bruising, dryness and infection (the degradation of the fatty tissue under the skin contributes to this too). For this reason the use of highly perfumed products may become uncomfortable, even irritating and so perfume free or more lightly perfumed products may be a better option.
The fact that our building materials (Collagen, Elastin, Hyaluronic Acid etc) are not what they used to be and the processes that make them are also tired and potentially damaged is also significant. If this is your skin it is unlikely that all ‘anti-ageing’ ingredients will work as many they need to act upon relatively healthy collagen producing cells to show an effect. If you suspect that your skin is like that my advice would be to stick to a great but basic moisturiser for the main part of the face and light serum for the eyes rather than opting for some super-duper anti-ageing potion. Ingredients such as Hyaluronic Acid, Antioxidants rich fruits and extracts, honey, oatmeal, bisabolol and other topical anti-inflammatories, emollient oils, butters and waxes and humectants (water binding ingredients) such as Beta Glucan and silk amino acids are better bets than your complex peptides and cell energisers. I’d also add that your moisturiser doesn’t need all of the above in- just 2-3 is enough to get a boost without overloading or over-engineering the solution.
As our 70 plus year old skin is more fragile exfolliants both physical or chemical should probably be kept to a minimum or used under supervision of a clinician to avoid risking infection – a better option for more regular treatment may be a natural clay mask which can gently draw out impurities and loosen dead skin cells in a more gentle, considered way. This can be done at home very cost efficiently if desired!
Finally our 70 plus year old skin still needs to be protected from the sun. Your sun protection strategy at this age will no doubt be in keeping with what you did in your earlier life – if you wore sunscreen then you will do it now, if you just covered in a hat the same will apply. Sunscreen use in your 70’s and beyond is more about preventing trauma on fragile skin than covering up from the sun as while the sun at any age can trigger skin cancers it is less likely to form new ones now due to the fact that all of your cellular processes needed to feed the cancer have slowed down. Still, best not to get complacent and a burn or irritation can be more painful and annoying now than ever before! The best sunscreen for sensitive skin is zinc or titanium dioxide based. I’d be inclined to opt for those designed for babies or sensitive skin as they are less likely to be highly perfumed and more likely to contain soothing ingredients and less irritating chemicals. Choosing one that is moisturising and light rather than drying and heavy would also provide more comfort to ageing skin as it reduces the drag factor.
In summary I’d have to say that while general ageing isn’t for the weak hearted when it comes to the skin it can bring as many blessings as curses depending on your own personal circumstances. My tip? To love the skin you are in and let it shine you need to treat it with the respect that it deserves as it has, after all been your loyal companion, witness and front-line defence for as long as you have walked the earth.
It is time to let it shine!