Our skin undergoes multiple changes as we age. The changes are gradual and continuous and normally begin to slowly change our appearance in our mid-20s.
Many of these changes are inevitable and include wrinkling, sagging, the appearance of age spots, broken blood vessels and dryness.
Some skin changes we can prevent, others we can’t do anything about.
What causes signs of ageing?
Genetics plays a key role in the ageing process. The skin becomes less supple and elastic as older skin produces less collagen and elastin. The skin is more likely to sag and droop and becomes vulnerable to gravity. For example, you may get bags under the eyes or jowls along the jaw line. Wrinkles form, especially around the eyes and mouth.
Thinning of the skin is caused by the basal cell layer of the epidermis reducing its rate of cell production and thinning the epidermis. The dermis becomes thinner, causing the skin to wrinkle and crepe.
The sebaceous glands produce less oil, leading to dryness and itchiness. These changes occur naturally over time. It’s intrinsic, just part of nature.
Extrinsic changes are related to our environment and lifestyle choices — these are the causes of ageing we can influence. If you have ever wondered why a person looks much older for their age (and vice versa) it is due to extrinsic ageing.
Sun exposure, smoking, diet, stress, and other lifestyle factors can have a great impact on how we age.
How can you prevent signs of ageing?
Dermatologist Dr Belinda Welsh says exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) is the single biggest culprit for skin ageing.
"Australia has very high levels of UV radiation and we spend a lot of time outdoors. UV radiation damages the elastin and collagen fibres in the skin. As a result, the skin sags, wrinkles, stretches and becomes blotchy,” said Dr Welsh.
“It is important to understand that sun-induced photo ageing is caused by UV radiation from the sun, not from its heat. UV radiation from the sun can damage your skin, even on a cool, cloudy day when you think you’re safe.”
“Proper skin care should be a priority for everyone. In Australia, there is a general attitude that skin health is a female–only domain, linked to beauty rather than health. Taking good care of your skin should be a priority for everyone.”
5 ways to reduce signs of ageing
- Protect your skin from the sun every day. Some simple measures include wearing sun-protective clothing, using broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher), wearing a hat and sunglasses and seeking shade.
- Check the UV Index daily. When it is three or above, we should protect ourselves, and our family members, from the sun. We all have weather apps on our phones to help us decide what type of clothing to wear and whether to pack an umbrella, so why not check that same app to see how high the UV Index will be?
- Stop smoking. Smoking accelerates ageing and hampers the blood supply that keeps skin tissue looking supple and healthy. Smoking causes premature ageing, wrinkles, uneven skin colouring, and dry, coarse skin.
- Gently wash your skin using a mild non-soap cleanser. Washing your skin helps to remove pollution, makeup, perspiration and other substances that can irritate it.
- Apply a facial moisturiser suitable for your skin type after cleansing. Facial moisturisers keep your skin hydrated and soft, and help you look and feel younger.
Dr Belinda Welsh has been a practicing dermatologist for more than 20 years. Dr Welsh is the founder of Complete Skin Specialists. She is also a senior consultant at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital and the Skin & Cancer Foundation Inc. She has extensive training in facial anatomy and an intricate understanding of how and why the face ages.