September 17, 2007
The wrinkling that you describe is the result of two types of aging that your skin experiences over the course of your lifetime, says Dr. Jenny Kim, assistant professor of medicine and dermatology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. These can be described as intrinsic and extrinsic aging.
Intrinsic aging is the natural wear and tear, over time, on the skin's elasticity (which is supplied by fibers of collagen and elastin that make up the skin's supportive structure). "As we age, we start to lose the collagen and elastin fibers that give skin its youthful appearance," Kim says.
Extrinsic aging occurs as a result of external factors, most notably UV exposure. "If you look at areas of your skin that aren't exposed to the sun, your inner arms for example, those areas will be much more youthful in appearance," Kim says.
Two types of UV rays contribute to sun damage: UVB rays, which are associated with sunburn, and UVA rays, which cause long-term damage. "UVA exposure is very important in causing the extrinsic aging that breaks up the collagen and elastic fibers that make our skin feel so good when we're young," Kim says.
The most important thing you can do for your skin is to reduce UV exposure. Cover up your body and use a broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Clothes with UV protection and garments made from tightly woven cloth will provide more protection than loosely woven articles. Kim even recommends wearing sunscreen under loosely woven clothes. "Don't forget to apply it to the back of the neck and ears," she says.
If you exercise outdoors, do it early in the morning or late in the afternoon: The highest exposures to UV radiation occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Other things that age the skin include smoking, exposure to air pollution and other chemicals in the environment -- even dry weather. "Anything that causes inflammation of the skin may contribute to aging," Kim says.
There are a number of dermatological treatments aimed at reducing wrinkles, Kim adds. These include topical creams, such as retinoic acid, which has been shown to reduce sun damage; antioxidant creams, such as vitamin C, applied topically; and various types of laser treatments. Other options include "fillers," which are designed to fill in areas where there has been a loss of collagen or fat and Botox.
As far as drinking lots of water goes, there's some theoretical belief that water loss could contribute to skin damage, but that hasn't been proven, Kim says.
The important thing to remember, Kim adds, is that skin is an organ and responds to exercise and diet just as the body's other organs do.
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