The holidays always give one a chance to be with family and friends, and that is what is needed at times to get our brains working from a totally different viewpoint and considering realities and possibilities our minds have missed.
During this past Christmas, I was lucky enough to be asked by one of my children why I did not become a cosmetic plastic surgeon with a specialty in space surgery. That started me thinking.

How our skin ages

Genetics affects skin health

The aging process is determined by a number of different factors, some of which we can control and others of which we are helpless victims.  The effects of genetics, which effectively means how we form and destroy our body structures, is a primary determinant of how we age. Just look at your parents if you want to know how that process will affect you.Nevertheless, an important fact to consider is that our bodies, skin included, have normal cycles of cellular birth, death and renewal that are normal. We are, in effect, beings in constant motion and not static forms. I often wonder what we would really look like if we were placed in front of a very, very slow motion camera. Don’t forget that we shed our skin completely every six weeks, our intestinal lining every three days, etc.

Collagen, elastin, skin proteins

The degradation of the “stuff we are made of, such as collagen and elastin, is one of the primary reasons why our skin ages. Actually, it is not so much that the material we have is destroyed (although some of that definitely occurs) but rather that the normal processes of protein production and degradation that occurs in the younger skin is slowed down. The “older,” less effective protein hangs around longer and there is less of it.

Effects of the environment on the skin

Sun damage is the single worst environmental factor that damages our skin. Ultraviolet rays have been shown not only to degrade skin proteins such as collagen and elastin, but also to damage the DNA of skin cells. The damaged DNA then leads to errors in protein production and cell division. Fewer proteins are produced and there are more faulty cells, which can lead on to skin cancer. Other environmental factors can also influence the skin’s aging processes. Dry, cold air, such as is found in mountainous areas or close to the poles, leads to dehydration of the skin and ultimately to damage. Exposure to chemicals such as tanning and those containing lead or aluminum has long been known to damage normal cellular turnover and the growth rate of new skin cells.

 More on the effects of gravity on skin and aging in the next blog.