How and Why Skin Ages

In order to slow down and possibly reverse skin aging, we first need to understand how the skin changes with aging and the factors that accelerate those changes. Two primary aging mechanisms exist – intrinsic or biological aging and extrinsic or external aging. Intrinsic aging is inevitable as it is part of the natural aging process. Our skin cells, just like our bodies, begin to slow down. Extrinsic aging is the cumulative effect of many assaults on the skin throughout one’s lifetime that cause it to age prematurely.


Although these changes are inevitable, there are measures that can be taken to slow the process and possibly replace what nature has taken away.

The outer most layer of the skin, the epidermis, begins to thin. It receives less nutrients and the removal of waste products, including free radicals declines.

Collagen, the framework which supports the skin, production slows leading to lines, wrinkles and sagging.

Elastin, the substance that allows our skin to “snap back” into place no longer has the spring it once did.

Dead skin cells do not shed as quickly and turnover of new skin cells decreases. Instead of being renewed every 2 or 3 weeks, aging skin takes 4 to 6 weeks to be replaced.

Decreased oil production causes skin to become dry.

Loss of underlying fat leads to hollow cheeks and eye sockets.

Bone loss causes the bones to shrink away from the skin and sagging develops.


Unlike intrinsic aging, extrinsic aging is much more manageable. There are numerous outside factors that accelerate the visible signs of aging. Avoiding them is the most cost effective anti-aging strategy. Unfortunately, for many of us, they have already done their damage.


Photoaging is that which is produced by exposure to the sun’s rays. Exposure to ultra-violet (UV) rays results in the formation of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms or molecules that are extremely reactive. In order to stabilize themselves, they attach to other “normal” molecules causing modification or damage to them. Aging is the cumulative effect of many free radical attacks over time. With repeated exposure to the sun, the skin loses its ability to repair itself and the damage accumulates. The collagen breaks down and its synthesis is impaired. The elastin weakens. The skin becomes loose, wrinkled and leathery. Freckles, age spots, spider veins, blotchiness and skin cancer have all been traced to sun exposure.

Repetitive Facial Expressions

Think about the number of facial expressions you have every day. Research studies have shown that individuals make approximately 15,000 facial movements per day. Each time the face moves for an expression, the skin is stretched. When young, the skin snaps back into place, similar to a rubber band. As we age, it does not snap back and permanent expression lines form. These are seen as frown lines, smile lines, crow’s feet and lip lines.


The force of gravity constantly pulls on the body causing changes that become more pronounced as we age. It causes the eyelid to fall and jowls to form. The tip of the nose begins to droop, the ears elongate and the upper lip begins to disappear while the lower lip becomes more pronounced.

Sleeping Positions

Sleeping with your face pressed against a pillow night after night can cause “sleep lines” that, over the years, become etched in the skin and become wrinkles. Dermatologists are actually able to determine the side of the face you sleep on by looking at your wrinkles.


Exposure to cigarette smoke leads to the formation of free radicals and weakens the skin’s collagen and elastin fibers. It also constricts the blood vessels, depriving the skin of the oxygen and nutrients it needs to remain healthy.


The chlorine in water does more than make it safe to drink – it ruins your skin. Chlorine is an oxidative agent designed to attack living organic matter which is why it kills bacteria in water supplies. Unfortunately, the skin is also living organic matter which is vulnerable to the effects of chlorine.

Avoiding as many of the above external stressors as possible will make your skin look younger, longer.