Analysing the effects of ageing on skin and hair
No-one likes to get old, but at least we have the opportunity to actually reach a ripe old-age compared to other generations! UK life expectancy is now 79.3 years (for males) and 82.9 for (females) as opposed to 1900 when it was just 47 for a man and 50 for a woman.
The flipside of ageing is the effects of time on our bodies and minds. Of course, there are plenty of factors that play havoc with our appearance as we age, e.g. lifestyle, hormones and even the weather. Unless they are drinking the elixir of youth, then nobody can expect to look the same as they did in their youth. But ageing can be unsettling, with many wondering if they have a normal number of wrinkles, or if their hair is turning grey too soon.
Concerns about body image are not the sole domain of younger generations!
Our cells are continually changing and new cells are continually replacing old cells to keep us fit and healthy. But as we age, cells tend to die without being replaced. This is a normal ageing process called atrophy. This happens for a number of reasons including reduced use and many external factors such as sunlight, radiation, and free radicals.
In simple terms, free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage our cells. These atoms essentially have missing electrons which causes them to search for other atoms that have these electrons to bind with to become stable. Because of their reactive nature, they can damage our skin by causing oxidative stress, weakening living cells and tissues, causing us to age quicker.
Here, we investigate the effects of ageing on our skin and hair, with recommendations to mitigate these effects by looking after ourselves correctly.
How does ageing affect our skin?
Skin is the ultimate proof of changes in ageing. After all, our skin has faced gravity, daily facial movement, sleep, stress, diet, alcohol, and sunlight exposure for our whole lives. And if you smoke, your skin will have significantly more wrinkles than your non-smoking counterparts of the same age.
Hormone changes occur too, in particular, oestrogen during menopause. Oestrogen reduction causes a loss of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid production, which are the three pillars of youthful skin, with reduction beginning in our 30s which reduces dramatically in our 40s and 50s.
As we grow older, the skin becomes:
- Rougher due to being unable to retain water
- Slacker due to the loss of elastin
- Thinner, which makes it more transparent
- Bruises easier from thinner blood vessel walls
- Uneven, exhibiting melasma and hyperpigmentation
- Dry and flaky
What can we do for prevention?
So, what can we do to prevent these effects? It sounds like pretty much everything we do has a negative effect on our ageing skin — but this doesn’t mean you should remain indoors for the rest of your life and only drink water if you want to remain youthful. You should still enjoy yourself but take precautions.
Sun is the biggest culprit of ageing skin. Over time, everyday gradual exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light damages the elastin in our skin, causing it to eventually sag and stretch. Sun damage does not show until we’re older, and there’s nothing to do to reverse it.
Firstly, and most importantly, apply sun cream on your face, neck, and hands every day when you are outside. And not just in summer, but in winter too and on cloudy days. The winter sun and clouds can still allow damage to be caused without you noticing, that will be revealed when you’re older. Ignore the SPF in your foundation — it isn’t as effective as a facial sun cream with SPF 30 or 50.
However, it is also important to note that Vitamin D deficiency in the UK is becoming a major problem. Many people, for example, believe that part of the reason for the higher rate of COVID-19 deaths in the BAME community is that this group as a whole tend to be highly Vitamin D deficient. Although you can supplement, sunshine is the best source of Vitamin D. so while you do need to protect your skin, do also consider limited exposure to sunshine during the summer months.
Consider using a retinoid, a topical Vitamin A derivative
Retinoid, a topical vitamin A derivative, is renowned among dermatologists and in research for its anti-ageing properties by promoting skill renewal, exfoliating the outermost layer of skin, and encouraging collagen production. For example, The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid is an affordable option to keep skin remaining young and healthy.
It’s never too late to invest in a retinol product — dermatologists recommend the products are suitable for anyone over the age of 18. However the younger you start, the better the reward.
If you decide to apply retinol, you must wear sun cream as the nature of this product makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Always read the instructions to make sure you are using it to its full potential.
- Cutting out smoking to reduce premature ageing
- Reduce alcohol intake due to its dehydrating effects
- Regular moisturisation after bathing
- Drink plenty of water — around two litres a day
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
The effects of ageing on hair
When we age, our hair tends to turn grey — unfortunately, this is genetic and not something we can totally avoid. But have you ever considered other ways hair ages?
Like skin, hair faces numerous changes as we get older, including thinning, growing slower, and becoming dry. Every strand is comprised of the strengthening keratin protein, and when we age, levels decrease which makes our hair weaker and less elastic.
Just like our faces, our scalps are affected by time, with cell renewal slowing down and hormone changes.
Maintaining hair texture
Sun damage and pollution are also key accelerators of ageing hair which dry out the scalp and make it dull and dry.
It’s recommended that to slow down signs of ageing hair, hair and nail vitamins help protect hair from free radical oxidative stress, sun damage, and pollution. With our bodies not getting the nutrients we need when we’re older, taking vitamins with a clean diet helps keeps our strands strong. Consider a wholefoods Mediterranean Diet to maximise the nutrients in your food.
Try to minimise using heat on your hair, wear a hat on hot days to protect your hair and scalp, as well as staying hydrated at all times.
When buying shampoo, check for zinc pyrithione shampoos, which is hydrating and soothing for the scalp.
Although ageing is inevitable, there are steps we can take to age well by looking after ourselves and understanding what the damages are caused by. But so remember that sometimes the simplest of actions can pay real dividends in the anti-ageing war: never underestimate the impact that water, good food, and exercise can have on your body and appearance!
Shao, Y., He, T., Fisher, G.J., Voorhees, J.J. and Quan, T., 2017. Molecular basis of retinol anti‐ageing properties in naturally aged human skin in vivo. International journal of cosmetic science, 39(1), pp.56-65.