Helping Your Skin to Age Well

Our faces change constantly and our appearance alters as the years go by, that’s inevitable.

But for some of us, the fear of ageing is very much a fear of losing our ‘looks’ and that is not surprising when you think about the ways old people, and women, in particular, are often portrayed. And women do tend to be under a lot more pressure than men to look good.

In the fairy tales we share, old women are often hideously ugly and witch-like, or alternatively, there is a common image of the benign, jolly, chubby, aproned woman with fluffy grey hair; if you don’t believe me check out the ‘old woman’ emoji…

Why should I look good?

A major reason for the importance of physical beauty is, of course, sexual attractiveness and the biological importance of ensuring that humans are motivated to have sex and make babies. It makes sense then, that traditional perceptions of beauty are those characteristics associated with obvious signs of fertility.

But that does not mean that ageing faces are unattractive, as is demonstrated by wonderful images of interesting, characterful, lined faces that ooze with the experiences and challenges of life itself. What makes an individual attractive to another is complex and as unique as we all are to each other, despite the influence and pressure of the media.

The dictionary definition of beauty is ‘the quality that gives pleasure to the sight’ hence the expression ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. In other words, beauty is a matter of opinion. So, from the outset, I would challenge the idea that as we age, we inevitably become ‘less beautiful,’ whatever that means.

Now, I haven’t lost interest in my appearance as I age because there is so much fun to be had in using treatments and products to help me feel and look as good as I can. However, for me, this doesn’t mean trying to look younger, rather it means looking and feeling well, whatever my age.

As is true for the rest of our bodies, changes in our skin as we age are inevitable and, in attempting to resist these changes, we spend a lot of money and time on products and treatments. But, I wonder, do they work?

The wonders of our skin

To understand this a little better, we do need to understand the function and structure of our skin, but let’s keep it simple.

Skin is amazing and underrated; it protects us from bacteria, stops us from dehydrating and helps us control our body temperature. It will even do minor repairs from trauma such as cuts and burns.

Our skin has three layers. The outer layer, the epidermis, has several layers that are constantly pushing ‘new’ cells to the outermost layer, which is the most durable and is relatively impermeable. By the time the cells reach the surface, they are dead and scaled; this is necessary because millions of these cells are shed every day, so every month or so you have a new epidermis! However, the rate of replacement of the epidermal cells does slow with age.

The dermis, the second layer, is key when we talk about the effects of ageing. As well as blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles and glands that produce oil and sweat, the dermis contains collagen fibres that give skin its strength, resilience and maintain its hydration, and elastin fibres that keep the skin stretchy. It is the collagen and elastin fibres that give skin its youthful appearance.

As we age, the rate at which we replace our epidermal skin cells slows and the skin becomes thinner and more prone to damage. The glands produce less lubrication so the skin may become dry and itchy. We lose collagen fibres and they become stiffer and similarly, the elastin fibres become fewer. It is the loss of elasticity and volume that leads to lines and ‘sagginess’.

Can skin ageing be delayed?

Exposure to the sun and smoking does accelerate these changes, so using sunscreens that protect from UVA and UVB rays and not smoking are probably the most important things to consider.

But what else can help?

Well, it seems that using any moisturiser regularly will help, but it doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive. I prefer to use any moisturiser that comes without plastic packaging, that smells nice, doesn’t have too many weird-sounding ingredients and is not too greasy.

There aren’t any magic substances but similar to moisturisers, hyaluronic acid, which is not an acid but a sugar molecule, draws water into the skin and will give you a temporary improvement in look. Also known as hyaluronan, you can buy products containing this gel-like substance, which does occur naturally in the body, mainly in the skin, connective tissue and in your eyes. (Incidentally, there are eye drops with hyaluronic acid that will help with ‘dry eye’, the condition that causes tearing and irritation of the eyes.)

For longer-lasting effects, we are looking at aesthetic treatments carried out by qualified practitioners, preferably with some medical background. Although I feel at ease with what I call my ‘laughter lines’, I understand why people choose to have these treatments. My advice is that you should only consider these procedures following a thorough consultation with someone who understands what you want and who will be completely honest about the results that can be achieved.

Hyaluronic acid is used as dermal fillers to replace the loss of volume in the face, and this would give you a longer-lasting effect than anything applied to the surface of the skin. Botox (Botulinum toxin), which relaxes muscles, smoothes out lines and wrinkles caused by movement of your face, such as ‘crow’s feet’ and frown lines.

If you want to know more, I recommend Sali Hughes’ excellent podcast in which she discusses aesthetics more thoroughly with Dr Frances Prenna Jones and Alice Hart-Davies.

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Looking well

For me, ageing beautifully is not about looking younger, it is about looking healthy at any age. The best compliment is when people say “you look well”. What’s important is your level of self-esteem and it helps if you feel content with how you look, but there’s more to ageing well than just your looks.

I didn’t start using cosmetics until my late 20s, but now putting on makeup is something that I enjoy doing. However, I don’t try to ‘hide’ my ageing with makeup, but instead, try to achieve some subtle enhancements. Most days I will apply some light luminous foundation, add some colour and highlighter to my cheeks, fill in my eyebrows and put on some lipstick. It takes me 5–10 minutes and just makes me feel better. I find mascara just makes my eyes water so instead I’ve started having an eye lash-lift treatment every two months or so as it seems to open up my eyes a little.

The characteristics that ‘age’ people are low energy levels, having a persistent frown, holding tension in your face, dull-looking dry skin, fatigue and poor posture and gait, and most of that you won’t fix with a pot of cream. But as part of a lifestyle that includes the right exercise and diet for you, well, now you’re talking!