Skin Care: Turn Back the Clock – or Just Your Wallet?
Your skin is a very clever organ. No matter which in the arsenal of developments in anti aging skin care products are proudly emblazoned on the bottle and in the marketing literature, your skin knows the truth. And whilst it may play the game for a little while, plumping up nicely to give the appearance of looking younger, more even, and less lined, this is only a temporary, somewhat cosmetic ruse. It is actually a biological trick of the light, a chimeraic nod to the quest for youth. Don’t be fooled.
Skin care is big business. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But whilst its highly entertaining to browse through the shelves and try out the latest pedigree of skin cream, these foot soldiers in the war on wrinkles meet a somewhat tenacious and uncooperative foe in our skin.
Our skin. This multi-layered emissary to the outside world, bearer of our expressions, our joys, our grief. Guard against the invisible tide of micro-organisms that seek to infiltrate our body’s first defence against disease and infection. This complex array of cells that every month regenerate and shed, within the constraints of age and the quality of our diet. Our skin is a hard worker and much unappreciated. Often barely nourished despite the money spent on technological promises, we still hope the dream of youth slipping away will be restored.
There is a way to slow the process of aging. But not by applying high tech anti aging creams. By understanding exactly what our skin is, we can find better ways of giving it what it needs. And consequently, we will find ourselves with what we want – more youthful skin.
Our skin is composed of 3 main layers. The outside layer that we apply our anti aging skin care products to is the epidermis. This in turn has 4 to 5 layers, depending on where it is in the body, and whether there is a lot of hair on it. The top layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, serves as a barrier. This is where the cells are continually shedding and where new cells are ultimately pushed up to. These cells have no blood supply, and hence no nutrients or oxygen carried in the blood reach these cells. They are essentially dead in that they cannot engage in the metabolic processes that living cells do. But they do serve very important functions. By creating an impenetrable barrier, they keep out bacteria and other micro organisms, and are thus part of the immune system. But this very function also serves to keep out most of the expensive ingredients in anti aging treatments. And no matter how well an ingredient performs in a laboratory test tube, that does not necessarily translate to reaching the deeper layers of your skin, where the real anti aging work takes place. Most skin care products work only on the stratum corneum, and that is their downfall as anti aging secret agents.
The next layer down from the top is the dermis. This is the layer where wrinkles develop. The dermis consists of living cells, and they are responsible for the structure, integrity and elasticity of the skin. Here collagen is regenerated whilst existing collagen is broken down in the monthly cellular cycle. The production of collagen slows with age and factors like smoking, sun exposure, stress and inadequate nutrition. Other skin nutrients like elastin and hyaluronic acid are found here. Hyaluronic acid for example, helps hold water. As the dermis is composed of living cells, it has a blood supply, which transport nutrients and oxygen to the cells. These capillaries also transport cellular wast like carbon dioxide away. Here you’ll also find lymph vessels, sebaceous and sweat glands, hair follicles, and nerve endings for heat and cold.
Fibers from the dermis extend down and into the next main layer, the subcutaneous layer. They anchor the skin to it. The subcutaneous layer in turn attaches to organs like bone and muscles underneath. Here are nerve endings that are sensitive to pressure, blood, lymph vessels, fat cells, collagen and elastin. The subcutaneous layer thins as we age, which creates a more angular appearance.
Moisturizers achieve their temporary effect by trapping water already in the skin. They essentially act as a seal, they do not provide additional water or ‘moisture’. The few products that actually work on the deeper layers of the skin are the Retin-A skin care treatments. Vitamin C, though popular, has not conclusively demonstrated that it can reach the deeper layers, the dermis. And even if it did, there is not enough evidence that it actually does anything there.
But the news is not all bad. We can do something, and its not rocket science. If we supply the skin with the nutrients it needs, with good, fresh fruit and vegetables, and good quality fats and protein, or even supplements as a boost. Then, and only then, will we stall the clock at a more agreeable hour.
1. Tortura & Grabowski, Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 7th Ed. (Harper Collins)
2. E Angyal, Gorgeous Skin (Lothian Books)