As we age, we know our skin will age with us, but surely we want to slow down the process as much as possible. The two primary reasons for skin aging are your genetic makeup and environmental factors such as the ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
Going out into the sun virtually destroys the matrix of the skin, as it takes very little ultraviolet radiation to degrade collagen. Called photoaging, too much sun exposure can cause wrinkles, loose skin and other visible changes, such as uneven texture, brown spots and red spots. This premature skin aging also damages the skin’s ability to fight off germs and bacteria, to provide temperature regulation and to heal wounds. Perhaps most frightening, photo-aging also contributes to an increased risk for skin cancer. This is why wearing a strong sunscreen and keeping vulnerable skin covered is so important.
Smoking also has a devastating effect on the skin. Smoking causes exaggerated wrinkles from pursing the lips and, by denying adequate oxygen to the cells, affects the appearance of the skin all over the body. It’s a particularly bad choice before and after any kind of invasive treatment such as a cosmetic surgery, as wounds can heal poorly due to the compromised skin quality.
The most dramatic reversal of photoaging skin is obtained with Retin-A. Back in 1988, a study at the University of Michigan first showed that retinoic acid applied to the skin could diminish wrinkles. Nobody wanted to believe it, as it seemed impossible that something placed on the skin could do anything in the skin. The New York Times even sent a research team to see if it was true, expecting to find that the doctors had doctored their photos. However, no foul play was discovered, and since then Retin-A has been the standard treatment to remove wrinkles and improve skin’s appearance. An interesting side effect of Retin-A is that it’s been proven to reduce the risk of skin cancer as a byproduct of improving the skin’s matrix.
Retinoic acid is the active metabolite of Vitamin A. It’s critical during fetal development and in the production of collagen. As we age, however, the retinoic acid levels in our skin begin to decline. The Retin-A treatment helps correct this deficiency. Although other products such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s) have also been touted as skin-savers, they do not have rigorously performed scientific trials to actually prove that they can reverse aging changes in the skin.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is another great aid for aging skin. Studies show that bathing the skin with blue and red lights will activate a molecule in the skin cells to kill off the damaged ones, allowing younger skin cells to move to the surface.
Carbon Dioxide laser treatments, such as the Fraxel, improve skin texture, even out pigmentation and reduce the appearance of wrinkles as well.
The future brings even more anti-aging ideas for us, one of which is currently called oligonucleotides. These are tiny pieces of DNA that increase the production of pigment. Currently being tested on mice and applied to skin cells in laboratories, the increased pigment production is shown to provide a major defense against UV damage. Time will tell how this will play out, but you can rest assured, as these new products are proven both safe and effective, they’ll be added to our immense arsenal to fight aging.
We can’t wait for the future to bring us more exciting options.
To your health and beauty,
Dr. Mitchell Chasin