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What Causes Skin To Wrinkle as We Age?

Curious about what causes skin to wrinkle? We've got you covered. Here are the reasons for why we develop wrinkles as we age

Here's Why Our Skin Wrinkles as We Age

Most of us start liberally slathering on the best anti-wrinkle cream we can find somewhere in our late twenties as that big age-thirty milestone looms close. We buy special cleansers and we try to remember to moisturize each evening. The process becomes even more complex as we pass age thirty and head toward middle age. Then we begin to compare ingredients in moisturizers. We exfoliate. We may add a serum into our skincare regimen, and we finally take the warnings about sun exposure seriously and begin to use a daily sunscreen.

But have you ever wondered what changes take place in our skin to actually cause the appearance of aging? Why does our skin wrinkle and sag? Why does it become spotted, loose, and crepey? What are the physiological processes that take place as the clock ticks and birthday candles grow in numbers on our cakes?

The Two Types of Aging

According to doctors, the process involves two types of aging—intrinsic aging and extrinsic aging.

Intrinsic aging is the natural aging process that is hardwired into our DNA regardless of environmental factors. Our bodies are set on internal timers. At first, it’s all about rapid turnover of cells as we develop and grow. Then, the clock starts to wind down as the rapid cell turnover slows and things begin to… well, deteriorate; including—and most obviously—in our skin.

Intrinsic aging takes place regardless of outside influences. It would happen even if we never left our homes and stayed in the shade and out of the wind and cold. Intrinsic aging can be slowed by careful skin care, including moisturizing with the best anti-wrinkle cream products, but it can’t be stopped.

What Happens to Our Skin is Due to Intrinsic Aging?

Intrinsic aging may vary in each individual depending on heredity, but basically we all experience the same effects at differing rates. Not long after we stop growing, skin begins to lose some of its collagen production. After the age of twenty, we begin producing about 1% less collagen per year. Collagen is responsible for the firmness and integrity of our skin. This loss of collagen becomes apparent in thinner, more fragile skin, which eventually sags and wrinkles.

Melanin production also decreases, resulting in a less even skin tone at the same time that oil glands begin to function less, leaving the essential skin barrier that’s meant to lock in hydration compromised so skin loses that dewy, youthful glow. The turnover of cell growth slows, meaning the dead cells don’t slough off as quickly as they once did. Instead, they gather on top of the skin and cause a dull, uneven skin tone. Elastin production slows down, so our skin has less ability to recover from the simple stresses caused by our facial expressions, causing the formation of lines and wrinkles.

What Happens to Our Skin During Extrinsic Aging?

Extrinsic aging is caused by factors in the environment. At the top of the list is sun exposure. Back in the days when being beautiful meant having white skin untouched by the sun, we stayed younger looking for much longer than we did after Coco Chanel’s post-yachting tan photos began a new trend, and new opinions on what was considered beautiful.

Exposure to UV light rays from the sun causes breakdown in collagen and elastin—the skin’s connective tissue. This breakdown causes skin to be unable to rebuild itself, resulting in structural breakdown which leads to sagging and wrinkling as skin is less able to rebound.

UV exposure also causes changes in the melanin production of the skin, causing discoloration, and hyperpigmentation in the form of sunspots and freckles. If the exposure continues, eventually we'll have hardened, leathery skin that even the best anti-wrinkle creams can’t correct, and possibly even skin cancer.

Other extrinsic aging factors include poor nutrition, smoking—which changes the way oxygen is carried into the tiny blood vessels nurturing the skin—pollution, wind, weather extremes, and the humidity or dryness of the climate in which we live, all have a role to play in the process of extrinsic aging. In fact, some research shows that up to 90% of skin aging is in response to extrinsic aging, or outside factors.

Preventing Extrinsic Aging

While intrinsic aging can’t be prevented, extrinsic aging can at least be slowed and minimized, if not completely prevented. According to dermatologists, protecting your skin from UV rays is the most important way we can slow down the aging process in our skin. Also, exfoliating, cleansing, and moisturizing with the best anti-wrinkle cream available can help to prevent and reverse the signs of extrinsic aging.

Resources— MayoClinic, ScientificAmerican, Derma.E, WebMD