For the last decade, I have had a goal of getting carded after I turn 40. I’m 39 and that birthday is just six months away and the chances are looking pretty slim for me! Somewhere over the last two years the whole getting carded thing fizzled out. Even at the liquor store! And they’re hardcore! Somehow age has just creeped up on me. I was blessed (or cursed, as I felt when I was in my 20s) with looking very young for my age. Everyone told me I’d be glad as I got older. But for most of my life people have thought I am about 5 to 10 years younger than I really am. Awesome, right? Not so much when strangers think you’re the babysitter instead of the mom.
But now, at 39, as I’m being called ma’am, and some fashions are “not appropriate” for my age, and I’m NOT getting carded…well, I’m ready to reverse the aging process and take back all the damage I’ve done to my skin over the years!
So who remembers laying out with baby oil on in high school? Or just laying out in general because tan just looks better than pale? SPF 4. Dry tanning oil. Hours on the beach getting sunburned. Tanning beds. I did all that. I even had a little mid-life crisis at 37 and decided getting in the tanning bed would make me look better. Note to self: anything that makes your hair smell like it’s burning probably isn’t great for your skin either. I thought maybe the tan would help camouflage the cellulite…it may have but what I was really doing was making it worse in the long run. My daughter just returned from Orange Beach, Alabama with a friend. Just before she left, the friend (who was already at the beach) texted a picture of herself after she had fallen asleep on the beach. Yep. Some things never change.
So now, as I wish to turn back the years, I’m wanting to know what happens to our skin over time that makes wrinkles appear and skin quality lessen, and I’m curious about how to prevent further damage. Better late than never.
So what happens to our skin over time to make it look aged?
Well, lucky us, A LOT happens to our skin over the years. As we age, our bodies stop producing collagen and elastin, which are responsible for skin elasticity. Elastin and collagen are proteins and they are found deep in our second layer of skin (called the dermis) which lies just above our fat layer. As we age, not only does the collagen diminish – we lose about one percent of our collagen each year after the age of 29 - but our skin also begins shedding cells at a much slower rate.
What quickens this aging process are environmental factors such as prolonged exposure to the sun, smoking, and environmental pollutants; all these can destroy collagen. You’ve heard the words free radicals and antioxidants thrown around, right? Well, these terms are related to aging, and combating further skin damage, so I’ll give a quick definition. Free radicals, without getting too scientific, are atoms, or groups of atoms, that occur naturally in the body, or are introduced by an outside pollutant (like smoke), and they can damage cells. Remember that tanning bed? Free radical party.
Antioxidants are substances that remove potentially damaging agents from the body. So essentially antioxidants can neutralize free radicals to help prevent damage to our cells, and in the case of our discussion, collagen.
So what are the best ways to care for your skin now, to both repair and prevent? (a.k.a. how am I going to best increase my chances of being carded at 40)
Sunscreen: We hear it alllll the time. I say it to my daughter allll the time: Use sunscreen! But which of those 75 sunscreens to pick? Personally I’ve always liked the one that can spray upside down and can be applied to wet skin. But what we really need to pay attention to is the zinc oxide levels, not necessarily easy of application. When purchasing a quality sunscreen, look for one with at least five percent of zinc oxide. Zinc oxide creates a physical barrier between your skin and the sun and is not absorbed into the skin, but rather acts in such a way as to reflect the sunlight away from your skin. It protects against both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet rays), and because it is not absorbed into the skin, zinc oxide is nonirritating and nonallergenic. It also adheres well to the skin, making it less likely to seep into your eyes and give you that terrible burning sensation.
Antioxidants: Use skin care products with antioxidants. Look for products that contain vitamin E, green tea extract, and/or L-ascorbic Acid, a form of vitamin C that penetrates deeply into the skin. Antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals, can help speed up the skin's natural repair process and inhibit further damage
Hylauronic Acid: This is a naturally occurring substance in the human body, and is also the substance that is in fillers like Restylane and Juvederm. In topical form, it provides excellent hydration and collagen stimulation.
Retinoids: Retinoic acid is the active form of vitamin A in the skin. Retinoids (you may have heard of Retin-A) increase collagen production, exfoliate the dead layers of skin, reduce visible signs of sun damage, and restore even skin tone. When used properly, you can use it year round, even in the summer. It is also the most highly recommended cosmetic prescription on the market today.
Hydroquinone: Products containing this can help lighten visible sun damage, such as brown spots. Prescription hydroquinone can help to create dormancy in damaged pigment, helping to prevent further stimulation of brown spots in the future.
If you want to further speed along your anti-aging process, you might consider various skin tightening and skin resurfacing procedures that are available for collagen stimulation and turning back years of abuse in the sun
Written by: Beth Jarrett