Successful Aging: Taking care of skin is vital to health, beauty
Years ago, I discovered the children’s series, The Brown Paper School Books. Chapter One in “Blood and Guts,” the collection’s book on the human body, has one of the best titles ever: “Skin — the Bag You Live in.”
Some decades later, I have to confess a growing concern that the bag I live in is getting a little too baggy. The fine lines are getting deeper and I no longer think of brown spots as grown-up freckles.
I also have to confess that since about age 30, I’ve been just fine with people telling me I look younger than I am and don’t really want it to stop.
Still, I have never focused on outer beauty as much as cosmetics manufacturers and advertisers want me to, and I was already a low-maintenance woman in my late teens. But Deborah Chase’s “The Medically Based, No-Nonsense Beauty Book,” published in 1974, got my attention. Ms. Magazine described it as “the first beauty book that didn’t insult a woman’s intelligence,” and Chase was a medical researcher, not a model. I could indulge a bit of vanity if it was based on science.
It was about this time that the first real sunscreens — with PABA — came on the market, and I started to think about my future skin cancer risk and the cumulative damage I had done to my very fair skin with chronic unprotected exposure.
Today, many other physician-authored, science-based skin care references are available, but Chase’s work is less self-promoting than most. She has written additional beauty books and keeps her advice up to date with her No-Nonsense Beauty Blog: http://nononsensebeauty.wordpress.com.
To get a Colorado skin care professional’s insight, I talked with Christi Vogt, a medical aesthetician with Advanced Skin Care and Laser Center in Grand Junction. We discussed the basics about what really happens as our skin ages and some of the things we can do about it. We focused on two levels of intervention: what we can do ourselves and noninvasive office procedures.
Vogt’s first point is one that can be a mantra for successful agers: Beautiful skin depends on good health. She recommends a whole foods, plant-based diet and good hydration to nourish the skin, our largest organ, as well as the rest of the body. She also stresses that we need to “take care of our skin on the inside and outside.”
Vogt explained that the most important natural factor in skin aging is the cellular turnover rate. Healthy skin completely renews itself every 28-30 days until our 30s, when the process begins to slow down. Genetics and lifestyle cause the rate to vary in different people, but by our 40s or 50s, the turnover period increases to 50 days. As with the body as a whole, slower cellular turnover makes the skin more sensitive and less able to prevent and repair damage.
Exfoliation is essential to younger-looking skin, Vogt said, not only because it removes dead cells and promotes absorption of preparations that otherwise sit on the surface. It also stimulates turnover, better blood flow and oxygen metabolism. All of these effects help skin live younger, not just look younger.
Not surprisingly, sun exposure is the most important outside influence on skin aging, and Vogt’s advice is prompting me to re-evaluate my approach to sun protection. She said instead of looking for sunscreens with higher SPF numbers, we should use mineral sunblocks in which zinc oxide is the primary ingredient. Of course I thought immediately of the “lifeguard nose” — ick! — but Vogt said zinc oxide blocks are available today that do not have that pasty white look.
She added that antioxidants are also important to helping skin protect itself from sun damage and described a study that dramatically illustrated the fact. A research subject’s arm sustained a burn when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, but after 30 days of eating tomatoes high in the antioxidant lycopene, the same dose of UV light did not cause a burn.
Increasing our intake of foods rich in antioxidants, such as tomatoes and dark-colored grapes and berries, is as good for skin as for the rest of us, especially as we age. Vogt also recommends adding an antioxidant serum — available in skin care clinics but also over the counter — to our skin care regimen.
Vogt added that many proven noninvasive office procedures for specific skin problems are available. Two of the best known are laser treatments for sagging skin and IPL (intense pulsed light) for lightening brown spots.
Vogt described skin care as “an investment in your health” that becomes more important as we age. She convinced me that low maintenance does not equal no maintenance. Like physical exercise, it also rewards us with better looks.
Angelyn Frankenberg is a wellness coach and writer living in Carbondale. She has a master’s in physical education and an undergraduate degree in music. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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