Fighting the aging skin

Photo by Vamsi Krishna / CC BY 2.0

As technology and health care improves, Americans are living longer, which means they are also aging more. With the avalanche of new anti-aging products and breakthroughs in the media, what actually works?

To understand anti-aging products, we have to first understand aging. Our skin is comprised of an outer layer – the epidermis, and an inner layer – the dermis. The dermal layer builds the structural foundation of our skin, and supplies the nutrients for the epidermal layer (the layer which sheds). Fibroblasts in the dermal layer produce and secrete collagen fibers, which combine to form the structural network of our skin. As we age, the collagen fibers slowly break down, and we lose the elasticity and turgor seen in youthful skin. This contributes to the thinner, saggy, and wrinkly skin seen in elderly populations. Therefore, many non-prescription topical products have been developed to reverse collagen breakdown by either promoting collagen synthesis or by preventing its destruction.

Below are the most common ingredients found in antiaging products. See which ones are most effective!

Retinoids: The most well-studied and so-called “gold standard” of anti-aging ingredients are vitamin A-derived retinoids. Retinoids like SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream have been shown to overturn damaged collagen and promote new collagen synthesis. The result is the production of new, healthy skin, which drastically reduces fine wrinkles and hyperpigmentation from sun damage. Retinoic acid is the most potent and biologically active form of vitamin A. Over-the-counter formulations such as retinol and its derivative retinaldehyde are less potent, but have been shown to improve the appearance of aging skin in clinical trials.

Antioxidants: Environmental damage such as UV radiation and smoking can produce free radicals in the skin environment, which damages skin DNA. Accumulation of free radicals interferes with collagen renewal, and promotes collagen degradation by activating enzymes that break down collagen. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and prevents photodamage of the skin. However, products containing ascorbic acid must be kept in airtight and dark containers like SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, since they are instable in solution and can oxidize/inactivate easily. Other popular antioxidants include vitamin E and niacinamide (vitamin B3).

Growth factors: The incorporation of growth factors into anti-aging products like SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum is a relatively new field of research, as growth factors and cytokines have been implicated in wound healing and collagen synthesis. Growth factors such as human fetal fibroblasts have been shown to increase dermal and epidermal thickness upon application. However, it is unclear if the large molecular size of growth factors allow for adequate penetration into the skin to be effective. 

Hyaluronic acid: Known as humectants, these molecules attract and retain moisture to “fill out” and plump up the dermal layer, so that the skin can retain its elasticity and hydration. This ingredient is often seen in moisturizers such as CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM. Hyaluronic acid can also be injected directly into skin as dermal fillers, to help patients retain a youthful appearance.

Alpha-hydroxy acid: At lower concentrations, AHAs help promote epidermal shedding and dermal collagen production like Olay ProX Nightly Purifying Micro-Peel. At higher concentrations, they are used as chemical peels, to help exfoliate damaged skin to reveal new skin underneath.

Peptides: These molecules help with protein synthesis and allow for cells to communicate with each other. Certain classes can help with collagen production, although little is still known about its effectiveness in combating aging.

Lastly, a word on prevention. Sunscreen helps prevent aging from sun damage. A single episode of UV damage can actually promote collagen breakdown instantly. Avoiding smoking will also help prevent aging, as tobacco causes buildup of free radicals, and even limits nutrients and blood flow to the skin. And of course, moisturizers help maintain hydration and prevent water loss from the epidermal layer. Stay informed and stay vibrant!   

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