Body Care Tips
Taking care of your skin as you age
Skin-care is a multibillion-dollar industry that includes not only lotions, creams, and topical products, but also cosmetic and beauty treatments and spas.
Americans spend more than $43 billion each year on skincare, and according to a recent marketing report, the global skincare product industry will reach $135 billion by 2021.
We are bombarded daily with skin and hair cosmetics advertisements promising smooth and supple skin and shiny, dandruff-free hair.
These ads play on our inner fears, desires, and fantasies. They suggest that external beauty and ageless skin are within easy reach and that all you need to do is to buy a certain brand or use a specific "natural" or "organic" product or undergo a "detox" or "cleansing" treatment.
There are many positive steps that you can take to look after your skin, and not all of them involve expensive cosmetics.
Don't let their fancy claims and packaging fool you.
Even though beauty is only skin deep, our skin's health and the speed at which it ages depends on many "inner" factors such as what we eat, how much we sleep, and our lifestyle habits.
Aging is inevitable, but it is within our reach to make the best of it, and this also applies to our skin. Read on below about Skin Care and aging.
Some Myths and Truths about Skin Care
Learn about the truth behind some beauty and cosmetic skin-care treatments.
Estheticians claim that facials reduce tension, promote relaxation, and reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increase the body's feel-good hormone oxytocin.
However, a study by Moyer et al. (2011) (1) reported that the "cortisol-effect" is: "generally very small and, in most cases, not statistically distinguishable from zero."
Oxytocin levels don't increase during a facial massage. A study by Bello (2008) (2) found that a 20-minute massage provoked the same release of oxytocin as a 20-minute book reading session!
So reading a book and getting a facial is equally relaxing in terms of oxytocin production.
Is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland.
Breastfeeding mothers and romantic interactions such as cuddling, hugging, and sex provokes a spike in oxytocin.
Oxytocin promotes pro-social behavior and bonding. It also helps relax by reducing stress responses.
Facials are also supposed to help "encourage lymphatic drainage" and "reduce fluid buildup." Neill (2012) (3) looked into this claim and reported that "A normal person does not have lymphatic problems on their face."
However, aging reduces the number of lymphatic vessels, whose purpose is to drain away excess fluid from the spaces between your body's cells. This reduction, especially in people whose skin has suffered sun damage, would cause fluid to accumulate.
A facial may help promote lymphatic flow. But if this happens is not known.
Natural or organic products are not always good for you
Just because a product is natural does not make it safe.
Pay attention to what you put on your skin; you may be sensitive and break out in hives, rash, or even worse.
A paper by Hankinson, Lloyd, and Alweis (2014) (7) reported a case of skin damage (cell death, blistering, injury to the epidermis, and damaged cell membranes) caused by a photochemical reaction (a reaction triggered by sunlight) involving certain toxic compounds called furocoumarins found in certain common plants.
This particular case of phytophotodermatitis (from "Phyto" = "plant", "photo" = "light", and "Dermatitis" = "skin inflammation") was caused by lime juice applied on the hands of a nurse that were exposed to sunlight.
Lime, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot, celery, parsley, hogweed, and wild parsnip all contain furocoumarines.
For safety reasons, they are not allowed as ingredients in cosmetics in the European Union in dosages larger than 1 ppm (part per million).
Read more about Natural ingredients for skin care:
Natural cosmetic ingredients are an alternative to many industrialized products, chemicals made by nature: essential oils, honey, plant extracts. Learn about their benefits and risks.
Read More: Natural Ingredients for Cosmetics.
Skin Care and Aging
As you age your skin changes, it loses flexibility, thins out, and becomes drier. Subcutaneous fat disappears, and it takes longer to heal when you hurt it.
The visual effects of aging such as wrinkles, frailness, and dryness are sometimes distressing; skin reflects our age like no other part of our body.
The effects of aging on the skin
Farage et al. (2013) (8) described what happens to your skin as you grow older:
The dermis (is the layer that lies under the outer epidermal layer of your skin and contains the hair follicles, sweat glands, nerve ends, and blood capillaries) becomes thinner.
Some cells begin to decrease in number, such as the mast cells (that release histamine during allergic reactions and are also involved in wound healing) and fibroblasts (that produce the collagen that forms the structure that supports the skin cells and also intervenes in tissue repair).
Natural moisture factors in the skin such as glycosaminoglycans (that can hold up to 100 times their weight in water) and hyaluronic acid also decline. This causes skin dryness, flaking. That in turn causes itching and scaly skin.
As fibroblasts disappear collagen production declines. Elastin, an elastic connective-tissue protein begins to calcify with age, becoming less flexible.
These changes make the dermis more rigid and less flexible. Your skin loses elasticity and is more prone to damage by tears and scratches.
These effects take place quicker in women than in men.
The outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, becomes thinner too, losing part of its barrier effect.
And the innermost layer, the subcutaneous fat begins to thin out after the age of 70, it redistributes: facial fat is lost (leaving sagging skin there) and more accumulates on hips, thighs, belly, and waist (to insulate the vital organs from heat loss).
The effects of decades of sun exposure or habits like smoking also degrade the skin.
Farage also reported that "Most people over 65, in fact, have at least one skin disorder, and many have two or more," and these disorders affect the quality of life.
Dark spots, freckles, moles, wrinkles, dry spots, and even skin cancer may appear. But don't despair; you can prevent some of the side effects of aging skin.
Controlling Dry Skin
Itching dry skin, especially on the lower legs and arms can feel rough, scaly, and be quite a nuisance. There are many possible causes for dry skin and also, some things that you can do about it:
Older people don't realize how easy it is to dehydrate.
Not drinking enough water can help provoke dry skin.
An adequate water intake helps you prevent dry skin, and improves your complexion. Read more about the link between water and healthy skin:
Does drinking water improve skin complexion?
A high water intake is frequently promoted as a detox agent that "flushes" toxins from the skin, "cleansing" it. Proper hydration is considered a cure for scaly dry skin, but is this the case?
Learn more: Drink water to improve your skin.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Adopting a healthier lifestyle can improve skin complexion. Castillo (2017) (9) studied the relationship between eating a healthy diet and skin complexion; he found that:
- Drinking alcohol harmed skin complexion.
- Fruit, vegetable, and yogurt consumption were positively correlated to skin type (improving it).
- Healthy habits plus water intake also improved skin complexion.
Schagen (10) suggested eating a prebiotic diet (with plenty of fiber), to minimize skin sensitivity; This diet reduced acute allergic skin response in mice.
A balanced diet with healthy foods is the key to avoiding chronic diseases and keeping fit and healthy. Learn all about the nutrients in food, and the keys to a healthy diet.
Read more about Healthy eating.
Smoking tobacco apart from having terrible health consequences also damages the skin (Ortiz and Grando, 2012) (11).
Being out in the Sun
Excessive exposure to sunlight, tanning, or being in the open in very dry places, put a strain on your skin.
You should always apply a sunscreen that protects against both types of ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight: UVA and UVB.
Apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, reapply every 2 hours and use it on cloudy days too.
Stay out of the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM. Wear a hat and protective clothing. Use sunglasses that block at least 99% of the sun's rays.
Don't tan, don't use sunlamps or tanning beds. Only expose yourself to the sun enough to allow your body to synthesize vitamin D, especially in winter to avoid Winter Blues.
Keep out of the sun in summer, and use a sunscreen with a high SPF.
Outdoors and dry climates are harsh on your skin
Apply a moisturizer, lotion, or cream to humidify your skin before going outdoors in dry climate areas.
Drink extra fluids to keep hydrated in dry areas, you will lose more fluids due to evaporation.
Disease and your skin
Certain medical conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease can cause dry skin. Visit your health-care provider to make sure this is not the case, or if it is, to have it treated.
Soaps and fragrances
Avoid using too much soap, it will leach out the protective fat from your skin. Switch to a milder soap. Fragrances can cause irritation and rashes. Alcohol in fragrances has a dehydrating effect on the skin.
Keep an eye on your skin
Thinner skin can be broken easily, itching skin can provoke scratching which in turn can cause bleeding. A breach in the skin barrier is a potential entry point for microbes which can cause infection. Be aware of any wounds and apply disinfectant to them.
Other skin conditions in older people
Thin skin bruises easily and takes longer to heal than younger people. If you suddenly notice an increase in bruises, visit your doctor.
Age spots, which at one time were called "liver spots" are caused by decades of exposure to the sun. They appear on the face, shoulders, back, feet, and hands. Using a good sunscreen will prevent them from appearing.
They are harmless but if they become irritated and bother you, they can be removed.
Quite common in America, it can appear on anyone regardless of skin color. White-skinned people are at a higher risk. Early detection is the key to curing it in most cases.
Most cases involve basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, two slow-growing cancers that don't tend to spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
The third type of skin cancer, melanoma, is not so common but is deadly as it spreads quickly to the rest of the body.
Check your skin regularly (every month) following the ABCDE rule (12):
- A for Asymmetry. One half of the spot is different from the other half.
- B for Borders that are not regular.
- C for Color changes: multicolored spots.
- D for Diameter: the spots are wider than the diameter of a pencil
- E for Evolving: the spot grows, changes in color, shape, size. Becomes itchy, its surface may bleed. Skin cancer rarely hurts.
If you notice any of these symptoms or a mole bleeds frequently, visit your doctor to rule out skin cancer.
Nutrition and skin health
Farage (8) also pointed out that your focus should shift from the merely aesthetic (most skin-aging therapies concentrate on trying to reverse the unwelcome visible signs of aging) to the quality of life aspects: an aging skin and its loss of structure (it becomes brittle, fragile, and thin).
As you age, your skin ages too, cells reproduce at a slower rate and their DNA is damaged by chronic sunlight exposure spanning decades. Internal "free radicals" (more on them below) damage cellular membranes and structure; smoking, pollutants, and inadequate diets lacking antioxidants compound this free radical damage.
Vitamins and antioxidants in skincare products
Many skincare products contain vitamins and plant extracts (botanicals) because their "nutritional" or anti-oxidant properties supposedly prevent skin aging and prolong youthful skin appearance. But, what is the truth behind these claims? Let's see what science has to say:
A team led by Schagen (2012) (10) reviewed the scientific papers that studied nutrients and skin aging. They found the following:
Why does skin age?
Two different processes cause the skin to age:
- Intrinsic aging, due to the normal aging processes of our bodies, just like your muscles, joints, and internal organs age, so does your skin.
- Extrinsic aging, caused by external factors such as the environment, pollution, smoking, lack of sleep, and unhealthy eating habits.
While you can't prevent aging, you can act upon the external factors and take steps to avoid them: protect yourself from the sun's UV radiation, sleep well, don't smoke, and lead a healthy lifestyle.
Free radicals (also known as reactive oxygen species or ROS) are highly reactive chemical compounds that have unpaired electrons. As molecules tend to balance unpaired electrons, the free radicals snatch an electron from another molecule in a process called "oxidation".
Oxidation damages this second molecule, and at the same time turns it into a new free radical, which starts off the cycle again.
This series of oxidation reactions is a vicious circle that damages more and more molecules provoking "oxidative stress".
Free radicals also damage your skin.
ROS damages your DNA and the proteins, and fats in the nucelus and membranes of your cells. This disrupts the way cells work and harmful.
Free radicals are produced by external factors such as smoking, air pollutants, X-rays, UV radiation from sunlight, industrial chemicals, and pesticides.
Your body also produces free radicals naturally during its daily metabolic processes; the problem is when these ROS are produced in quantities that overwhelm your body's antioxidant mechanisms.
ROS are also produced when your body becomes inflamed (due to disease or excess fatty tissue: fat produces inflammation).
Exercise also produces free radicals, but they have a protective and anti-aging effect because this type of ROS stimulates the production of some special enzymes (kinases) that move into the cell's nucleus to help produce some anti-oxidative enzymes that protect the cell against ROS.
As their name indicates, they inhibit the action of free radicals, preventing oxidative reactions. They interrupt the chain reaction by "trapping" the ROS or reacting with substances that produce free radicals.
A balanced diet with adequate content of nutrients and antioxidative-rich food helps keep the body supplied with antioxidants.
A healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity and low body weight (remember that fatty tissue causes inflammation) combined with antioxidants helps minimize the presence of harmful free radicals.
Some of the antioxidants are vitamins (A, E, and C), while others are flavonoids, polyphenols, and some omega-3 fatty acids.
Antioxidants and the Skin
Vitamin E (tocopherol)
Studies have given controversial results but apparently "high doses of oral vitamin E may affect the response to UVB in humans", that is, it reduces the impact of B fraction of Ultraviolet rays.
Vitamin E is found in many vegetable oils and also protects the collagen in the skin from crosslinking (which reduces its elasticity) and the fat in skin cells from degrading due to oxidation by free radicals (collagen gives the skin structure).
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
This vitamin also protects our skin from UVB but it degrades very quickly in the presence of oxygen that its effectiveness as an ingredient in creams or lotions may be negligible.
Vitamin A (retinol and carotenoids)
β-carotene is a natural colorant that tints carrots, pumpkin, mangos, and sweet potatoes yellow. It is used by the body to synthesize vitamin A. It also has antioxidant properties.
Other carotenoids include lycopene (found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables) which is an antioxidant and has protective properties against UV rays (photoprotection)
Both lycopene and β-carotene are found in higher concentrations in the skin, hinting at their function as "photo protectors".
The skin produces another antioxidant, vitamin D3, in presence of sunlight, but this ability decreases with age; an 80-year old person produces roughly half the vitamin D3 that a 20-year one old does. This is due to factors such as limited sun exposure and poor nutrition in the elderly- they may lack a chemical called 7-dehydrocholesterol, a precursor to vitamin D3.
Wedad and Rehab (2015) (13) reported that vitamin D has several skin-health properties as an antimicrobial, immunoprotective, photoprotective, and wound healing compound.
Compounds found in plants such as grapes, berries, and green tea have been proven in animal studies to help protect the skin from UV radiation (coupled with sunscreen), and also reduce the risk of certain skin cancers.
Conclusions on Vitamins and antioxidants as skin-protectors
Skincare products containing these antioxidant compounds may have a positive impact on your skin's appearance. But supplementation with high doses of antioxidants may not have the same effect as the natural food-sourced ones. The best source is the natural one: eat a healthy balanced diet.
Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet
Solway, Jason et al. (2020) (14) reviewed the published scientific literature and found evidence that a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet helps protect the skin. They wrote, " Evidence obtained within this literature review supports a WFPB diet for preventing skin aging".
The WFPB diet mentioned in this paper included foods such as oils, green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, kiwifruit, mango, tomatoes, Broccoli, spinach, zucchini, red pepper, orange, grapefruit, green pepper, strawberries, cantaloupe, potatoes, and kale.
Eating a balanced diet with whole, raw food such as fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants and vitamins is a safe way to maintain a youthful skin appearance.
Read more about Vitamins and Supplements:
Vitamins & Supplements
Vitamins are essential for a healthy life; they keep yous alive and free from deficiency diseases. But, do you need supplements? What are the recommended intakes? and natural sources?
Learn more about Vitamins for a healthy life.
Having healthy skin in your senior years will add to your quality of life.
It requires taking some common-sense steps such as eating a balanced diet, protecting yourself from the sun, and not smoking.
Cosmetics, creams with antioxidants can also help, as well as drinking plenty of water and keeping physically active.
References and Further Reading
(1) Moyer CA, Seefeldt L, Mann ES, Jackley LM, (2011). Does massage therapy reduce cortisol? A comprehensive quantitative review. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2011;15(1):3-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2010.06.001
(2) Bello D, White-Traut R, Schwertz D, Pournajafi-Nazarloo H, Carter CS (2008). An exploratory study of neurohormonal responses of healthy men to massage. J Altern Complement Med. 2008;14(4):387-394. doi: 10.1089/acm.2007.0660
(3) Ushma S. Neill (2012). Skin care in the aging female: myths and truths. J Clin Invest. 2012 Feb 1; 122(2): 473-477. 2012 Feb 1. doi: [10.1172/JCI61978]
(4) Nandini D. Basavaiah and Deepak B. Suryakanth (2012). Propolis and allergic reactions. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2012 Oct-Dec; 4(4): 345. doi: [10.4103/0975-7406.103279]
(5) Rutherford T, Nixon R, Tam M, Tate B. (2007). Allergy to tea tree oil: retrospective review of 41 cases with positive patch tests over 4.5 years. Australas J Dermatol. 2007 May;48(2):83-7.
(6) Miest RY, Yiannias JA, Chang YH, Singh N. (2013). Diagnosis and prevalence of lanolin allergy. Dermatitis. 2013 May-Jun;24(3):119-23. doi: 10.1097/DER.0b013e3182937aa4
(7) Andrew Hankinson, Benjamin Lloyd, and Richard Alweis, (2014). Lime-induced phytophotodermatitis. J Community Hosp Intern Med Perspect. 2014; 4(4): 10.3402/jchimp.v4.25090. 2014 Sep 29. doi: [10.3402/jchimp.v4.25090]
(8) Miranda A. Farage, Kenneth W. Miller, Peter Elsner, and Howard I. Maibach, (2013). Characteristics of the Aging Skin. Adv Wound Care (New Rochelle). 2013 Feb; 2(1): 5-10. doi: [10.1089/wound.2011.0356]
(9) Castillo V. (2017). Relationship Between Water Consumption and Overall Skin Complexion Satisfaction in Individuals Ages 18-24. Thesis, Texas Christian University
(10) Silke K. Schagen, Vasiliki A. Zampeli, Evgenia Makrantonaki, and Christos C. Zouboulis, (2012). Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1; 4(3): 298-307. doi: [10.4161/derm.22876]
(11) Ortiz A, Grando SA., (2012). Smoking and the skin. Int J Dermatol. 2012 Mar;51(3):250-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2011.05205.x
(12) NIH. National Institute on Aging, Health Information Skin Care and Aging. Accessed: 02.Nov.2018. Content reviewed: October 01, 2017
(13) Wedad Z. Mostafa and Rehab A. Hegazy, (2014). Vitamin D and the skin: Focus on a complex relationship: A review. J Adv Res. 2015 Nov; 6(6): 793-804. 2014 Feb 8. doi: [10.1016/j.jare.2014.01.011]
(14) Solway, Jason et al. (2020), Diet and Dermatology: The Role of a Whole-food, Plant-based Diet in Preventing and Reversing Skin Aging-A Review. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 13,5: 38-43.
About this Article
Body Care, tips for healthy skin, A. Whittall
©2018 Fit-and-Well.com, 02.Nov.2018. Updated. 02.Dec.2020. https://www.fit-and-well.com/wellness/body-care.html
Tags: healthy skin, aging skin, skin age, nutrients for skin, antioxidants, skin, skin care, skin care tips, skin cancer, diet, dermatology, whole-food, skincare, antioxidants.
Subject: Fit-and-Well.com. Body Care as you age: anti-aging body care and skin care tips on how to maintain your physical looks, looking after your skin as you age. Pampering your body with a healthy lifestyle, a diet rich in antioxidants, and using adequate cosmetics can improve your quality of life in old age.